Cross-Border Spillover: U.S. Gun Laws and Violence in Mexico

August 2013
Oeindrila Dube
in American Political Science Review Vol. 107, No. 3, 397-417.

Cross-Border Spillover: U.S. Gun Laws and Violence in Mexico. 
To what extent, and under what conditions, does access to arms fuel violent crime? To answer this question, we exploit a unique natural experiment: the 2004 expiration of the U.S. Federal Assault Weapons Ban exerted a spillover on gun supply in Mexican municipios near Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, but not near California, which retained a pre-existing state-level ban. We find first that Mexican municipios located closer to the non-California border states experienced differential increases in homicides, gun-related homicides, and crime gun seizures after 2004. Second, the magnitude of this effect is contingent on political factors related to Mexico’s democratic transition. Killings increased disproportionately in municipios where local elections had become more competitive prior to 2004, with the largest differentials emerging in high narco-trafficking areas. Our findings suggest that competition undermined informal agreements between drug cartels and entrenched local governments, highlighting the role of political conditions in mediating the gun-crime relationship.