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America's love for guns is fueling conflict outside its borders too

U.S. gun culture, with its lax gun laws, has helped fuel crime all across the Western Hemisphere.


Successive weeks with mass casualty shootings are a reminder — and we hardly needed one — of the ways the United States’ fanatical gun culture drives violence domestically. 

But many Americans might not be aware that this fascination with guns is feeding violence in other countries, as well. As we feel the pain and anger over yet another massacre, it’s important to remember that this experience is one of our country’s top exports. 

Or put more literally: American-made guns are often at the center of gun violence in other countries, especially in the Western Hemisphere.

Last fall, The Trace published an article detailing “How U.S. Guns Drive Cartel Violence in Mexico,” which cited federal data showing at least 56,000 guns that were made or sold in the U.S. were used to commit crimes in Mexico from 2014 to 2018. Mexico, notably, has only one legal gun store. But as a report from the progressive Center for American Progress noted in 2018, “many of the same gaps and weaknesses in U.S. gun laws that contribute to illegal gun trafficking domestically likewise contribute to the illegal trafficking of guns from the United States to nearby nations.”

That means U.S. lawmakers who back lax policies, like the gun show loophole, are literally enabling gun-running that has led to a surge of violence and crime throughout the Western Hemisphere. Author Ioan Grillo took a look at the broad impact of U.S. guns making their way to foreign countries in his book “Blood Gun Money: How America Arms Gangs and Cartels.”

Photo Illustration: A shopping cart filled with guns

“Various causes drive people from their homes in Central America, including extreme poverty and drought linked to climate change,” Grillo wrote for The Guardian last year. “But violence is a major factor, with asylum claims by Central Americans often citing attacks by gun-toting criminals.”

Around 179,000 American-made firearms were confiscated in Mexico and across Central America from 2007 to 2019, Grillo wrote.

The CAP report examined instances in the past decade when American-made guns accounted for around half of the crime guns recovered and traced in Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Panama. In some Caribbean countries, the number has been astronomical at various points over the last decade, with American-made guns making up more than 95 percent of crime guns recovered and traced in countries like Haiti and the Bahamas. 

The fact that the U.S. is the driver of so much gun crime in our hemisphere makes it all the more cruel that conservatives take such a firm stance against immigration to the United States. Their infatuation with guns is surely leading to violence that forces people in other countries to flee.