comments_image Comments

In Mexico, Obama gun initiative a long time coming

Guns seized in the arrest of an alleged member of a Mexican drugs cartel, pictured in Mexico City, December 13, 2011
Guns seized in the arrest of an alleged member of Mexican drugs cartel "Los Zetas", pictured in Mexico City on December 13, 2011.

Mexican officials have urged the United States for years to enact the type of gun control proposed by President Barack Obama, arguing that drug gangs were using US assault rifles in brutal turf wars.

Analysts, however, say the measures unveiled Wednesday would do little to stem Mexico's wave of gangland killings for now, since drug cartels have built an arsenal of military-style weapons to outgun local police.

Mexican officials and some analysts have drawn links between the soaring violence and the end of an assault rifle ban in the United States in 2004, saying it allowed gangs to smuggle powerful guns easily bought just across the border.

Just last week, Mexico's new ambassador to the United States, Eduardo Medina Mora, said there was a "statistical correlation" between the ban's expiration and the "firepower of criminals" in his country.

The Second Amendment to the US Constitution, which gives Americans the right to own guns, and "regulation that may be adopted is not, was not and should not be designed to arm foreign criminal groups," he told reporters.

Activists have also charged that loose US gun laws have contributed to drug-related violence that has killed more than 70,000 people in the past six years.

A member of the Mexican Army checks guns before to be destroyed in Iztapalapa, Mexico City on December 26, 2012
A member of the Mexican Army checks guns before to be destroyed in Iztapalapa, Mexico City on December 26, 2012.

More than 54,000 Mexicans signed a petition that was delivered to the US embassy this week, urging the United States to tighten its gun laws and calling the smuggling of weapons into Mexico "illegal and immoral."

Spurred by the trauma of the Connecticut school massacre, which left 20 children and six adults dead, Obama proposed legislation to revive the ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, and require background checks in all gun sales.

"I think that limiting assault weapons, including ammunition magazines and other types of military style weapons, will certainly have an impact," Arindrajit Dube, economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, told AFP.

He acknowledged that it would take time for a new ban on assault rifles to have an effect in Mexico, but it would "chip away" at the stock over time.

"This at least cuts off the replacement (guns)," he said.

Dube co-authored a working paper that found that Mexican towns near the borders with Texas, Arizona and New Mexico saw bigger increases in homicides and gun seizures after 2004 than those close to California, which has its own state-level ban on assault rifles.

The working paper attributed at least 238 additional deaths per year in towns within 100 miles (160 kilometers) of the border after the end of the ban.

A 2012 report by the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) showed that 68 percent of the nearly 100,000 guns seized and reported by Mexican authorities between 2007-2011 came from the United States.

But some analysts doubt the links between the end of the ban and the violence, and they accuse former president Felipe Calderon, whose six-year term ended in December, of shifting blame on the United States for his own failed policies.

Georgina Sanchez, a Mexican gun policy consultant, said Obama's proposals would have an impact on the gun market but that too many weapons were already out there.

"Violence will not automatically come down with this legislation," which must still get US Congress approval, she said.

Though Mexico has more restrictive gun laws than the United States, including bans on high-caliber weapons, she estimates that 15 million firearms are in circulation in Mexico, a nation of 112 million people.

"Mexico is behind others in the continent in terms of gun control," Sanchez said, adding that corrupt customs officials police the 3,200-kilometer (2,000-mile) US-Mexico border.

For her, Mexican authorities must launch education campaigns to change her country's own cultural fascination with guns.

Samuel Gonzalez, a private security consultant and former drug prosecutor, said Mexican authorities should denounce US gun dealers who knowingly sell guns to criminals.

But even if the US Congress reinstates the assault weapons ban, he said, the cartels will find other sellers in other countries, since "getting cocaine is harder than getting weapons."