The .50-caliber sniper rifle is the stuff of YouTube celebrity, shown blasting through engine blocks and concrete walls. Deployed with U.S. troops to foreign wars, it is among the most destructive weapons legally available in the U.S., and every week, those rifles are trafficked across the border to Mexico, where increasingly militarized drug cartels command arsenals that rival the weaponry of federal security forces. In many cases, criminals outgun police, reports the Washington Post. After years of failed U.S. and Mexican efforts to curb arms trafficking, groups such as the Jalisco New Generation and Sinaloa cartels showcase the military-grade weapons in slick propaganda videos and using them to defeat security forces in battle.
In a country with just a single legal gun shop, on a military base in the capital, 2.5 million illicit U.S. guns have poured across the border in the past decade, according to a new Mexican government study. The cartels are using trafficked weapons to kill record numbers of police officers — 464 in the first nine months of 2020 alone — and smaller armed groups are fueling historically high homicide rates. Mexican officials are venting their frustration at what they say is the U.S. failure to stop the flow of .50-caliber rifles. At a time when the U.S. is pushing Mexico to target cartels more aggressively, U.S. laws that make .50-calibers and other destructive weapons easy to buy, along with a lack of enforcement at the border, are enabling those groups to expand their influence and activities. The number of .50-calibers and assault rifles in Mexico has more than doubled in a decade. The homicide rate has risen 67 percent in that time. The U.S. and Mexico this year formed a high-level working group on arms trafficking. U.S. officials say they’re doing more than ever to halt the flow of arms and ammunition.