Last week, Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-TX), Veronica Escobar (D-TX), and Maxwell Frost (D-FL) introduced the Stop Arming Cartels Act to address the sale and trafficking of firearms from the United States to transnational criminal organizations around the world. The legislation builds on the bipartisan Safer Communities Act that became law on June 26, 2022.

The act prohibits the sale of .50 caliber rifles, regulates existing .50 caliber rifles, and applies the same reporting requirements for handguns to rifles. The act would also establish new avenues for the victims of gun violence to seek justice from manufacturers and dealers who violate U.S. laws. Access to weapons of war from the U.S. has given cartels unprecedented power over the drug trade and trade routes that are often disputed by other cartels that manifest into wars.

“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 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,” continued Castro. The Stop Arming Cartels Act is an important step to restore regional stability and prevent the violence that drives forced migration across our hemisphere.”

Many may ask, “Why .50 caliber weapons and ammunition specifically?” The answer may surprise most. Reporting over the last several years indicates that .50 caliber rifles are the weapons of choice for Mexican cartels in their attacks against Mexican law enforcement and rival criminal organizations. The sheer power of .50 caliber firearms allows them to deliver a devastating shot from great distances.

“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 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.”

In most cases, these high-caliber weapons are acquired through straw purchases in the U.S. and later trafficked into Mexico. Unlike the smaller assault rifles such as the AR-15, .50 caliber rifles are powerful enough to damage armored vehicles. There is little question that the sale and trafficking of .50 caliber rifles into Mexico and other Latin American countries is a major contributor to violence driving instability and forced migration from many nations in the region. 

“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 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.”

According to a press release by Castro’s office, The Stop Arming Cartels Act will address: 

  1. Banning the manufacture, importation, sale, transfer, or possession of .50 caliber rifles excluding governmental use of these arms.
  2. 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.
  3. 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”).
  4. 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).
  5. Mandating that firearms dealers report multiple sales of rifles to state and local law enforcement agencies, mirroring the current requirement for handguns.

“Fifty 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,” said John Lindsay-Poland, coordinator of Stop US Arms to Mexico. “The Stop Arming Cartels Act is an important step to depriving firepower to criminal groups that traffic fentanyl and drive mass migration.”

Stop Arming Cartels Act Co-Sponsors 

Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY)
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA)
Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY)
Rep. Julia Brownley (D-CA)
Rep. Dan Goldman (D-NY)
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL)
Rep. Delia Ramirez (D-IL)
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC)
Rep. James P. McGovern (D-MA)
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)
Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY)
Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ)
Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (D-FL)
Rep. Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-CA)
Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX)
Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA)
Rep. Andy Kim (D-NJ)

Despite their feigned outrage about fentanyl and their threats of the U.S. going to war with Mexico to deal with the cartels using U.S. military power, not one Republican has signed on to co-sponsor the Stop Arming Cartels Act.

Stop Arming Cartels Act Endorsements

Global Exchange/Stop U.S. Arms to Mexico
Gun Violence Prevention
Newtown Action Alliance
March for Our Lives
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
Global Action on Gun Violence
March for Our Lives
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
Global Action on Gun Violence

The lack of support from the pro-gun lobby groups is evident. Groups such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) who regularly use the fear of foreign invasion to sell guns are noticeably absent from co-sponsoring a measure that would help curtail multinational crime syndicates’ access to U.S. military-grade weapons.

Read the Full Text of the Stop Arming Cartels Act

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Arturo Dominguez

Arturo is an anti-racist political nerd. He is an upcoming author, journalist, advocate for social justice, and a married father of three. He is a top writer on Medium and a regular contributor to several news media outlets. He writes educational and informative material about systemic racism, white supremacy, and racial injustice.

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