May 17, 2024

Reps. Castro, Escobar, Frost Introduce Stop Arming Cartels Act to Prevent Trafficking of Military-Grade Weapons to Mexican Cartels

WASHINGTON – This week, Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Congresswoman Veronica Escobar (TX-16), and Congressman Maxwell Frost (FL-10) introduced the Stop Arming Cartels Act, legislation that builds on the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act to address the sale and trafficking of firearms from the United States to transnational criminal organizations around the world by prohibiting the further sale of 0.50 caliber rifles, regulating existing 0.50 caliber rifles, applying the same reporting requirements for handguns to rifles, and establishing new avenues for the victims of gun violence to seek justice from manufacturers and dealers who violate U.S. laws.

“When I speak to leaders in Latin America and the Caribbean, their number-one request is for Congress to stop American weapons of war from falling into the hands of the gangs that are destabilizing their countries,” said Congressman Castro. “Especially in Mexico, access to .50 caliber rifles has fundamentally altered the balance of power between criminal organizations and the government and allowed cartels to become virtually untouchable. Congress can have meaningful debates about broader gun safety reform — but we should all be able to agree that U.S. gun manufacturers should not be selling the weapons that Mexican cartels use to down military helicopters and attack police convoys. The Stop Arming Cartels Act is an important step to restore regional stability and prevent the violence that drives forced migration across our hemisphere.”

"The gun laws championed by Republican legislators in this country make Americans less safe. The consequences don't just impact our communities, but they also impact our neighbors in Latin America and around the world," said Congresswoman Escobar. "A refusal to act would mean continuing to arm transnational criminal organizations and cartels that purchase these weapons for illicit acts. I'm proud to join my colleagues Representatives Castro, Frost, and our other cosponsors to introduce the Stop Arming Cartels Act that would strengthen rifle regulations and prohibit the sale of certain rifles to prevent further violence and bloodshed."

“Just as our gun laws have allowed for far too many lives to be lost at the hands of gun violence, these same laws have also allowed for the flow of guns into Mexico, South America, and beyond — bringing these communities pain, loss, and devastation,” said Congressman Frost. “I'm proud to join Reps. Castro and Escobar in introducing the Stop Arming Cartels Act to help stop the illegal flow of guns, help weaken the power of these dangerous cartels, and to save lives.”

“.50 Caliber rifles can fire accurately at targets nearly a mile away and shoot down police helicopters. Because of the long range of these rifles, there are hardly even locations to practice with them in the United States. They have no legitimate use for community members in our country - or in Mexico, where they are a weapon of choice for criminal organizations that use them to grow their violent business. The Stop Arming Cartels Act is an important step to depriving firepower to criminal groups that traffic fentanyl and drive mass migration,” said John Lindsay-Poland, coordinator of Stop US Arms to Mexico. 

“For far too long, transnational criminal cartels have thrived by exploiting America’s weak gun laws to outfit their operations with high-powered firearms, including .50 caliber rifles that are capable of penetrating armor and even downing aircraft. The Stop Arming Cartels Act will stem the flow of particularly dangerous firearms to cartels to forge a safer future not just for our nation, but neighboring countries. Brady is grateful to Representatives Castro, Frost, and Escobar for championing this life-saving bill,” said Mark Collins, Director of Federal Policy for Brady.

“We have a responsibility to stop supplying cartels with powerful weapons of war. Banning these weapons would be an important first step in showing our commitment to preventing the harm caused by U.S. guns abroad. With so many Americans concerned about border security, illicit narcotics - including fentanyl - and gun violence, there is no justification for continuing to supply cartels with .50 caliber sniper rifles which are then used to harm innocent civilians, law enforcement, and Americans. The Stop Arming Cartels Act will reduce violence on both sides of the border.” said Nick Wilson, Senior Director of Gun Violence Prevention, Center for American Progress.

“Amnesty International USA takes note of the importance of deterring the arms flow towards organized criminal groups. Irresponsible arms trading affects those living inside and outside areas of armed conflict and political instability. Any effort that will help to reduce the indiscriminate wave of violence in various countries in the Americas is a step towards greater stability and the fulfillment of all human rights,” said Daniel Noroña, Americas Advocacy Director, Amnesty International USA.

Reporting over the last several years indicates that .50 caliber rifles have increasingly become the weapons of choice for Mexican cartels in their attacks against Mexican law enforcement and rival criminal organizations. These weapons are most often acquired through straw purchases in the United States and trafficked across the border to Mexico. Unlike smaller assault rifles that have been the primary weapons in mass shootings in the United States, .50 caliber rifles are powerful enough to down helicopters and destroy armored vehicles. The sale and trafficking of .50 caliber rifles within the United States is a significant contributor to cartel violence that drives instability and forced migration in Mexico and other nations.

The Stop Arming Cartels Act of 2024 will address these challenges by:

  1. Banning the manufacture, importation, sale, transfer, or possession of .50 caliber rifles excluding governmental use of these arms.
  1. Regulating .50 caliber rifles that are currently possessed lawfully under the National Firearms Act, by assigning a fee waiver and 12-month grace period to register on the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.
  1. Establishing an exception to the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), enabling victims of gun violence to sue manufacturers and dealers who engage in firearm transactions that violate the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (the “Kingpin Act”).
  1. Prohibiting the distribution of firearms, either through sale or transfer, to individuals sanctioned under the Kingpin Act, and incorporating Kingpin Act designations into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
  1. Mandating that firearms dealers report multiple sales of rifles to state and local law enforcement agencies, mirroring the current requirement for handguns.

The full text of the Stop Arming Cartels Act can be found here.

Additional co-sponsors of the Stop Arming Cartels Act include: Reps. Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Barbara Lee (CA-12), Jamaal Bowman (NY-16), Julia Brownley (CA-26), Dan Goldman (NY-10), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-25), Delia Ramirez (IL-03), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-AL), James P. McGovern (MA-02), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Nydia Velázquez (NY-07), Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-07), Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (FL-20), Sydney Kamlager-Dove (CA-37), Sylvia Garcia (TX-29, Mark Takano (CA-39), and Andy Kim (NJ-03).

The Stop Arming Cartels Act has been endorsed by: Global Exchange/Stop U.S. Arms to Mexico, Gun Violence Prevention, Newtown Action Alliance, March for Our Lives, Everytown, Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), Center for American Progress, Brady: United Against Gun Violence, Latin America Working Group (LAWG), Amnesty International, Win Without War, and Global Action on Gun Violence.