Last week, Mexican President Felipe Calderon spoke at the unveiling of a huge sign reading “No More Weapons.” Located in the city of Juarez, the sign faces towards the U.S. and is constructed from thousands of confiscated firearms which have been melted and welded together to form the letters. Calderon stated in his speech, “Dear friends of the United States, Mexico needs your help to stop this terrible violence that we’re suffering. The best way to do this is to stop the flow of automatic weapons into Mexico.” The Mexican government claims that the flow of weapons from the United States to Mexico can reach up to 2,000 firearms a day. Fifty thousand people have been killed in vicious fighting between government forces and drug cartels in the past five years. That’s 10 times as many deaths as U.S. forces suffered in nearly a decade of war in Iraq. Our government claims that 70% of all confiscated weapons in Mexico can be traced to the United States. Independent analysis shows that the 70% figure reflects a percentage of firearms trace requests made from the Mexican government to ours. Because only firearms that are likely to be traced to the U.S. civilian market undergo the trace process, the percentage of total weapons coming across the border is still truly unknown. There is no point in submitting a trace request to the BATFE for a fully-automatic Chinese AK with no markings in English, or a Russian PKM machine gun. One independent analysis found that only 17% of firearms found at Mexican crime scenes are ever successfully traced back to the U.S.A.
Mexican gun laws are extremely strict. Legal possession of firearms greater than .22 LR caliber is nearly impossible unless you are wealthy and well-connected. Nevertheless, the country is most certainly awash in illegal weapons of all kinds, including belt-fed heavy machine guns, large-caliber sniper rifles, and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. In many parts of the country, the government’s presence is severely outweighed by the heavily armed drug cartels, who not only out-gun the legitimate government but can easily out-spend it as well. Watchdog groups have concluded that the cartel’s intelligence gathering abilities far outstrip the Mexican government’s capabilities. This means the drug lords know more about the police and military forces chasing them than the police know about the cartels, and the situation is getting worse. Corruption is rampant; around 150,000 Mexican troops have defected to the cartels in the past five years, most of them taking their American government supplied service rifles with them.
Last year President Obama responded to Calderon’s pleas for tighter restrictions on American gun sales. The BATFE now requires gun dealers in states bordering Mexico to report all sales of two or more semi-automatic rifles to the same person within five business days. The report is only triggered if the rifles are larger than .22 LR caliber and use detachable magazines. BATFE agents have been visiting the addresses of buyers whose names appear on the reports to check if they are re-selling those firearms without paperwork. The NRA and a group of federally licensed dealers in the southwest have sued the BATFE over the reporting requirement, claiming that there is no legal authorization anywhere in the Federal Code for the reports.
Calderon referenced the expired federal “assault weapons ban” in his speech in front of the “No More Weapons” sign last week. He concluded by saying, “The best way you can help to reduce the violence in Mexico is with a law that was previously in effect, and that will stop this inhumane trafficking of arms into Mexico. No More Weapons!” Calderon, Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and others seem to believe that a ban on certain rifle features such as bayonet lugs, flash hiders, and folding stocks will somehow stop the flow of machine guns, grenades, and rocket launchers into Mexico. On the other hand, the Mexican cartels now have decades of experience successfully smuggling illegal contraband drugs all over the world, and returning an almost limitless supply of cash money from the sale of those drugs back into their own pockets. They can and do use this money to buy anything that is for sale, anywhere, and have it brought back to them through the same channels that traffic in drugs.
In this writer’s personal opinion, changing the Federal gun laws which affect only the law-abiding civilian market in the U.S. will have no effect on the ability of these powerful crime organizations to procure weapons of war. Considering the vast resources of the cartels and their worldwide smuggling network, even a total ban on all firearm sales in the U.S. would have a negligible impact on cartel-related violence in Mexico. In many parts of Mexico the cartels are the de facto law of the land, and they rule over the law-abiding citizenry with an iron fist of terror. I stand with a small but growing Mexican grassroots movement asking Mexico to allow its good citizens to defend themselves against the cartels, and join with their legitimately elected government in pushing back the power of the criminals. In my opinion, building a naive sign blaming the north for Mexico’s troubles only shows more weakness on the part of Calderon, who is clearly looking for a way to keep the cartels from gaining total control. Platitudes such as this sign, and even the BATFE’s multiple sales reporting requirement here, are simply publicity stunts to make politicians look good for a fifteen second TV news blub, and distract the people’s attention from the fact that those politicians have no tangible plan at all to solve Mexico’s problems. The Mexican government needs to stop grandstanding and make real changes to win the support of its own people. They must ask for real help from the international community in combating these powerful criminals whose reach extends around the whole world, or they risk Mexico becoming the Afghanistan of Central America.
If you could build a huge sign to point from your town towards the city of Juarez, what would it read? What would you tell Calderon? What would you tell the people of Mexico?