Are Mexican drug traffickers armed with US guns?
Most are, say US officials. But the NRA says the Obama administration is inflating the scope of the problem and threatens to undermine the Second Amendment.
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When asked about the disputed "90 percent" statistic during a visit last week to Mexico, US Attorney General Eric Holder said one thing is clear, even if the actual percentage is not: The "vast majority" of guns seized in crimes in Mexico come from the US, he told reporters.Skip to next paragraph
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Those fighting for tighter gun laws say the sourcing dispute is being used to obfuscate the main issues. "We've never denied that there are many sources of guns, particularly the purely military machine guns and hand grenades," says Tom Diaz, a senior analyst at the Violence Policy Center in Washington, who called for stricter gun laws in recent congressional testimony. "But that argument is a red herring," he says. "It's quite clear, whatever the number is, the one quantifiable number that we really know for sure are the number of guns traced directly to the US. We're talking about thousands of guns."
No commercial gun shops in Mexico
While more than 6,000 private gun shops line the US side of the border – three per square mile, according to Mr. Diaz – Mexico has no commercial shops. In Mexico, would-be buyers must petition the defense department and undergo extensive background checks.
Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora said this week at an Associated Press annual meeting that the US should reimpose its assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004. He told the gathering that nearly 52,000 firearms have been seized in Mexico in the past two years, and of that more than half were assault weapons.
"The Second Amendment was never meant to arm foreign criminal groups," he said.
Such statements anger US gun-rights advocates.
Bob Barr, a former congressman and presidential candidate from Georgia, wrote in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently that "playing off the fear understandably engendered by the pervasive and gory drug violence playing itself out in Mexico, the gun-control crowd is using that phenomenon to move for more gun control on our side of the border. In the eyes of antifirearms advocates like Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin, Americans should feel guilty about, if not responsible for, drug gangs in Mexico shooting each other and corrupt government officials in perverse numbers — because some of the guns may have been purchased in the US."
Gun control won't stop bad guys
Erich Pratt, director of government affairs for the Gun Owners of America in Springfield, Va., says he believes the dispute over the source of guns has taken some momentum away from gun-control advocates. "The 90 percent figure was at the crux for calling for resurrecting the semi-automatic ban, so this does take some wind out of their sails," he says. "There comes a point where we finally have to realize that all the gun control in the world is not stopping bad guys from getting guns and using them."
But Diaz of the the Violence Policy Center says officials realize that the source of weapons is only one part of a much more insidious problem that must be addressed from all angles. "I think the [Obama] administration realizes the problem is much deeper than this argument about where the guns come from. They understand the real problem is the almost paramilitary power of these drug-trafficking organizations, and they understand they are intimately wired into street gangs everywhere in the US. This is an explosive situation and we have to do something about it."