It’s supposedly illegal to import semiautomatic weapons that don’t have a “sporting purpose” into the US. Yet Mexican drug cartels are buying hundreds of Romanian AK-47s legally here in the US of A, a Center for Public Integrity investigation finds. Mexico’s strict gun control laws have long driven its criminals to buy weapons north of the border, and the Romanian assault weapon has become the most common gun they purchase—and it’s all completely legal.
Federal regulators have interpreted the ban in a way that allows the guns to be imported, as long as they’re stripped of their “military features.” Once imported, the importer slaps those features back on, this time with US parts, and declares the weapon “American made,” and hence legal for sale. “They let in just about anything,” says one former ATF official. “Through official inaction, the United States is, in fact, arming the cartels.” (Read more Mexican drug cartel stories.)