US Traffickers Supply Mexican Drug Cartels With AK-47s

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

Mexico, a country plagued with drug cartel violence and institutional corruption, now must face another issue, a constant influx of weapons from the United States. The US, home to the highest number of private gun owners and gun-related homicides, has been caught supplying Mexico’s vicious drug cartels with powerful weapons. In a series of reports in March, 2018, Al Jazeera investigated the flow of US guns into Mexico. The story reported by journalist Juliana Ruhfus is astonishing. Al Jazeera reported that 70% of guns reported at Mexican crime scenes since 2009 could be traced back to the United States; in 2017 about 16,828 gun-related homicide investigations were opened. These statistics convey the impact of US firearms on Mexico’s crime rate. While the current US administration flogs Mexico as an imminent threat to national security, the illegal importation of guns from US to Mexico has worsened the situation in Mexico, while benefitting the gun traffickers.

The critical problem is the illegal importation of US guns and the laws that make gun trafficking possible. Al Jazeera explored the process of obtaining an AK-47 as a member of the cartel would, and found it extremely easy. Focusing on border states and towns heavily affected by the cartel’s nonstop violence, Ruhfus experienced first-hand how easy it was to obtain highly dangerous weapons. Traveling across the US border into Texas, Ruhfus noticed gun stores everywhere, most privately-owned and few federally-approved. To avoid paperwork and background checks, cartel members hire locals to purchase the guns for them, also known as “straw purchases.” But if seeking a gun from a private seller, the process becomes much simpler. An anonymous volunteer contacts a private seller, schedules the exchange and within minutes is the owner of a new AK-47, without having had to show any form of identification or undergo a background check.

Changes in regulation of gun sales make these transactions easier than ever. During the Obama administration, firearm dealers were required to report any buyer who attempted to purchase multiple semi-automatic weapons at once. But under the new administration, existing laws implemented to track sales and to restrict the sale of guns to responsible owners, are under attack. As Al Jazeera reported, currently there is no way to prosecute those who are involved with “straw purchases.” Lack of regulations in the US will continue to exacerbate the violence in Mexico. Since 2004, 150,000 Mexican citizens have died at the hands of the cartel’s civil war. Families are fleeing their homes, reporting their loved ones missing, and living in constant fear of piercing bullets.

The corporate media coverage of the situation has been minimal. Until Al Jazeera sent investigative reporters to the frontline and produced its “People and Power” segment, the story had been almost entirely unknown. Several factors suggest why corporate media might not cover this story. First, the US and Mexico have a sensitive relationship on border relations, and must keep the door open due to the heavy reliance on trade. Mexico also has a healthy relationship with Texas, where 40% of smuggled firearms sales occur. Second, the corruption of Mexican state institutions is not a new topic, for years police have been bought off by cartel members. But now it seems that with the rationed militarization, Mexican police are less equipped and more sensitive to cartel ambushes. Third, while the citizens of the US march and protest the consequences of domestic gun laws we must remember the impact it has had on the rest of the world. Mexico is suffering at the hands of the US’s loose statutes and lack of regulation, we must listen to their cry and remember our southern neighbors.


“America’s Guns: Arming Mexico’s Cartels.” Al Jazeera (“People and Power”), March 20, 2018,

John Lindsay-Poland, “America’s Guns: Made in the US, Killing in Mexico,” Al Jazeera, March 28, 2018,

Juliana Ruhfus, “The Day I Got My AK-47: Guns, Mexican Drug Cartels and US Laws,” Al Jazeera, March 21, 2018,

Student Researcher: Sophia Schintzel (University of Vermont)

Faculty Evaluator: Rob Williams (University of Vermont)