December 06, 2023

Castro, Torres, Goldman, Cherfilus-McCormick Lead Introduction of Americas Regional Monitoring of Arms Sales (ARMAS) Act to Curb U.S. Firearms Trafficking to Latin America and Caribbean

Congressman Castro announced the introduction of the ARMAS Act on December 6, 2023, at the Annual National Gun Violence Prevention Summit hosted by the Center for American Progress. A recording of his remarks can be found here – Congressman Castro is the second speaker in the program.

WASHINGTON – Today, Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Congresswoman Norma Torres (CA-35), Congressman Dan Goldman (NY-10), and Congresswoman Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (FL-20) led more than a dozen of their colleagues to introduce the Americas Regional Monitoring of Arms Sales (ARMAS) Act, legislation that would mobilize resources across the federal government to disrupt firearms trafficking from the United States to Latin America and the Caribbean and implement stronger transparency, accountability, and oversight for U.S. arms exports.

“Nearly four years ago, the Trump administration worked with the National Rifle Association to loosen gun export regulations and unleash a flood of American-made guns on the Western Hemisphere. As we work with our allies and partners to address shared regional challenges, including forced migration and drug trafficking, Congress needs to address the role of U.S. gun exports in driving violence and instability abroad. The ARMAS Act will reestablish strong oversight of American gun exports, bring federal agencies together to disrupt arms trafficking, and build safer communities for families in the United States and in the Western Hemisphere,” said Ranking Member Joaquin Castro.

“The American people deserve transparency when it comes to American-made guns being sent abroad. There must be greater Congressional oversight over dangerous firearms exports. I have long pushed for policies to address firearms trafficking and its deadly and often destabilizing impacts on regions like the Northern Triangle. The ARMAS Act – which includes my legislation to crack down on deadly firearms exports – provides much-needed transparency and accountability mechanisms. This legislation will disrupt firearms trafficking across the Western Hemisphere and bolster both America's national security and the security of our neighbors.” said Congresswoman Norma Torres.

"Transnational criminal organizations, especially drug cartels, rely on American-made guns to control their human trafficking and drug smuggling operations by force," said Congressman Dan Goldman. "We must take every avenue possible to ensure that American weapons do not get into the hands of the cartels, who use them to threaten the safety and prosperity of the entire Western Hemisphere. It's incumbent upon American leadership and a strong federal response to keep weapons of war out of the hands of the cartels. The ARMAS Act is a key component of that much-needed response."

“Weapons trafficking by way of the United States is a major contributor to Haiti’s growing gang crisis and the current instability that plagues the country,” said Congresswoman Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, Co-Chair of the Haiti Caucus. “The implementation of stronger transparency, accountability, and oversight mechanisms for U.S. arms exports would address this regional issue and stop guns from getting into the hands of dangerous criminals.” 

In 2020, the Trump administration transferred authority over small arms exports from the State Department to the Commerce Department, weakening export oversight in a move lauded by the National Rifle Association as allowing gun manufacturers to “run more competitively among the global markets.” The transfer has led to skyrocketing arms sales, with a 30 percent annual increase in U.S. arms exports globally and an 82 percent increase in U.S. handgun exports to Latin America and the Caribbean. Across the Western Hemisphere, public reporting has shown that firearms from the United States contribute substantially to political suppression, gang violence, and human rights violations. According to data from the Government Accountability Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, U.S.-sourced firearms accounted for 75 percent of firearms recovered from the Dominican Republic and 70 percent from Mexico. Most recently, U.S. guns were connected to the murder and kidnapping of four American citizens in the border town of Matamoros, Mexico.

The ARMAS Act will address these challenges by:

  • Transferring small arms authority from the Commerce Department and back to the State Department to ensure greater accountability and transparency.
  • Requiring the development of a comprehensive interagency strategy and program, led by the State Department, to disrupt arms trafficking and diversion of exported firearms and create a certification requirement for arm sales end-users.
  • Providing for congressional notification, review, and oversight of certain small arms exports regulated by the State Department.
  • Requiring the submission of an annual report by the State Department and relevant agencies that will allow Congress to understand the challenges and successes of current efforts to address illegal arms trafficking and inform future strategies.
  • Prohibiting the Commerce Department from promoting small arm sales globally throughout the transfer of authority period.

“Guns from the U.S. are being used by violent groups in Latin America and the Caribbean to commit atrocities and destabilize the region. The ARMAS Act would increase accountability and transparency in arms exports. It includes several crucial provisions that gun violence advocates and survivors have identified as key to being crucial to reducing the illegal flow of US guns to other countries. I commend Rep. Castro’s leadership on this issue. If passed, the ARMAS Act would undoubtedly save lives.” said Nick Wilson, senior director for Gun Violence Prevention at the Center for American Progress.

“A gun purchased in the United States is as likely to be used to murder someone in Mexico and other nations of Latin America as in the United States itself. The ARMAS Act will finally move the federal government to concretely address the overwhelming impacts of the U.S. gun market south of the border," said John Lindsay-Poland, who coordinates Stop US Arms to Mexico, a project of Global Exchange.

“March For Our Lives is pleased to support the ARMAS Act, and we’re encouraged by this effort to put safety and human life over gun manufacturers profits,” said Elena Perez, Senior Policy Associate of March For Our Lives. “Nearly three-quarters of weapons recovered from Mexico and the Dominican Republic originated from the United States and it’s time we take accountability for our actions and demand higher standards from the gun industry. The trafficking of firearms from the United States is a pervasive problem, and one that demands our attention. We have a responsibility to save lives, not only within our borders but also by addressing how American gun culture and the American gun industry’s loose business practices bleed across our borders. It's time to hold the gun lobby accountable and tighten our laws.”

The ARMAS Act is co-sponsored by Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-07), Nydia Velázquez (NY-07), James P. McGovern (MA-02), Gerry Connolly (VA-11), Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (FL-25), Dina Titus (NV-01), Juan Vargas (CA-52), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Jesús G. “Chuy” Garcia (IL-04), Ilhan Omar (MN-05), Sara Jacobs (CA-51), Sydney Kamlager-Dove (CA-37), and Seth Magaziner (RI-02), and endorsed by the Center for American Progress, Newtown Action Alliance, March for Our Lives, Stop U.S. Arms to Mexico (a project of Global Exchange), Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), and Global Action on Gun Violence.

Congressman Joaquin Castro has been a longtime leader of congressional efforts to address the consequences of underregulated gun exports and illegal gun trafficking and diversion. Over the last two years, he has led several letters seeking answers from the Commerce Department on lackluster oversight and inadequate transparency with regard to export approvals. In April of this year, he commissioned a report from the non-partisan Government Accountability Office into illegal firearms trafficking from the U.S. to the Caribbean, requesting a country-by-country breakdown on the legal export of American firearms to the Caribbean region, as well as additional information on the diversion of legally exported purchases to illicit actors.

The bill text for the ARMAS Act can be found here.