Going Nowhere Fast (or Furious): The Nonexistent U.S. Firearms Trafficking Statute and the Rise of Mexican Drug Cartel Violence

Drug trafficking violence in Mexico, now reaching epidemic proportions, greatly impacts both the Mexican and United States governments. Despite the escalation of the “War on Drugs, ” drug trafficking from Mexico to the United States continues largely unabated, stifling tourism revenue and lawful economic opportunities, and causing violence previously unknown in Mexico. Thus far, the United States’ efforts to deal with this drug trafficking and violence include the recent debacle of Operation Fast and Furious. News regarding this Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives'(ATF) operation shocked citizens and lawmakers alike, as Fast and Furious allowed firearms to “walk” down to Mexico unimpeded in a futile attempt to identify firearms traffickers in Mexican drug cartels. Ultimately, this operation led to the presence of over two thousand additional firearms in Mexico, contributing to continued violence south of the U.S. border and the possibility of spillover violence back into the United States. An analysis of Operation Fast and Furious and other law enforcement attempts to stop firearms trafficking and drug cartel violence in Mexico demonstrates that the development and tactics of these operations require a more comprehensive approach to the problems facing Mexico and the United States. This Article discusses extraterritoriality, and the effects of U.S. domestic criminal laws on a foreign country, in the context of U.S. domestic firearms trafficking laws. First, this Article lays out the problem: Mexican drug cartels are receiving thousands of weapons from the United States with which to create havoc and wreak violence upon both nations. It then discusses the dynamics of that problem, which include addressing the current legal framework and the NRA lobbying effort against restrictions on firearms. The Article examines the ATF’s Project Gunrunner and Operation Fast and Furious and argues that the lack of a simple and strong firearms trafficking statute contributed to ATF’s decision to implement Operation Fast and Furious, thereby contributing to large numbers of firearms heading south to Mexico. The Article further argues that without a true comprehensive firearms trafficking statute, the combined efforts of the United States and Mexico to stem the southbound flow of firearms and resulting drug violence will ultimately fail. Besides seeking to contribute to the dialogue on solving a looming and important problem, this Article endeavors to promote discussion about the extraterritorial effects of U.S. domestic criminal laws. Ultimately, it argues that, in certain contexts, the positive extraterritorial effects of such laws should take priority over complaints about their negligible domestic effects.