By Axel Caballero and Kristel Mucino*
The tragedy in Colorado demonstrated the devastating lethality of AR-15 type guns, like the one used in the Aurora shooting, and has caused many to question whether it makes sense to allow the purchase of military-style assault rifles. What a lot of people don't know is that these rifles are also the weapons of choice among ruthless Mexican drug cartels. In the last 6 years, over 60,000 people have lost their lives in Mexico's wave of violence.
The failure of the United States to enact meaningful gun regulation is not only affecting the United States; it is also fueling violence in Mexico. Among the victims are countless innocent bystanders, journalists, and children. The brutal truth is this--the AR-15s and many other guns used by drug lords, gangs, and kidnappers come from the United States.
According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), more than 70 percent of the weapons seized in Mexico in the last three years and submitted for tracing came from the United States.
How do these weapons end up in the hands of Mexico's brutal drug lords? Look at the video on gun trafficking produced by WOLA and Cuéntame and embedded here.
Straw purchasers take advantage of lax U.S. gun laws and, in most states, can buy 10, 20 or even more guns in one transaction, with the intention of reselling them to gun traffickers. In contrast, it is almost impossible to buy firearms legally in Mexico.
But on the U.S. side of the border, in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, there are more than 8,000 federally licensed firearms dealers.
Behind these weapons there is a multibillion-dollar industry. Consider this: DPMS--just one of many gun manufacturers--makes an average of 74,000 AR-type rifles a year, then sells them for about $889 each, earning roughly $65 million dollars in sales. Local gun dealers then sell each AR-type rifle for an average of $1,075. Estimates indicate that such guns could then be resold on the black market for up to $1575. Finally, when they reach Mexico, the guns could be sold for up to $4,300.
This multibillion-dollar industry uses its resources to ensure that arms remain unregulated. Everyone in the trafficking chain makes big bucks, and those who manufacture and sell the guns have powerful firms that lobby Congress to ensure that their business remains untouched. It is beyond shocking that in the United States the act of trafficking guns is not a federal crime. Instead, gun traffickers get charged with the minor crime of selling guns without a license. The penalties for this are a joke--equivalent to the crime of trafficking chickens or cattle.
There are a few brave members of Congress that are trying to address the problem without limiting the right of honest citizens to bear arms. For example, Representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD) are trying to make the act of trafficking firearms a federal offense punishable with up to 20 years. The "Stop Gun Trafficking and Strengthen Law Enforcement Act of 2011" also targets those leading weapon trafficking rings.Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) has introduced legislation to crack down on straw purchases. These bills would be crucial steps to close the loopholes that allow this lethal business to flourish.
But the process of passing laws is long and difficult, and Congress is in gridlock over the gun issue. The crisis in Mexico, as well as horrible tragedies like that of Aurora, call for urgent action--action that President Obama can take without waiting for Congress.
Mexico's growing peace movement and a coalition of organizations in the United States, including WOLA and Cuéntame, have joined the many voices on both sides of the border calling for an end to gun trafficking.
As a first step, President Obama should enforce the existing ban on the importation of assault rifles. Second, he should give the ATF the resources and authority it needs to actually do its job, especially in border-states, where it lacks the capacity to stop the massive flow of arms across the border.
Finally, the petition calls on President Obama to require gun dealers in border states to report to the ATF the sale of multiple assault rifles to the same person over a period of five days. The good news is that last summer the Obama administration instituted this reporting rule. But since then, members of Congress and the gun lobby have tried to undermine the rule. To be really effective, this rule should be implemented all across the country.
For Mexicans across the political spectrum, the failure of the United States to stop gun trafficking is an act of tremendous irresponsibility that results in the spilling of innocent blood. In the name of the more than 60,000 victims in Mexico and of the victims of the many shootings in the United States, it is time to enact meaningful gun control legislation in this country.
*Axel Caballero is the director of Cuéntame and Kristel Mucino is Communications Director at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).