Bill Aims to Curb U.S. Firearms Trafficking to the Caribbean

The content originally appeared on: Antigua News Room

Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, along with Congresswoman Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (FL-20), Senator Chris Murphy (CT), and Senator Tim Kaine (VA), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights & Global Women’s Issues, have introduced the Caribbean Arms Trafficking Causes Harm (CATCH) Act, legislation that would help curb illicit arms trafficking from the United States to the Caribbean.

“Two years ago, I voted for the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act to help the United States tackle the devastating toll of our gun violence crisis. Since the law went into effect, the Department of Justice has successfully prosecuted hundreds of straw purchases and gun trafficking offenses and saved countless lives,” said Congressman Joaquin Castro. “As we build on those efforts, the CATCH Act will improve transparency and accountability within U.S. antitrafficking efforts and prevent U.S. firearms from fueling gun violence in the Caribbean — especially in Haiti, where guns from the United States have played a tragic role in the ongoing security, political, and humanitarian crisis.”

“Weapons trafficking by way of the United States is a major contributor to Haiti’s growing gang crisis and the current instability that plagues the country,” said Congresswoman Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, Co-Chair of the House Haiti Caucus. “We must ensure the Department of Justice is effectively utilizing the new anti-firearm-trafficking provisions in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. Our standing in the region and our national security depends on it.”

“I am extremely concerned with the deteriorating security situation in Haiti and high rates of violence elsewhere in the Caribbean. The prevalence of illegal guns trafficked from the United States into the region is fueling this violence. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act made firearms trafficking a federal crime for the first time, and this legislation would ensure the newly established Coordinator for Caribbean Firearms Prosecutions is implementing the law to its fullest extent,” said Senator Chris Murphy.

“Illicit weapons are a major source of instability in the Caribbean and are fueling the horrific scourge of gun and gang violence we’ve seen in Haiti,” said Senator Tim Kaine. “The consolidation of power in Haitian gangs and the use of trafficked firearms to inflict terror in their communities is deeply concerning and an immediate threat to stability in the region. The United States must use all tools at its disposal to crack down on arms trafficking, support international efforts to restore regional stability, and secure our safety at home and abroad.”

The Caribbean has been the center of rising deadly gun violence for years. According to public reporting, homicide rates in the Caribbean in 2022 far exceeded U.S. and global averages, and about 90% of Caribbean murder weapons can be traced back to the United States. The CATCH Act will address the U.S. role in gun trafficking to the Caribbean by requiring the Coordinator for Caribbean Firearms Prosecutions to report on the implementation of anti-firearm-trafficking provisions in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which include:

The number, destination, and method of transportation of firearms, ammunition, and firearms accessories.
Coordination efforts with Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies
Coordination efforts with the Department of Justice and any regional or international organizations, such as CARICOM.

The bill text for the CATCH Act can be found here.

Congressman Joaquin Castro has been a longtime leader of congressional efforts to address the consequences of underregulated gun exports and illegal gun trafficking and diversion. In December 2023, he introduced the Americas Regional Monitoring of Arms Sales (ARMAS) Act, legislation that would mobilize resources across the federal government to disrupt firearms trafficking from the United States to Latin America and the Caribbean and implement stronger transparency, accountability, and oversight for U.S. arms exports. Over the last two years, he has led several letters seeking answers from the Commerce Department on lackluster oversight and inadequate transparency with regard to export approvals. In April 2023, Congressman Castro additionally commissioned a pending report from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office into illegal firearms trafficking from the U.S. to the Caribbean, requesting a country-by-country breakdown on the legal export of American firearms to the Caribbean region, as well as additional information on the diversion of legally exported purchases to illicit actors.

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