Obama, American guns and Mexican mayhem

April 27, 2010

During a visit to Mexico a year ago, President Barack Obama promised he would urge the U.S. Senate to ratify an international treaty designed to curbĀ  the flow of weapons to Latin American drug cartels. It remains just that – a promise. Prospects for ratification are virtually zero.

Top officials in the Obama administration have called the cartels, and the extreme violence tearing apart Mexican cities on the U.S. border, threats to U.S. national security. Joining 30 other countries in the Western Hemisphere in an anti-arms smuggling accord would therefore seem a perfectly sane and logical thing to do. But logic often ends where American gun ownership begins.

The treaty in question is called the Inter-American Convention Against Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives and Other Related Materials. Known as CIFTA for its Spanish acronym, it was adopted by the Organization of American States in 1997. All but four of its 35 members have ratified it. Bill Clinton signed the convention but did not get the Senate to bless it.

The treaty has run into fierce opposition from groups representing America’s huge army of gun owners, many of whom see CIFTA as a plot against their right, enshrined in the second amendment of the U.S. constitution, to own and bear arms. Reflecting such fears, an essay on the website of the National Rifle Association (NRA), the most powerful of the gun lobbies, terms the treaty “a blueprint for dismantling the second amendment” and part of an Obama strategy “to create the foundation for repressive and extreme gun control.”

Faced with such opposition, American lawmakers are no more inclined to tangle with the NRA and other gun lobbies now than they have been in the 12 preceding years. Which really boils down to gun owners and their impact on the ballot box having more weight than national security concerns.

There is no provision in the convention that would allow restrictions on legal gun sales in the United States. It stipulates information-sharing among the signatories that would make it easier to track guns used by criminals back to their last legal sale. That might end a protracted dispute over the origin and the number of weapons in the hands of the Mexican drug cartels whose wars against each other and against the state have killed more than 22,000 people since late 2006.

Nobody knows how many guns are smuggled across the border, how many come from the more than 9,000 licensed arms dealers in the four U.S. states bordering Mexico, or from gun shows and private sales. A widely-used assertion that 90 percent of the guns used by Mexican organized crime come from the U.S. does not stand up to scrutiny but there’s no doubt there’s a steady stream of weapons across the border.


There is, however, some good news on American efforts to throttle the flow of arms to violence-wracked Mexico: stepped up controls of south-bound traffic have resulted in a 25.6 percent increase in the seizure of weapons in 2009 compared with 2008, according to statistics from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The bad news: that translates into 1,428 firearms, an average of four a day.

Contrast that with the millions of people and cars that cross into Mexico every day – 82,000 at one border point alone (San Ysidro, between San Diego and Tijuana) – and it’s easy to see why there’s a rule of thumb along the border that for every one confiscated weapon, seven to nine make it through. Add to that weapons smuggled from Central America, still awash with arms from its civil wars in the 1980s, and it’s obvious why the cartels have so much firepower.

And why it is unlikely that force alone can end the bloodshed or wipe out the criminal Mexican organizations – think of them as armed corporations fighting for market share and access – whose members are doing business in more than 230 American cities, according to the DHS.

A study published in the last week of April by the Vancouver-based International Centre for Science in Drug Policy, an international network of scientists, academics and public health practitioners, reviewed English-language scientific literature dating back more than 20 years to track the impact of drug law enforcement on drug market violence.

Among its findings: “Most…studies found that increasing drug law enforcement intensity resulted in increased rates of drug market violence.” And: ” Research…has shown that by removing key players from the lucrative illegal drug market, drug law enforcement may have the perverse effect of creating significant financial incentives for other individuals to fill this vacuum by entering the market.”

That happened, for example, in Colombia in the 1990s when the combined efforts of the Colombian and U.S. governments succeeded in dismantling the powerful Cali and Medellin cartels. They were replaced by smaller groups. Drug production and exports continued.

The study made no mention of Ciudad Juarez, just across the Rio Grande river from the Texan city of El Paso, which could serve as exhibit A to back up the contention that violence begets violence begets violence.

When Mexico’s president, Felipe Calderon, ordered 2,500 troops and federal agents into border city Ciudad Juarez in 2006 to tamp down drug violence, the monthly murder rate ran at an average of 66. By 2009, the military presence had reached 7,500 and the monthly death toll ran at an average of more than 200.

How much difference American participation in an international arms trafficking treaty might have made we will never know, thanks to the gun lobbies and legislators cowed by them.


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Legalize the drugs, and watch the violence be reduced by a factor of ten, at least. Did we not learn anything from Prohibition? Take all the money from the war on drugs and place it into education and treatment. Anyone half intelligent wouldn’t even begin to meddle with hard drugs like heroin. If they did, then Darwinism applies. The war on drugs just increases the price paid for the narcotics, which in turn sends more money to terrorists and thugs. Tax the pot grown in the green triangle of Cali and crack down on local meth production. It is common sense! There would have been no Al Capone the gangster if it weren’t for our demonization of alcohol.

Posted by Death2Communism | Report as abusive

The US could help this “drug war” by legalizing peoples’ freedom. These problems are due to prohibition not gun laws. No more international treaties that overthrow our constitution.

Posted by Sacorp | Report as abusive

Mr. Debusmann,

Contrarily to what is seems you think, America is not responsible for all the bad stuff going on in the world.

Sadly, the world is flooded with cheap weapons, and getting them would be the easiest thing to do for anyone in Mexico who won’t be able to buy weapons in the US.
Just look at what’s going on Africa, for example, where an AK-47 sells for as little as $15.

Posted by yr2009 | Report as abusive

@ Death2Communism
While much of your argument makes sense to me… the idea that morons who take hard drugs and are reckless will die off courtesy of Darwinism does not take into account the huge number of innocents the idiots will take with them.
We already have drunk drivers killing pedestrians, other motorists and themselves. If we legalize drugs, that number will only increase.
Unless we can ensure smart cars that recognize drunk/high drivers and don’t start.

Also, considering how prudish American society likes to see itself as, I doubt such legislation would ever get through.

Posted by tejdeep | Report as abusive

‘People on drugs, with guns, legally’. Coming soon to a theater near you.

Posted by tejdeep | Report as abusive

Glad to see the useful reality check linking drug enforcement actions with an increase in violence. The writer seems unwilling to bring up the logical next step in that, which the commenters will, that the real problem is in the drugs being illegal but in demand. Tackling supply without addressing demand (which can’t be legislated away) is a recipe for an unending ‘war’ with no winner. That’s what we do in America though.

Posted by hybrididentity | Report as abusive

I agree with Mr. Debusmann that this treaty can reduce the flow of guns from the US to Mexico. This will raise the cost of weapons, but not stop the flow. Legalization would make the pot trade less profitable, but then the cartels would move to new drugs…meth, coke, heroin. They are corporations with a full distribution network, so switching product would only be a speedbump. The corporate analogy works very well…if input costs go up or markets change, corporate interests adjust, they don’t quit, especially when the profit margins are as lucrative as in the drug trade (why they break the law in the first place). Jailing the users is counterproductive and expensive. This is not a simple problem with a simple answer.

Posted by Mike_s1 | Report as abusive

Look, I don’t blame Mexicans for wanting our guns. I mean they have to protect themselves from a possible if not likely invasion by the U.S. What would you do if you lived next to Atila the Hun or Adolf Hitler?

Posted by freetheenk | Report as abusive

Its not a matter of taking on the gun lobbies. The treaty in question would limit the rights of Americans to simply satisfy a foreign entity. There is no doubt the violence attributed to the drug cartels is deplorable but it is not the job of American legislators and American laws affect a foreign nation’s internal struggles. This may seem harsh but isn’t it simple logic that if you don’t want certain things in your house, place of bussiness or…country, shouldn’t you step up security at the door or…border? The border works both ways, and as such, two seperate nations have the ability to “fix” it.

Posted by Sweet_Lou | Report as abusive

Forget the politics, we have an open border, we don’t enforce the laws we have on the books (thank you Arizona) and we won’t hold anyone accountable. In Washington State, the powerful Trial Lawyers ravages public funds, because everyone is afraid of them. I’m an active NRA type, have not trouble with a tracking system…

Posted by goingtosea | Report as abusive

The ONLY statistic which can support or defeat this article is not included — that is, what percentage of weapons seized in Mexico originated in the USA? Until that number is stated (which is an easy FACT to get but never published) then any relationship to the USA gun lobby is phony at best. This planet is awash in cheaper, easier to get weapons than those in the USA. Every weapon has a serial number so get the FACTS regarding origin first, then write an article.

Posted by JJWest | Report as abusive

Just because Mexico has a drug problem doesn’t mean we have a gun problem. Most of the weapons seized from Mexican drug cartels are not from the U.S. despite what we’ve been told by the mass media. Out of all of the weapons seized, only the ones they can track lead back to the U.S.. Most of the weapons they cannot track and they have no idea where they came from. These make up the majority of the weapons. Taking away citizen’s rights to defend themselves will not end violent cartel’s use of weapons. The only people who suffer are the innocent law abiding citizens. At least the U.S. has systems in place so that we can find out who is selling weapons illegally, unlike most countries including Mexico.

Posted by Blackbird1996 | Report as abusive

And in reference to the quotes from the Vancouver group — the logical conclusion from their statements is to leave the criminals on the streets to do whatever they want. Are they socialist nuts? In Canada though that’s whats happening – there is no 3-strikes and you’re out. Life imprisonment means a parole hearing in 10 years and back on the street in 15 years. And let’s not forget their BILLION dollar gun registry which has had zero effect — in Vancouver you are currently more likely to be murdered with a gun than in New York. Gimme a break!!!!

Posted by JJWest | Report as abusive

I agree with the supply and demand theory with drugs. You cannot eliminate the drug trade w/o reducing demand (from the US). SAME PRINCIPAL APPLIES TO GUNS: Mexican cartels have a high demand for guns, reducing the supply from the US side will have no effect on the number of drugs smuggled into Mexico (cartels HAVE the money to get them from other sources). Then think of broader implications about who the cartels would cozy up to to get weapons? People who dislike the US, and simple capitalist happy to fill the void. Venezuela I’m sure would be happy to funnel weapons, and add to destabilization of the region and US woes.

Posted by bioworkboredom | Report as abusive

I do not like the idea of smoking dope that someone got beheaded for in order to get it to me…those peace, love and happiness days are gone, and forgotten. It’s all greed all the time…growing one’s own is the way to go so no one dies on your watch, in my unasked for opinion as a toker for half a century…

Posted by nftdnotes | Report as abusive

Guess who are the mules carrying narcotics from Mexico to USA and guns on their way back to Mexico? Most of them are illegal aliens. Kudos to AZ for doing something about it, or at least trying.

Posted by An0nym0us | Report as abusive

Say NO! to gun control!

Posted by soWhatever | Report as abusive

Why do the majority of people in the USA fight the battles they can’t win?
The UK had the same problem with illegal drugs on every street corner, they finally wised up and legalized drugs which are sold out of pharmacys. Not only are they collecting taxs on the drugs but most of the drug pushers are out of business and drug usage has gone down
As to the gun situation in the USA,the american patriots will never surrender their right to own and bear arms..NEVER!

Posted by GWG77 | Report as abusive

Think about this for a moment, The US covert black opps fund their covert illegal operations using the drug trade to finance these operations. Drugs for guns and other warfare materials that allow these operations to fly under the fiscal budgetary radar. This has been going on since world war two. No one can prove it, however, periodicly news of this nature does surface and is ignored.

Posted by GWG77 | Report as abusive

How come nobody mentions the fact that the citizens of Mexico are not allowed to own guns? Has anybody stopped for a second to think that this law is prohibiting the citizens to defend themselves? If the people of Mexico were allowed to carry guns, do you think the grunts of drug cartels would go into restaurants to shoot the place up? Of course not, they would know there is a good chance the people in the restaurant have guns, too. In the current environment, the grunts know they are going to walk in and walk out unharmed because they are the only ones with guns. Mexico needs to change that law and let the citizens defend themselves. The U.S. better not take away the second amendment or else we will have the same problem. To all of you that oppose gun rights, go live in Mexico and tell me how that works out for you.

Posted by TTK4589 | Report as abusive

Mexico already has strict gun laws. Hmmmmmm. Maybe it’s the north bound human traffic we should be looking at, genius.

[For a light hearted take on our present peril]

Posted by LibertyAtStake | Report as abusive

It has been said before and I’ll say it again; “Guns don’t kill, it’s the person holding it.” Cars have never killed any person, but many people have been killed by drivers of those cars and so it is with guns, knives, stickes and stones.
So what is it; that one man kills and another does not?
It is the heart of the person that is so dangerous. What a person values and loves he cares for; what he hates he destroys or removes from his presence. People are increasingly disregarding life, others and themselves. Most importantly, people have no relationship with their CREATOR and do not know HIM any longer. Sadly, in North America, people have full access to the information He has given them to know Him and how to live in a way that pleases Him.
Decisions we make every day determine our actions; and your world belief (religion or what ever you want to call it) is the main factor that is the foundation to those decisions.
If you determine in your heart NOT to believe in GOD (HE existes whether you believe or not), and that there is no accountability in your belief system; you will do what seems right in your own eyes. To some doing drugs is right, to some killing is right, to some fraud is right and on it goes. Our legal system will continue to become more confusing and frustrating to people as the LAWS of GOD are being eliminated from the laws of man.
Legalize all drugs, guns, prostitution, alcohol, killing, etc. That will not cause godly people from getting involved volintarily; yes inocent people do often get hurt by these vises as well. But that is the violent world we often choose to live in.
Choose this day whom you will follow, GOD or yourself.

Posted by jfz50 | Report as abusive

god there are a lot of gun kooks out there. Don’t worry boys, the treaty aims to prevent gun smuggling, not gun owning, and I’d be right there with you if only the police had weapons that could kill, but what problem don’t you suspect illegals of causing? I hope we’re past the days where you think they’re ruining the purity of our country just as the Italians, Jews, Poles, and even the Irish were supposed to be doing beforehand? And you think that our country’s massive demand for weed and harder stuff doesn’t implicate us in “Mexico’s” drug problem? Don’t indebt my generation because your old mind can’t be taught a new trick. Drugs are stupid, so are people, and we’ve got to work around it, not deny it.

And stoners, have some class, don’t smoke mexican schwag.

Posted by theinfamoushw6 | Report as abusive

OK, so law enforcement creates violence. Just as the US response to Pearl Harbor caused more deaths? As British resistance to the Third Reich killed many Britons? As … the list could be extended ad infinitum. Who authored these studies? Bill Ayres and other 60s leftovers? It takes a village of academics to instruct the rest of us with such profundities.

If the US is the cause of Mexico’s gun problem, why won’t the Mexican government send us the serial numbers of all confiscated weapons? Because many guns are sold by Mexican soldiers to the drug cartels? Because the weapons were given to the Mexican army by the US government in the first place? Maybe there’s an innocent explanation here. If so, I’m sure the Mexican government can supply it.

Posted by HenryPercy | Report as abusive

Leave it to a bunch of British Sissymarys to blame the American gun owner for Messican violence. “…a rule of thumb along the border that for every one confiscated weapon, seven to nine make it through”? Nice way to attempt to ignore the low figure for guns actually confiscated. And it’s a “rule of thumb”, so it’s gotta be true!

Look, if you were a Messican drug-monger would you think it’s easier to get your weapons across your northern border, or from one of the many other routes available?

What about the arms that were sold by the US government to the Messican government legally? Not that their government is corrupt or anything (*cough*), but one might wonder how many of those weapons might have conceivably fallen into the wrong hands.

You are hearby nominated for Twit of the Year.

Posted by AZhole | Report as abusive

@jfz50: More murders are committed in the name of religion than for any other reason. Religion has absolutely nothing to do with the issue presented by this article. It is true, Mexican drug cartels are employing American citizens to purchase firearms in exchange for compensation. In Texas, for example, you are able to purchase an AR15 at a gun shop. The cartels are then converting the weapons to full automatic. It’s not that difficult (the AR15 is the civilian version of the M-16). It is becoming increasingly clear that actions similar to our involvement with the Colombian government must be taken. I’m a liberal. I think I must make that known before I write what I’m about to write. We need to put the Mexican government on notice: clean up your mess or we will clean it up for you by force. I’m not saying go to war with Mexico, but I am saying we will have to deploy troops to combat the cartels. They are no different than any other terrorist organization at this point. American civilians, local law enforcement and federal agents are being kidnapped and murdered. There can be no negotiation. We must act, and act swiftly, to bring these criminals to justice. The safety of the American people depend on it.

Posted by indieinfla | Report as abusive