Obama, American guns and Mexican mayhem

By Bernd Debusmann
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 curb  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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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