Hostname: page-component-5d59c44645-kw98b Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-02-24T00:32:51.373Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

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

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 July 2013

University of Massachusetts Amherst
New York University
New York University
Arindrajit Dube is Assistant Professor of Economics, Department of Economics, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Thompson Hall. Amherst, MA 01003 (
Oeindrila Dube is Assistant Professor of Politics and Economics, Department of Politics, New York University, 19 West 4th Street, New York, NY 10012-1119 (
Omar García-Ponce is a Ph.D. candidate, Department of Politics, New York University, 19 West 4th Street, New York, NY 10012-1119 (


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.

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2013 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



Ades, Alberto, and Di Tella, Rafael. 1999. “Association Rents, Competition, and Corruption.” American Economic Review 89: 982–93.Google Scholar
Alt, James, and Lassen, David. 2003. “The Political Economy of Institutions and Corruption in American States.” Journal of Theoretical Politics 15: 341–65.Google Scholar
Andreas, Peter. 1996. “U.S.-Mexico: Open Markets, Closed Border.” Foreign Policy 103: 5169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Arias, Enrique D., and Goldstein, Daniel. 2010. Violent Democracies in Latin America. Durham and London: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Astorga, Luis. 2005. El Siglo de las Drogas. Mexico City: Plaza y Janés.Google Scholar
Astorga, Luis, and Shirk, David A.. 2010. “Drug Trafficking Organizations and Counter-Drug Strategies in the U.S.-Mexican Context.” Working Paper. Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, University of California at San Diego.Google Scholar
Ayres, Ian, and Donohue, John. 1999. “Non-discretionary Concealed Weapons Law: A Case Study of Statistics, Standards of Proof, and Public Policy.” American Law and Economics Review 1: 436–70.Google Scholar
Ayres, Ian, and Donohue, John. 2003. “Shooting Down the ‘More Guns, Less Crime’ Hypothesis.” Stanford Law Review 51: 1193–312.Google Scholar
Bartra, Roger. 2012. “La Hidra Mexicana: El Retorno del PRI.” Letras Libres, January.Google Scholar
Bergman, Marcelo, and Whitehead, Laurence. 2009. Criminality, Public Security and the Challenge to Democracy in Latin America. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.Google Scholar
Black, Dan, and Nagin, Daniel. 1998. “Do Right-to-Carry Laws Deter Violent Crime?Journal of Legal Studies 27: 209–19.Google Scholar
Blattman, Chris, and Miguel, Edward. 2010. “Civil War.” The Journal of Economic Literature 48: 357.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. 2010. Lists of Federal Firearms Licensees. Scholar
Calderón, Felipe. 2009. Tercer Informe de Gobierno. Mexico City: Mexican Presidency.Google Scholar
Cameron, A. C., and Trivedi, P. K.. 2009. Microeconometrics Using Stata. College Station, TX: Stata Press.Google Scholar
2011. “Mexico wants to Sue U.S. Gunmakers.” CBS News Investigates, CBS Interactive Inc. April 21. Scholar
Centro de Investigación para el Desarrollo, A. C. (CIDAC). 2011. Base de Datos Electoral CIDAC. Scholar
Chicoine, Luke. 2011. “Exporting the Second Amendment: U.S. Assault Weapons and the Homicide Rate in Mexico.” Working Paper. University of Notre Dame.Google Scholar
Chu, Vivian S., and Krouse, William J.. 2009. “Gun Trafficking and the Southwest Border.” Congressional Research Service Report R40733.Google Scholar
Collier, Paul, and Hoeffler, Anke. 1998. “On Economic Causes of Civil War.” Oxford Economic Papers 50: 563–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Collier, Paul, Elliott, V. L., Hegre, Håvard, Hoeffler, Anke, Reynal-Querol, Marta, and Sambanis, Nicholas 2003. Breaking the Conflict Trap: Civil War and Development Policy. Oxford and Washington, DC: Oxford University Press and World Bank.Google Scholar
Dell, Melissa. 2011. “The Economic and Spillover Effects of Organized Crime: Evidence from the Mexican Drug War.” Working Paper. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.Google Scholar
DellaVigna, Stefano, and Ferrara, Eliana La. 2010. “Detecting Illegal Arms Trade.” American Economic Journal: Economic Policy 2: 2657.Google Scholar
Díaz-Cayeros, Alberto, Magaloni, Beatriz, Matanock, Aila, and Romero, Vidal. 2011. “Living in Fear: Mapping the Social Embeddedness of Drug Gangs and Violence in Mexico.” Working Paper. University of California at San Diego.Google Scholar
Donohue, John, and Levitt, Steven D.. 1998. “Guns, Violence, and the Efficiency of Illegal Markets.” American Economic Review: Papers and Proceedings 88: 463–67.Google Scholar
Duggan, M. 2003. “More Guns, More Crime.” Journal of Political Economy 109: 1086–114.Google Scholar
Duggan, M., Hjalmarsson, Randi, and Jacob, Brian A.. 2011. “The Short-Term and Localized Effect of Gun Shows: Evidence from California and TexasReview of Economics and Statistics. 93: 786–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dunleavy, Patrick, and Boucek, Françoise. 2003. “Constructing the Number of Parties.” Party Politics 9: 291315.Google Scholar
2011. “Ven insuficiente plan de EU para control de armas.” El Universal, July 12. Scholar
Escalante, Fernando. 2011. “Homicidios 2008–2009: La muerte tiene permiso.” Nexos, January 03.Google Scholar
Fearon, James D., and Laitin, David. 2003. “Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War.” American Political Science Review 97: 7590.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Freedman, Dan. 2011. “Study finds Mexican Gangs Prefer High-powered Assault Rifles.” The Houston Chronicle. May 29. Scholar
Gleditsch, Kristian Skrede. 2002. All Politics Is Local: The Diffusion of Conflict, Integration, and Democratization. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
Gleditsch, Kristian Skrede. 2007. “Transnational Dimensions of Civil WarJournal of Peace Research 44: 293309.Google Scholar
Gleditsch, Kristian Skrede, and Beardsley, Kyle C.. 2004. “Nosy Neighbors: Third Party Actors in Central American Conflicts.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 46: 379402.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gleditsch, Kristian Skrede, Salehyan, Idean, and Schultz, Kenneth. 2008. “Fighting at Home, Fighting Abroad: How Civil Wars Lead to International Disputes.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 52: 479506.Google Scholar
Godnick, William, Muggah, Robert, and Wasznik, Camilla. 2002. “Stray Bullets: the Impact of Small Arms Misuse in Central America.” Small Arms Survey, occasional paper, Geneva.Google Scholar
Golosov, Grigorii. 2010. “The Effective Number of Parties: A New Approach.” Party Politics 16: 171–92.Google Scholar
Hiskey, Jonathan T., and Bowler, Shaun. 2005. “Local Context and Democratization in MexicoAmerican Journal of Political Science 49: 5771.Google Scholar
Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía (INEGI). 2011. Estadísticas de Mortalidad.Google Scholar
Killebrew, Bob, and Bernal, Jennifer. 2010. Crime Wars: Gangs, Cartels and U.S. National Security. Center for a New American Security.Google Scholar
Knight, Brian. 2011. “State Gun Policy and Cross-State Externalities: Evidence from Crime Gun Tracing.” NBER Working Paper 17469. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.Google Scholar
Koper, Christopher S., and Roth, Jeffrey A.. 2001. “The Impact of the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban on Gun Violence Outcomes: An Assessment of Multiple Outcome Measures and Some Lessons for Policy EvaluationJournal of Quantitative Criminology 17: 3374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Laakso, Markku, and Taagepera, Rein. 1979. “The ‘Effective’ Number of Parties: A Measure with Application to West EuropeComparative Political Studies 12: 327.Google Scholar
Leslie, Glaister. 2010. “Confronting the Don: the Political Economy of Gang Violence in Jamaica.” Small Arms Survey, occasional paper, Geneva.Google Scholar
Lott, John. 1998. More Guns, Less Crime: Analyzing Crime and Gun Control Laws. Chicago: University of Chicago Press (2nd and 3rd editions in 2001 and 2010.)Google Scholar
Lott, John R., and Mustard, David B.. 1997. “Crime, Deterrence, and Right-to-Carry Concealed Handguns.” Journal of Legal Studies 26: 168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ludwig, Jens. 1998. “Concealed-Gun-Carrying Laws and Violent Crime: Evidence from State Panel Data.” International Review of Law and Economics 18: 239–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ludwig, Jens, and Cook, Philip J.. 2000. “Homicide and Suicide Rates Associated with Implementation of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act.” Journal of the American Medical Association 284: 585–91.Google Scholar
Luhnow, David, and de Cordoba, Jose. 2009. “The Drug Lord Who Got Away.” The Wall Street Journal, June 13.Google Scholar
Mayors Against Illegal Guns. 2008. “Inside Straw Purchasing.”Google Scholar
Meléndez, José. 2011. “Centroamérica, paraísos de las armas ”. El Universal, November 15. Google Scholar
Merino, Mauricio. 2003. La transición votada: crítica a la interpretación del cambio político en México. Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica.Google Scholar
McDonald, James H. 2005. “The Narcoeconomy and Small-town, Rural Mexico.” Human Organization 64: 115–25.Google Scholar
Molinar, Juan. 1991. “Counting the Number of Parties: An Alternative Index.” American Political Science Review 85: 1383–91.Google Scholar
Moody, Carlisle. 2001. “Testing for the Effects of Concealed Weapons Laws: Specification Errors and Robustness.” Journal of Law and Economics 44: 799813.Google Scholar
National Drug Intelligence Center. 2010. National Drug Threat Assessment.Google Scholar
Nicholas, Peter. 2010. “Mexican president urges U.S. to ban assault rifles, overhaul immigration policy.” Los Angeles Times, May 20. Google Scholar
Nyblade, Benjamin, and Reed, Steven. 2008. “Who Cheats? Who Loots? Political Competition and Corruption in Japan, 1947–1993.” American Journal of Political Science 52: 926–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
O'Neil, Shannon. 2009. “The Real War in Mexico: How Democracy Can Defeat the Drug Cartels.” Foreign Affairs, July/August.Google Scholar
Osorio, Javier. 2012. “Democratization and Drug violence in Mexico.” Working Paper. University of Notre Dame.Google Scholar
Procuraduría General de la República (PGR). 2008. “Tr áfico de armas México-USA.” November 27.Google Scholar
Regan, Patrick. 2000. Civil Wars and Foreign Powers: Interventions and Intrastate Conflict. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Resa Nestares, Carlos. 2004. “El mapa de las drogas en México.” El Comercio de Drogas Ilegales en México-Notas de Investigación.Google Scholar
Ríos, Viridiana, and Shirk, David A.. 2011. “Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2010.” Trans-Border Institute, University of San Diego.Google Scholar
Rose-Ackerman, Susan. 1978. Corruption: A Study in Political Economy. New York: Academic.Google Scholar
Salehyan, Idean. 2009. Rebels Without Borders: Transnational Insurgencies in World Politics. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
Salehyan, Idean, and Gleditsch, Kristian Skrede. 2006. “Refugee Flows and the Spread of Civil War.” International Organization 60: 335–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Seelke, Clare Ribando. 2011. “Gangs in Central America.” Congressional Research Service Report RL34112.Google Scholar
Snyder, Richard, and Duran-Martinez, Angelica. 2009a. “Drugs, Violence, and State-Sponsored Protection Rackets in Mexico and Colombia.” Colombia Internacional 70 July-December: 6191.Google Scholar
Snyder, Richard, and Duran-Martinez, Angelica. 2009b. “Does Illegality Breed Violence? Drug Trafficking and State-sponsored Protection Rackets.” Crime, Law, and Social Change 52: 253–73.Google Scholar
Toro, María Celia. 1995. Mexico's War on Drugs. Causes and Consequences. Boulder: Lynne Rienner.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). 2009. “Firearms Trafficking: U.S. Efforts to Combat Arms Trafficking to Mexico Face Planning and Coordination Challenges.” Report to Congressional Requesters.Google Scholar
Villarreal, Andrés. 2002. “Political Competition and Violence in Mexico: Hierarchical Social Control in Local Patronage Structures.” American Sociological Review 67: 477–98.Google Scholar
Violence Policy Center Report. 2009. “Indicted: Types of Firearms and Methods of Gun Trafficking from the United States to Mexico as Revealed in U.S. Court Documents.”Google Scholar
Weiner, Tim and Thompson, Ginger. 2001. “U.S. Guns Smuggled into Mexico Aid Drug War.” The New York Times, May 19.Google Scholar
World Bank. 2010. “Crime and Violence in Central America Volume II.” Report No. 56781-LAC.Google Scholar
Supplementary material: PDF

DUBE et al. supplementary material


Download DUBE et al. supplementary material(PDF)