Arizona shooting strikes chord in Mexico, where gun violence continues to shock

The Arizona shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has resonated for many in Mexican states terrorized by drug gangs that often use weapons smuggled from the United States.

Jorge Dan Lopez/Xinhua/Photoshot/Newscom
A policeman checks a gun in Mexico City on Oct. 28, 2010.

The Arizona shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) and the ensuing debate over gun laws is resonating in Mexico, where drug trafficking gangs, often armed with weapons smuggled from the US, are carrying out a violent campaign in which assassinations and mass shootings are all too common.

The governor of Sonora, the Mexican state bordering Arizona, said Monday that the shooting raises security concerns on both sides of the border. Gov. Guillermo Padrés Elías said he’ll discuss arms trafficking at his next meeting with Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer that has yet to be scheduled after bilateral relations chilled last April over Arizona’s tough new immigration law.

“We will make ourselves available to Arizona and the United States to keep collaborating with them on this, so that weapons we all know are easy to acquire in the United States do not keep coming to Mexico," said Governor Padrés Elías, according to Spanish-language daily newspaper El Universal.

Mexico has long called on the US to crack down on weapons smuggling and to renew a federal assault weapons ban. The administration of President Felipe Calderón has said that 90 percent of arms seized from cartels come from the US and are used against police and civilians in ever more violent confrontations.

It is often difficult in Mexico – where military caliber weapons are strictly forbidden and few gun shops exist – to understand US views on gun possession.

“It’s a contradiction, because a lack of control over weapons has generated all kinds of violence and yet they will keep selling guns,” says Jose Ramos, a security expert at the Colegio de Frontera Norte in Tijuana.

He says that US border checkpoints have had minimal success in stopping the flow of guns into Mexico.

Arizona may have a unique role to play in the flow of weapons. After Texas, the state’s gun shops sell the most arms seized in Mexico, says Thomas Mangan, special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Phoenix, Ariz.

Semiautomatic Glock pistols, like the Glock 19 reportedly used by alleged shooter Jared Lee Loughner, have occasionally cropped up in cartel arsenals, although it is not considered a “weapon of choice” like more high-powered rifles, explains Mr. Mangan.

Gun control advocates have come down especially hard on Arizona, which recently relaxed concealed gun laws, allowing almost anyone to carry a concealed weapon.

However, pro-gun possession groups say that far fewer US arms end up in Mexico than the Calderón government claims. They argue that the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 would not have prevented the shooter from purchasing his gun or high-capacity magazines, as some critics suggest. Congresswoman Giffords herself has been an advocate of gun possession.

But to many here, the Jan. 8 tragedy in Arizona that killed six people aged 9 to 79 and seriously injured Giffords, is a sign that lax gun control in America now hitting closer to home.

“What happened in Arizona is just something we live with in Mexico thanks to the unchecked sale of arms in that country,” tweeted Juan Antonio from Tamaulipas, a Mexican border state crippled by drug violence.

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