Tijuana is firearms-trafficking capital

U.S. gun laws are a polarizing subject in America but access to firearms in the States has effects on other countries too, particularly south of the border.

CGTN’s Alasdair Baverstock reports.

Tijuana, a Mexican city at the U.S. border with California, is now considered the country’s firearms trafficking capital.

In just over two years, authorities have confiscated more than 2,000 firearms from the city’s streets, more than any other Mexican border city, while last year, more than 1,500 arrests were made for firearms trafficking across the wider region of Baja California.

So it’s not surprising that a recent study ranked Tijuana as the world’s most violent city in the world, based on its murder rate.

“It’s a very serious problem. Last year we had more than 2,000 violent homicides, more than ninety percent of them were committed with high-caliber firearms,” said Genaro de la Torre a Tijuana Citizens’ Public Safety Committee.

The guns arrive in Tijuana from across the border. Even plenty of legally-obtained guns come in. To buy a semi-automatic firearm in the state of California, you must be 21, have a state ID, proof of residency, a proficiency certificate, pass a federal background check and then wait a mandatory ten days.

Tens of thousands of vehicles cross the U.S. border at Tijuana every day, and while long lines and checks heading north are part of the journey, crossing back into Mexico is, in practice, a far simpler process.

“The border checks are very lax. There’s a filter which chooses one car at random out of every hundred for inspection, and even then the inspections are nowhere near as in-depth as they should be,” said Genaro de la Torre on the Tijuana Citizens’ Public Safety Committee.

Mario Martinez is Tijuana’s municipal police chief, and says there’s little he can do about the lax border checks.

“This is a tourist city, and we considered installing additional checks after the federal customs, but it would have caused serious problems for our commerce, and we decided against it. Instead we have asked the Mexican customs officials to upgrade their inspection technology to detect these sort of weapons as they enter,” said Mario Martinez the Tijuana Municipal Police Chief.

However, Martinez says the trafficking problem runs deeper, as methods used by criminal organizations have evolved – sometimes avoiding detection entirely.

“Today, we have found that around a quarter of all the guns are actually assembled here. The pieces required to make them are bought across the border, and now they are assembling them here,” said Mario Martinez the Tijuana Municipal Police Chief.

As Tijuana battles gun trafficking, one thing it cannot control is its proximity to the US — and the worsening gun violence may depend on the firearms policies of its northern neighbor.