By: Eugenio Weigend (Associate Director for Gun Violence Prevention, Center for American Progress) and Silvia Villarreal (Master of Public Policy, Instituto Tecnologico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey)

This blog is part of a special series by the Harris Institute’s  Gun Violence and Human Rights Initiative and the Institute for Public Health’s Gun Violence Initiative in recognition of National Gun Violence Awareness Month, launched on June 5th for Gun Violence Awareness Day. Throughout this series we will highlight the work being done on this critical issue across campus, the St. Louis region, and the country. 

The easy access to guns in the United States, and the lack of common-sense gun laws to protect people from gun violence, threatens the basic human rights of life, liberty, and security. As mentioned by a recent report, every year, more than 36,000 people are killed with a gun and hundreds of thousands more are injured. Guns are also used to intimidate and coerce. Millions of Americans are threatened with guns every year. They endanger the lives of those who suffer from domestic violence. They encourage the use of deadly force by individuals acting under Stand your Ground laws. They facilitate the use of excessive force by law enforcement, which disproportionately affects black and Hispanic communities. Gun violence threatens the security of all. It has reached schools, parks, churches, stores, restaurants, and our own homes. The refusal of U.S. public officials to address the proliferation of firearms has endangered the basic human rights of Americans. Yet, this threat to life does not stop at the border. 

Every year, thousands of U.S. guns are trafficked to other countries in the region. Even when they are exported legally, firearms have significantly contributed to the rise of violence in Latin America. In the case of Mexico, they have fueled an armed race between criminal organizations, which use weapons trafficked from the U.S., and security forces, who are in turn sold hundreds of millions of dollars in weapons by the U.S., creating a dangerous combination that has resulted in record-breaking gun violence.

The current U.S. administration has been actively promoting weapon sales to other countries. Firearm sales from the U.S. to Mexico disregard where these weapons end up. They have been used in massacres and disappearances by security forces colluded with organized crime to commit human rights abuses. Six years ago, 43 students from Ayotzinapa, in Mexico’s southwest state of Guerrero, were attacked by Mexican police offices using U.S. guns. The missing 43 students, however, are part of the more than 63,000 persons that have disappeared in Mexico.

In addition to this troubling number, Mexico’s gun homicide rates have been rising every year since 2014. During 2019, close to 70 percent of the total number of homicides were perpetrated with a firearm. The use of firearms to perpetrate robberies and other crimes in Mexico has also increased in recent years. According to Amnesty International, one of the leading causes of gun violence is the easy access to guns, whether legal or illegal.

In its latest Human Rights Report about Mexico, the U.S. Department of State recognized that there are significant human rights issues in the country by police, military, other public officials, and illegal armed groups. Amongst these issues are arbitrary killings, forced disappearances, and torture. This harsh reality is fueled by the existing arms race between those who obtain weapons legally and those who obtain them illegally.

This vicious dynamic of legal and illegal sales generates the demand for better and more lethal firearms from the U.S. While this would result in higher profits to the gun industry, it will result in higher levels of gun violence and more human rights violations in Mexico. 


Eugenio Weigend is the Associate Director for Gun Violence Prevention at the Center for American Progress.

Silvia Villarreal graduated with a Master of Public Policy (MPP) from Instituto Tecnologico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey.