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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“The current law is outdated and lacks effective enforcement.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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