Flood of Guns Flows South of the Border

US must crack down harder; some suggestions from Mexico

WHEN the video-cassette war was won by VHS over Sony's Betamax design, Mexico became flooded with Betamaxes. When DDT was banned in the United States, the pesticide was still vigorously marketed in Mexico. If it does not play in the first world, it usually gets dumped in the third.

A new case is now becoming too deadly to ignore. When the US Congress voted to ban certain types of deadly assault rifles, their export to Mexico became a lethal certainty. As if on cue, on May 13, Mexican police found an arsenal of 103 AK-47s, assembled from illegally imported parts, in a warehouse in the crime-ridden border city of Tijuana.

On the evening of April 28, assassins using AK-47s, which had not been sold in Mexico, gunned down Jose Federico Benitez, the uncorrupted crime-fighting police chief of Tijuana. Again, assault weapons from the US were in Mexican hands.

Equally murderous is America's ubiquitous handgun. On March 23, PRI presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio was killed by an assailant who used a .38 caliber pistol. The confessed killer, Mario Aburto, used a gun purchased in San Francisco.

The US should acknowledge its share of the blame for the gun traffic to Mexico. If Colombia is blamed for drugs, the US should be held equally responsible for its deadly exports.

This trade has a long history on both sides of the border. Little more than a year ago, Ramon Montoya was the first Mexican citizen executed in the US in several decades. Mr. Montoya had killed a Texas policeman with a handgun that he never could have purchased in Mexico. (Seven more Mexicans currently are on death row in Texas.)

Such executions alarm Mexicans, who see a coming wave of gun violence. In Tijuana, armed robberies have increased 300 percent and the use of guns has accounted for 216 murders.

IN the Colosio murder, there was contributory negligence by his campaign security people. They should have realized that because Tijuana is on the border, security should have been tighter than in other parts of Mexico.

This is a sad commentary on the influence of American permissiveness. But before it reaches epidemic proportions, this gun violence in Mexico must be stopped at the source. If the United States can put pressure on other countries to eliminate the production of illegal drugs at their source, Mexico can do the same about guns. Both Canada and Mexico should express their collective displeasure at America's seemingly insatiable appetite for guns, which increasingly threatens their citizens as personal contact widens with free trade.

Of course, it would be nice if America could disarm itself. But that seems impossible. So here are some suggestions from Mexico. (Since it seems that most experts on what is wrong with Mexico seem to reside north of the border, someone who lives in Mexico City should also be able to give advice on what the US should do about gun control.)

First, institute a public campaign to counter the brainwashing of the National Rifle Association.

Second, license gun ownership for collectors and for sporting purposes.

Third, allow a fixed period for obtaining such licenses and then recall all other firearms for just compensation. It would be an excellent investment.

Fourth, since the fears of law-abiding citizens who feel unprotected must be acknowledged, allow people to protect themselves, their family, home, and property with a reasonable weapon. Perhaps this could be done as a limited form of federal deputizing, well-organized and checked.

Finally, make the unlawful possession of firearms a federal offense and jail those who do not comply.

FIVE years should be sufficient to get the guns off the streets and, as the number of guns goes down, the danger should lessen, the current situation reverse. After a five-year period, recall all guns not properly licensed.

That's how it looks from Mexico. Please listen. We are neighbors in a neighborhood that is growing smaller every day. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.

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