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  • Detail of the 267 firearms that Salvadoran gang members delivered to the authorities in Apopa, El Salvador, on March 9, 2013.

    Detail of the 267 firearms that Salvadoran gang members delivered to the authorities in Apopa, El Salvador, on March 9, 2013. | Photo: EFE

Published 29 July 2017

The United States is the single largest source of guns in El Salvador.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions travelled to El Salvador earlier this week to discuss efforts to combat the MS-13 street gang.

White House and ICE Move to Crack Down on MS-13, Migrants

The main objective of Sessions’ trip was to discuss security cooperation in tackling transnational crime, which takes the form of stopping gang activities in El Salvador that affect the United States. Sessions, however, failed to mention the steady flow of smuggled U.S. guns that make their way into the Central American country.

“While it only takes a small number of weapons to carry out a large number of murders, finding out where the weapons that arm the country's gang members come from is a crucial part of tackling El Salvador's violence,” Insight Crime, a website covering public safety in Latin America, said in its analysis.

Over the past few decades, thousands of guns have poured into El Salvador and its neighboring countries, sourced from the vast civilian gun market in the United States. The weapons are reportedly smuggled to Central America in the trunks of cars or sneaked into packages alongside common household items. 

According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, 48 percent of weapons recovered at crime scenes in El Salvador in 2015 came from the United States. The figure confirms previous findings by El Salvador’s own law enforcement agencies.

“In a bigger structural way, you’re never going to move the needle on this until you address domestic gun laws,” a congressional aide who has worked on Central American immigration for the past decade told The Trace. 

“There’s barely been any willingness to do that before, and there’s even less willingness now.”

MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, was founded in Los Angeles in the 1980s by Salvadoran refugees who fled U.S.-backed state violence in the Central American country. The group was formed as a support system for Salvadoran immigrants who were under attack from rival Mexican street gangs.

After years of engaging in criminal activity and eventually being deported back to El Salvador, MS-13 leaders spread the gang’s influence past their borders, delving into neighboring Honduras and Guatemala. 

The Northern Triangle, which consists of all three countries, remains one of the most dangerous regions in the world. 

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