(VICE).- The role of Armslist and other similar online marketplaces as a source of weapons that end up in the hands of criminals on both sides of the border is growing, law enforcement sources told VICE News. While federal regulations require stores and licensed firearms dealers to perform background checks on prospective buyers, Armslist connects users for private transactions that can be done with virtually no questions asked, making it easily exploited for “straw purchases” done on behalf of cartels.
Thomas Chittum, the ATF’s acting deputy director, told VICE News that arms merchants who once had to travel around to gun shows and flea markets can now use sites like Armslist—which hosts classified-style listings for everything from handguns to military-grade firepower like the M249 SAW—to operate remotely and broaden their supply networks.
“By using these online marketplaces, I can do it from the comfort of my home and I can reach a much bigger potential customer base,” Chittum said. “That’s the appeal of these things. And it’s the same appeal that makes Craigslist convenient when you want to sell a couch. This represents a pretty significant source of trafficked firearms.”
“It’s the same appeal that makes Craigslist convenient when you want to sell a couch. This represents a pretty significant source of trafficked firearms.”
Around 70 percent of the illegal firearms seized in Mexico are traced back to U.S. sales, according to the latest ATF data. The clandestine nature of arms trafficking makes it difficult to gauge the true scope of the trade, but Mexican authorities estimate about 2.5 million American guns have poured across the border over the past decade. Mexico saw upwards of 150,000 homicides linked to organized crime from 2006 to 2018, and the homicide rate has remained at historically high levels over the last two years.
The government of Mexico sued several major U.S.-based gun manufacturers in August, alleging the companies bear responsibility for the firepower the cartels now wield. Damages could run as high as $10 billion if the suit is successful, Mexican officials have estimated, though a federal law that shields gun companies from liability for crimes committed with their products makes victory a longshot. The lawsuit also seeks tighter controls on sales, but the emergence of sites like Armslist complicates any potential effort to limit guns falling into the wrong hands.
A collection of .50-caliber rifles seized from criminals on display at a military base in Mexico City on August 1, 2017. (Photo by Bernardo Montoya/AFP via Getty Images)
Asked about Armslist and online gun sales in the U.S., Alejandro Celorio, principal legal adviser for Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told VICE News that the country “has one gun store in the entire nation and issues fewer than 50 gun permits per year,” and strict domestic laws “make it virtually impossible for criminals to lawfully obtain guns in Mexico.”
“Gun companies and sellers like Armslist, instead of implementing public safety–related monitoring or disciplining controls on their distribution systems, undermine these stringent Mexican laws, and wreak havoc in Mexican society, by persistently supplying a torrent of guns to the drug cartels,” Celorio said.
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