Fewer than half of an estimated 18,000 U.S. firearms used in Mexico’s drug wars over the last three years have been traced back to licensed gun dealers – suggesting most are stolen or bought at gun shows where background checks are not required, the Houston Chronicle reports. The finding suggests that despite a crusade to track weapons smuggled into Mexico, the task will be daunting, making it extremely difficult to track and disrupt the illicit firearms trafficking at the heart of cartel violence.
Tracing firearms remains “an essential component” of curtailing firearms trafficking along the southwest border and identifying the first retail purchaser is key to investigating how the gun came to be used in a crime or how it landed in Mexico, Bill McMahon of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives told a House committee. More than 6,600 federally licensed firearms dealers operate along the southwest border. But ATF remains unable to trace the ownership of weapons purchased at gun shows, McMahon conceded. Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), chair of the subcommittee that oversees border issues, called for closure of the so-called gun show loophole that permits sales at gun shows without the paperwork and background checks required for firearms purchases at federally licensed gun dealers.