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    Why did Mexico become a violent country? The role of illegal American firearms and other alternative hypotheses Following a pattern observed in developed countries, Mexico experienced a substantial drop in crime and violence throughout the second half of the XXth century. However, after the 2004- 2007 period, the observed decline ceased and homicides began to increase, whilst other crimes such as violent robberies, extortions and kidnappings appeared for the first time in previously- considered non-violent regions. By comparing the explanatory power of several hypotheses used to date, this paper suggests that more illegal firearms being trafficked from the U.S. after the Assault Weapon Ban (AWB) expired in 2004 is the best predictor for homicide rise in Mexico after then. Keywords

    Mexico, U.S, Assault Weapons Ban, homicide, violence, crime, guns, firearms, trafficking

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    AWB Assault Weapons Ban (U.S.) Ley de Prohibición Federal de Armas de Asalto

    CONAPO National Council of Population (Mexico) Consejo Nacional de Población ICESI Citizens' Institute for Security Studies (Mexico)

    Instituto Ciudadano de Estudios Sobre la Inseguridad IFAI Institute of Access to Information and Data Protection (Mexico)

    Instituto Federal de Acceso a la Información Pública y Protección de Datos INEGI National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Mexico) Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía SNSP National Public Security System (Mexico)

    Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública SEDENA Secretariat of National Defense (Mexico)

    Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional – Mexican Army

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    Introduction Following a pattern observed in other countries around the world (Farrell, Tseloni, Mailley and Tilley,

    2011), Mexico experienced a substantial drop in crime and violence over the last decades of the

    twentieth century. This trend is clear in the case of homicides for which the rate per 100,000 inhabitants

    fell from around 40-50 homicides in the mid-1950s to 17.9 in 1997, and around 11.5 by mid-2000s

    (SESNSP, 2014; CONAPO, 2014). By 2004, the incidence of crime in Mexico was at the lowest level


    Nevertheless, after 2004, violence generated by criminal organisations began to increase. This occurred

    particularly in Mexico’s northern states (which border the U.S.) where authorities started to be

    challenged, policeman and Mayors were killed for the first time, and society witnessed a dramatic

    expansion of violent crimes such as kidnapping, robberies and extortion (Ríos, 2011 and SNSP 2013).

    Alongside these sudden changes in crime, increases in other forms of violence such as confrontations

    in public spaces in which innocent victims were injured, the rising prevalence of powerful guns in

    criminal hands, and an increase in the fear of crime -as measured by victimization surveys- generated

    the perception that Mexico was becoming a ‘failed state’ (ENSI2010; ENVIPE, 2012; USJFCOM;


    These changes naturally raise many questions. A first one is about explaining the ‘big picture’. In other

    words, how criminological theories might enlighten why a country that was experiencing a decline in

    crime (with the size and population of Mexico) suddenly changed trajectory to witness a clear increase

    in violence. A second one is about the ‘tactic behind the violence’. This is relevant given that Mexico

    has had one of the strictest gun policies in the world. Certainly, an analysis about the illegal gun supply

    is lacking and its inclusion would help to comprehend if criminal opportunity actually changed and how

    this fact could have triggered violence in the country.

    Overall, the aim of this study is to explore some of the most widespread hypotheses used when trying

    to explain the spike in violence in Mexico during the last decade. The main argument presented here is

    that homicide increase cannot be empirically elucidated by using the traditional ‘criminological

    explanations’. By contrast, it proposes an additional hypothesis: due to the timing of these criminal

    changes in Mexico and the geography involved, one possible explanation may be found in modifications

    to gun legislation in the U.S. This research particularly explores how the expiration of the U.S. Assault

    Weapon Ban (AWB) in 2004 might explain the rise of homicide in Mexico after then.

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    The study is organised as follows. Section 1 outlines a general background -the rationale behind the

    paper- suggesting how gun prevalence in the U.S. is linked with illegal guns in Mexico (gun seizures is

    considered a proxy) on one hand, and its possible impact: homicides in Mexico, on the other. Section 2

    presents the statistical analysis: a fixed effect panel data model linking homicides with gun seizures in

    Mexico, controlling by other explanations for violence. Section 3 explores two additional robustness

    techniques: a first one to reconfirm the temporal role of AWB expiration in homicides increase, and

    some exploratory ideas for a possible instrumental variable. Finally, Section 4 presents some general

    findings and further implications.

    1. Background

    Graph 1: An input-ouput-outcome model

    Source: Author’s elaboration, 2014

    1.1 Input: More guns (prevalence) in the U.S. On September 13, 1994, U.S. President William Clinton signed into law the Public Safety and

    Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, commonly known as the Federal Assault Weapons Ban

    (AWB). This federal law included a ten-year prohibition on the manufacture and import of specific

    semi-automatic firearms for civilian use that were defined therein as "assault weapons" (GPO, 1994).

    From an analytical perspective, this policy of restricting military-style guns had two main objectives.

    On one hand, it aimed to reduce the social costs -morbidity and mortality- associated with the public

    shootings, accidents and murders occurring all over the U.S. On the other, it also intended to contribute

    1. More available guns in the U.S. as possible input

    2. More seized firearms in Mexico as possible output

    3. More homicides in Mexico as possible outcome

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    in stopping the violent crimes experienced in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Baltimore,

    D.C., Boston and others (Presidential Libraries, 1994).

    Although there is no absolute consensus regarding if this ten-year ban was actually successful or not in

    achieving these goals, most of the studies suggest some positive externalities. By restricting high calibre

    and large amounts of guns to unreliable users (such as gangs and straw purchasers), this policy could

    have contributed to re-empower police forces, on one hand, and to reduce social harm previously caused

    by high gun prevalence, on the other (Roth and Koper, 1999).

    In any case, ten years later in 2004, the AWB expiration removed the restrictions to private contractors

    for manufacturing, importing and selling for civilian use most of the semi-automatic weapons that were

    prohibited ten years ago. In addition to a quantitative raise in prevalence, guns also increased its

    destructive power (lethality). In fact, ATF (2013) data shows that more 9mm pistols and rifles started

    to be produced at higher rates after 2004, coincidentally the preferred weapons by criminal organisations

    operating in Mexico (Goodmand and Marizco, 2010).

    Graph 2: Gun prevalence in the U.S.

    Source: Perez Esparza and Weigend, 2014










    Implementation of the AWB

    Removal fo the AWB

    Obama's administration

    Mass shootings in Aurora and


    Net number of firearms = (manufactured + imported firearms) - exported firearms

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    1.2 Output: More illegal guns (confiscations) in Mexico

    Mexico has had a highly restrictive gun policy for almost 100 years. One of the clearest keys for

    understanding this regulation is the 1972 Federal Law of Firearms and Explosives, which basically

    reconfirmed two historical bases. On one hand, it fortified the legal and administrative system to control

    the proliferation of guns in the country while heavily limiting and restricting the access for civilians,

    (and even to the civil police forces). On the other, it granted exclusivity and the constitutional mandate

    to the federal government to strictly enforce this policy throughout the Mexican Army (SEDENA).

    As a result of these foundations, manufacturing for civilian use has been almost inexistent in Mexico.

    Production for government agencies has been rare and, when it has occurred, it has been carried out

    monopolistically by the Army, for the Army itself. The rationale behind was to restrict the supply to

    civilians under the ‘least-guns-as possible’ paradigm.

    In terms of civil possession, for instance, Mexican citizens who want to acquire a gun have to register

    to be granted with


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