Los Zetas, drug cartels, and weapons

Los Zetas were formed when an elite unit in the Mexican Army, trained here in the US and elsewhere, went rogue and began providing muscle to the Gulf Cartel. They later broke away and formed their own cartel. Both cartels are known for ultra-violence and have plentiful amounts of high powered weaponry.

So where do they get the weapons? Borderland Beat thinks they’re coming from the US. But that can only account for a small amount of the traffic.

Between the years 2004 and 2008, the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) conducted a detailed tracing process using a significant portion of the 23,000 firearms recovered by Mexican Authorities.

They found that a startling 87% percent of the arms originated in the United States. Moreover, between the years 2006 and 2008, this figure increased to 90%. To break this data down further, 70% of the weapons came from the states of Texas, California, and Arizona: 39%, 20%, and 10% respectively.

A big problem with US gun laws is indeed that in many states, private gun sales between unlicensed owners are not regulated or tracked. Straw buyers could buy guns a few at a time then take them across the border. A organization like the Zetas might have dozens, if not hundreds, of people doing this.

However, many of the guns the Zetas have are not legal for private citizens to own in the US. Further, even with hundreds of straw buyers, getting the guns across the border would be problematic – and there would certainly be quite a few arrests and seizures. But there haven’t been.

Therefore, the weapons, while originating in the US, are getting into Mexico via other countries and channels. That’s where the real straw buyers are. Plus, there’s a huge black and gray market in weapons that ignores laws. So while laws here between private buyers probably need to be tightened up, so does tracking of weapons sold to buyers in other countries. Because I’m guessing US gun companies and the various intermediaries aren’t asking a whole lot of questions.

So, while some weapons may be crossing the borders a few at a time, buying them hundreds at a time through intermediaries elsewhere would be way more efficient. Besides, the cartels also have ground-to-air missiles, helicopters, bazookas, and grenade launchers. Clearly, no one is attempting to smuggle a helicopter across the border.

Drugs-for-guns is a time-honored swap. So, there could be all manner of organized crime providing firearms to the cartels in exchange for drugs.