About 60 Mexican drug smugglers rolled into the town of Zazalpa looking for a rival trafficker in November. They rounded up residents, then raked the empty village with American-made AR-15 rifles, says the Arizona Republic. The destruction of Zazalpa is one of dozens of unrelated drug skirmishes in Mexico with a common element: American guns. Combat-style rifles are pouring into Mexico, aided by the end of the U.S. assault weapons ban in 2004 and an arms race among several Mexican cartels battling for control of lucrative drug routes. The weapons are purchased at stores and gun shows, then smuggled into Mexico under car seats or tucked into suitcases.
The surge in guns comes as new President Felipe Calderón is cracking down on drug-related violence along the border and in interior states notorious for illicit trade. To help stem the flow of weapons, authorities in Mexico and the U.S. have formed police task forces, installed X-ray scanners on the Mexican side of border crossings, and launched gun buy-back programs in Mexican border cities. The number of weapons confiscated by Mexican authorities has been rising almost uninterrupted since 2002 and reached 10,579 in 2005. The 2006 catch looks to be even bigger, with more than 8,200 guns seized as of June. Ninety percent of those weapons come from the United States, Mexico says. The assault rifle of choice is the AR-15, a variant of the U.S. Army’s famous M-16. The AK-47, a Russian design now made by several U.S. manufacturers, runs second. “They lifted that (federal assault weapons ban), and now these weapons are being sold like candy,” says a Mexican official.