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Mexico’s Gun Problems Go Beyond Drug Wars

MEXICO CITY, Jan 11 2013 (IPS) - A lot of attention goes to the U.S.-made weapons in the hands of criminal groups in this Latin American country. But there is little talk of another problem: the large number of light weapons in the hands of civilians.

The Mexican Constitution establishes the people’s right to “own guns in their homes for their safety and self-defence”, with the exception of high caliber weapons, while the 1972 Federal Law on Firearms and Explosives stipulates the requirements for enrollment in the Federal Arms Register.

Experts disagree on whether the current violent situation gripping society needs to be answered with a reform of the law, or simply application of its precepts.

“Mexico has one of the most restrictive laws. I don’t think the law is the conflict, but how it is applied,” Magda Coss, author of “Arms Trafficking in Mexico: Corruption, Weaponisation and Culture of Violence”, told IPS.

“In the application there are many flaws, there are many citizens who are unaware of them,” she said.

“On the other hand is the corruption of the authorities. There is no follow up of seizure and storage” of legal arms to prevent them from ending up on the black market,” added the expert, whose book was published in 2010.

Gun ownership in homes and their flow into the streets has helped worsen violence in Mexico, while the drug cartels are supplied through the illicit flow of arms by gangs involved in large-scale trade.

In 2011, the National Defence Ministry (Sedena) had 2.45 million registered weapons, mostly rifles and shotguns for hunting and target shooting, followed by semi-automatic pistols.

But the ministry recognises that only one in 300 weapons circulating in this nation of nearly 117 million people is legal and complies with all requirements.

In Mexico, citizens own more than 15 million illegally-sourced guns, according to the 2011 report, “Estimated firearms in civilian hands,” part of the annual Small Arms Survey developed by Geneva’s Graduate Institute of the International and Development Studies.

Experts like Luis Gutierrez, president of the non-governmental Circulo Lationamericano de Estudios Internacionales (Latin American Circle of International Studies), recommend the design and approval of a new gun law, with strict standards on purchase, possession and transfer.

“The current law is outdated and lacks effective enforcement. At home you can purchase any type of clandestine weapons, such as assault rifles and grenades,” said the activist, whose organisation is part of the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA).

The fight against drugs, began since 2006 by then president of Mexico, the conservative Felipe Calderon (2006-2012), left a toll of 100,000 dead, 25,000 missing and 240,000 displaced, according to statistics by the independent Mexico Evalua (Mexico Evaluates), the National Institute of Statistics and Geography and the Attorney General.

Since Calderon’s successor, the likewise conservative Enrique Peña Nieto, took office on Dec. 1, the violence has increased the number of deaths to 850, according to a count by the Mexican press.

Mexican drug cartels augment their firepower with heavy weapons smuggled from the United States, while illegal light guns come through the southern border from Central American nations.

Between 2007 and 2012, the Mexican government seized 140,000 weapons, mostly lethal rifles such as the AK-47, AR-15 and M-16, according to figures by the Department of Defence.

The perception of insecurity that surrounds Mexican society has led civilians to acquire weapons, despite continuing social rejection to improve facilities for obtaining them. In the U.S., it is estimated that there are 270 million guns in the hands of a population of 313 million people.

A 2011 survey by consultancy Parametría found that 51 percent of Mexicans polled disapprove of gun ownership in the home, while 38 percent support a total ban.

Analysis by the Small Arms Survey places Mexico 42 out of 170 countries surveyed on the number of small arms in the hands of individuals, who mostly own this category of guns, including machine guns, rifles, assault rifles, shotguns and automatic and semiautomatic pistols.

“They don’t run awareness campaigns. The campaigns of ‘depistolization’ do not highlight the implications of having weapons at home,” Coss said, referring to the campaigns to retire weapons that are run every year by the national government and city authorities in Mexico.

The law governing this sector requires that authorities “will conduct permanent educational campaigns that induce a reduction in possession, carrying and use of weapons of any kind”, but the provision is not enforced.

Gutierrez is committed to prohibition, but recognises that the current situation hinders that goal.

“The laws that enable the acquisition of weapons should not exist, there should be a blanket ban, but at the moment this vision would encounter resistance from sectors of the population and stakeholders,” he said.

“The justification of arming a society is a grave irresponsibility,” he said.

Mexico is one of the biggest promoters of the International Arms Trade Treaty, the first binding agreement to regulate the flow, currently being negotiated at the United Nations.

But the deal was blocked in July 2012 by China, the United States and Russia.

The parties will meet again in March in New York to try to unblock the negotiations. Mexico is part of the Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives and Other Related Materials, in force since 1998.

But Mexico did not join the regional campaign, “Promoting Firearms Marking in Latin America and the Caribbean”, that the Organization of American States runs in more than 20 countries, despite continuing allegations that the arms trade is responsible for many livelihoods in the region.

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  • John Abrams

    Ridiculous article, I have lived in Mexico for 10 years and the average house does not have any guns. Only hunters, law enforcement, criminals, and the rich who go to shooting ranges have guns.

  • otropogo

    Although I’ve read all too many pseudo-scientific anti-gun reports, this has to be the worst. It creates misinformation by lumping.

    On one hand, it states:

    “In 2011, the National Defence Ministry (Sedena) had 2.45 million registered weapons”,

    and on the other:

    “the ministry recognizes that only one in 300 weapons circulating in this
    nation of nearly 117 million people is legal and complies with all

    thereby suggesting that there are 733 million illegal firearms in Mexico, or six illegal firearms for every man, woman, and child. ((2.45×300)-2.45), which is patently nonsense.

    Another logical, but only slightly more plausible, interpretation is that either Mexico’s firearms laws and regulations are hopelessly unenforceable, or that Mexican officials charged with the registration of guns are phenomenally corrupt or incompetent, or both, having registered 2.44 million illegal weapons out of 2.45 million registrations processed.

    But, since it’s an absolute certainty that a significant number of firearms in the hands of Mexican civilians are NOT registered, and that these are probably lumped with incorrect registrations to provide the spectacular and meaningless “one in 300” figure, the only reasonable interpretation of the pseudo-data offered is that it was fabricated to provide shock effect without risking exposure as a brazen falsehood. Garbage in, garbage out.

    Canada, which has spent more than a billion dollars to no effect in an attempt to properly document and trace every legally owned firearm in a population a third that of Mexico’s, was never able to create a reliable system of classification and registration.

    Even at the height of its costly folly, with a battalion of 5000 unpaid volunteer “approved firearms verifiers”, backed up by small team of paid professional gun experts, the Canadian registration system was still so inefficient that approved verifiers could not confirm for owners of air pistols whether their toys were altogether exempt from registration or were classified as “prohibited without grandfathering”, the mere possession of which incurs a prison sentence of up to ten years. Of course, most owners of air guns never asked for such confirmation because the possibility of such a ridiculous reclassification never occurred to them.

    Some years ago, registration in Canada became even more of a farce, with gun owners being allowed to register their firearms over the telephone, without any physical inspection at all. And now that all but firearms in the “restricted” and “grandfathered prohibited”categories having been deleted from the registry database, it will be up to individual police officers to determine whether a firearm they encounter is correctly registered. Good luck with that!

    Ironically, the problem with air pistols reclassified as “prohibited without grandfathering” has survived the Conservative government’s “rationalization” of the gun laws, because there continues to be no law requiring the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to publish their sporadic reclassifications, which convert non-firearms into restricted or prohibited ones, and non-restricted firearms into restricted ones at the stroke of a pen.

    In fact the supposedly “gun friendly” Conservative government has greatly increased the abusiveness of the law by legislating a minimum prison sentence for the mere possession (ie. without any other criminal or antisocial intent) of a loaded prohibited weapon. So now the owner of an air pistol he and his family have used without a care for decades can find himself sentenced to a minimum of three years in prison simply because he doesn’t know his toy has been reclassified as a “prohibited weapon”. Happily, a few brave judges have drawn a line (better too little and too late, than never), and are challenging the law’s constitutionality.

    Given the dismal failure of Canada’s costly registration experiment, how could Mexico hope to succeed?

    The alternative method of “gun control”, however – prohibiting all civilian ownership, will almost certainly promote even more official corruption and the acquisition of more powerful and more easily concealable firearms by a public increasingly afraid of its police and military, as well as the heavily armed criminal (or should I say “plainclothes”?) element.

  • Bill Jarett

    Only rich people with armed guards and wannabe victims support “gun control”. They should train and arm their whole population, the police are hopelessly corrupt.

  • Bill Jarett

    Seeing how there is only one legal gun store in all of Mexico, located in Mexico City, and the gun laws are so ridiculous- you’re right, only criminals and the rich have guns.

  • jack


  • jack

    makes no sense

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