American Weapons Flood Mexico, Fueling Violence

New America Media, News Analysis, Louis Nevaer Posted: Jul 11, 2007

Editor’s Note: For Mexico’s government, worries over the drug trade going north have been matched with concerns over the arms trade heading south, reports NAM contributing writer Louis E.V. Nevaer. Nevaer is the author, most recently, of "HR and the New Hispanic Workforce," a book about Hispanics in the labor force.

Mexico City – For more than a decade, Mexico has had military checkpoints on all northbound highways leading to the United States. It’s part of the campaign to crack down on the flow of drugs to the United States. This summer, things have changed, and Mexico’s military is inspecting vehicles traveling on the southbound lanes, checking for shipments of weapons.

This reversal is testament to the dangers Mexico faces, bordering the United States, a country unable to secure its own borders, where assault and paramilitary weapons are sold to anyone with the ready cash.

“We are concerned about the number of weapons coming into Mexico and Central America illegally from the United States,” Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said last month when he was attending a conference in Cuernavaca, south of Mexico City. “There is more that we can do, and we are looking to do, to try and stem the flow of illegal weapons into Mexico.”

Mexican officials are frantic over the escalation of violence – more than a thousand people have been slain throughout the country in the first six months of this year in drug-related violence as drug cartels establish new leaders to replace the ones who have been arrested and extradited to the United States.

“The firepower we are seeing here has to do with a lack of control on the (American) side of the border,” Patricio Patiño, Mexico’s top anti-drug intelligence officer, told reporters in June. “What we have asked the American government ... is that they put clear controls on the shipments of weapons.”

American officials claim that they are doing all they can to stem the flow of weapons. Alberto Gonzales’s office pointed out that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), is pursuing “Operation Gunrunner” to stop the “iron river” of weapons flowing from the United States into Mexico.

Unfortunately, the river continues to flow. “There is a direct relationship between the flow of these weapons and the explosion of violence [in Mexico]," José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, Mexico's deputy attorney general for organized crime, told reporters.

Combat-style rifles continue to pour into Mexico, and this has escalated since the end of the U.S. Assault Weapons Ban in 2004. “In the United States, all you need is a pile of cash to buy all the weapons you want,” said Santiago Vasconcelos. “These weapons are being sold like candy.”

The expiration of the Assault Weapons Ban has made it possible for assault rifles, including the AR-15, AK-47 copies and the TEC-9 pistols, which were banned, along with 16 other types of semiautomatic weapons, to be shipped throughout Mexico. The AK-15, a version of the U.S. Army’s famous M16, and the AK-47, of Russian design, have been used in recent execution-style killings among rival gangs, and in attacks on Mexican police officers and soldiers.

“Mexicans who are doing their job protecting the public and fighting the drug trade are being killed with American assault weapons,” Santiago Vasconcelos said. “What is the U.S. doing to stop this?”

The White House claims that it is doing all it can: joint police forces along the border look for weapons leaving the United States, Mexican police are equipped with X-ray scanners, and border cities have stepped up their gun “buy back” programs.

This has proved to be ineffectual: Mexico’s military took over the airport at Mexicali to prevent shipments of smuggled weapons from being flown into the interior of the country; Mexico now X-rays all baggage arriving from U.S. flights into Mexico, since U.S. airlines do not prevent passengers from carrying weapons in their checked luggage; and the mandatory military checkpoints along the highways have seized more than 11,000 weapons in the first half of this year.

Mexico has strong gun control laws. In a country of 110 million people there are fewer than 6,000 legally-registered guns. But it is now reeling from the gun related violence. Making matters worse is the refusal of American officials to be on the same page. Although Alberto Gonzales admitted that the “iron river” of weapons was a problem, months ago, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told Congress: “I don't know where the weapons come from.”

That infuriated Mexican officials. “The ATF’s Operation Gunrunner knows where these weapons are coming from,” fumed Santiago Vasconcelos.

This summer, Mexican President Calderon ordered the military to set up checkpoints on all highways leading to Monterrey, Guadalajara and Mexico City. The signs read “Temporary Mandatory Stop and Inspection,” and young soldiers, armed with weapons, inspect vehicles. The sense of urgency is fueled by recent execution-style killings that involved .50-caliber machine guns.

The task is thankless. In the unforgiving summer sun, during a year when record temperatures are scorching the deserts, thousands of soldiers stand in the heat, inconveniencing multitudes, in search of assault rifles.

Alberto Gonzales faced reporters in Mexico last month. Eyes rolled when he assured the Mexican media that the United States was “committed to collaborating in the development of a regional security and law enforcement strategy.” It’s little solace to what’s happening in Mexico, a country being consumed by a level of violence unprecedented in scope, with rivers of blood being spilled by American weapons.

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User Comments


Antonio Ferrelli on Jul 20, 2007 at 04:46:23 said:

D.G. can say what he wants, but the U.S. has more gun violence than other countries:

"The risk of being killed by a firearm in the US is higher than in any other Western nation. … There are no recent statistics available but UN figures from 2000 showed for every 10,000 Americans, 0.3 were killed by firearms, compared with 0.01 in the UK where handgun ownership was banned in 1997.”
—BBC News

And Lorenzo Sepulveda can buy all the guns he Constitutionally want ... the ONLY thing Mexico is asking is that the U.S. stop the export of firearms to Mexico! It's not that difficult of a concept, Mr. Sepulveda. Think of it this way: An adult can buy all the beer he wants, but it's still illegal to give beer to children. Buy all the bazookas you want, just don't ship them to Mexico, or the U.K., or any other of the 76 countries that don't want paramilitary equipment sold in their countries.


G.C. on Jul 16, 2007 at 19:30:10 said:

Of course, blaming the U.S. for everything is a sport in many so called progressive camps, so his article, despite obvious weakness and sensatationaliissm was seen fit to be shown. What if one was to write an article blaming American drug addiction on Mexican smugglers? Well, I guess some would also buy that, as taking responsibility for one's own action, seems to be old fashioned these days. Now, at least this article does state Mexico has very strict gun control laws. However, in a twist of logic, it reasons that if America also had such strict gun laws, Mexico would have less violence. Yes, somehow, criminals in the U.S. would be keen on obeying new gun laws, and would serve as a good example to Mexican gangsters.

The silliness of this article is also revealed in such sayings as "The sense of urgency is fueled by recent execution-style killings that involved .50-caliber machine guns". Yes, execution style killings use .50 caliber machine guns. Does Louis even know what "execution style" or ."50 caliber machine guns" are? Hmm, maybe he is just able to play back what he is fed or maybe he is just assuming his readership is so clueless, that they have an auto response to terms commonly used in politics to promote anti-redneck agenda, without even knowing what they are. Perhaps he is right, in which case, why am I even doing here?

Mr. Antonio -- please do a little reading and you will find out what the assault weopons ban was. Also, if fewer gun sold mean fewer shootings, then why do states with large legal gun sales have fewer murders? No study related the cosmetic assault weopons ban with less crime.


Lorenzo Sepulveda on Jul 14, 2007 at 00:02:35 said:

Hate to break it to you, but here in the USA we have the RIGHT to bear arms. This is protected by the Constitution. If you don't like that I offer you the alternative to live in a country where the corrupt and powerful have COMPLETE rule over peoples lives...like Mexico.


geena varezzi on Jul 12, 2007 at 16:25:38 said:

So of course it is the U.S.'s fault-- I am a strong believer in gun controls-- and we need stricter controls over assault weapons.
But at what point do the criminals become responsible for their actions?

Mexico's government and its law enforcement have a long history of corruption and cooperation with criminals-- There is inadequate spending on police training and public safety-- In Mexico, the wealthy must have personal body guards or risk kidnapping, robbery or worse-- How is that the U.S.'s fault?

Just like Americans can no longer simply blame Mexican drug dealers for drug use among U.S. youth, Mexico must seriously look in the mirror and examine why the illegal drug and weapons trades are increasing so dramatically there. The problems are far more complex that the author suggests.


Antonio Ferrelli on Jul 12, 2007 at 06:10:23 said:

Many gun enthusiasts debate the effectiveness of the Assault Weapons Ban simply because they refuse to acknowledge that if fewer guns are sold, there are fewer shootings. But Gary Nau is just wrong. The Assault Weapons Ban, as the Bush White House even admits, did reduce crime.

As is commonly accepted: "The Federal Assault Weapons Ban was only a small part (title XI, subtitle A) of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act.

The act created a definition of "assault weapons" and subjected firearms that met that definition to regulation. Nineteen models of firearms were defined by name as being "assault weapons", and various semi-automatic rifles, pistols, and shotguns were classified as "assault weapons" due to having various combinations of cosmetic features.

The act addressed only semi-automatic firearms, that is, firearms that fire one shot each time the trigger is pulled. Neither the AWB nor its expiration changed the legal status of fully automatic firearms, which fire more than one round with a single trigger-pull; these had long been regulated by the National Firearms Act of 1934.

The act separately defined and banned "large capacity ammunition feeding devices", which generally applied to magazines with capacities of greater than ten rounds.

During the period in which the AWB was in effect, it was illegal to manufacture any firearm that met the law's definition of an "assault weapon" or "large capacity ammunition feeding device", except for export or for sale to a government or law enforcement agency. Possession of illegally imported or manufactured firearms was outlawed as well, but the law did not ban the possession or sale of pre-existing "assault weapons" or "large capacity ammunition feeding devices". This provision for "pre-ban" weapons created a higher price point in the market for such items, which lasted until the ban's sunset."


gary nau on Jul 11, 2007 at 15:44:24 said:

you wrote as follows: "The expiration of the Assault Weapons Ban has made it possible for assault rifles, including the AR-15, AK-47 copies and the TEC-9 pistols, which were banned, along with 16 other types of semiautomatic weapons, to be shipped throughout Mexico."

If you did your homework you would have found that this statement is false. None of the weapons were banned. To the contrary they were made and continued to be made and sold during the assault weapons ban. Only certain parts of these guns could not be made such as the bayonet lug and flash hider. Otherwise the guns were the same. So your entire article is suspected to be false and not worthy of belief. Other readers take care, this article has unreliable information.

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