Mexico: analysts compare Newtown killings and ‘drug war’ deaths

The Mexican media have closely followed the renewed US interest in gun control after the killing of 20 children and eight adults in Newtown, Connecticut on Dec. 15. Laws regulating the sale of firearms in the US have an immediate impact on Mexico, where some 50,000 people have been killed since 2006 in the government’s “war on drugs” and in fighting between rival drug cartels. Statistics that the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) submitted to the US Senate in 2011 indicate that some 70% of the illegal firearms seized in Mexico in 2009 and 2010 came from the US; Mexico itself has very strict controls on gun ownership.

A Dec. 17 editorial in the left-leaning daily La Jornada called proposals for tightening US gun regulations “hopeful,” but said it was “illuminating that the society of the neighboring country, shocked by the nearly 30 murders carried out [in Newtown], isn’t able to react, on the other hand, to the tens of thousands of homicides committed in Mexico in the past six years with arms sold in the US. Washington demands that Mexican authorities monitor and block the passage of illegal drugs to the north of the common border, but until now hasn’t shown the political will to proceed in the same way with the firearms, including high-caliber weapons, that proliferate in the Mexican market.” (LJ, Dec. 17)

“It is shocking how the debate over gun control in the wake of the Newtown massacre has avoided mentioning gun violence south of the border,” National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) professor John M. Ackerman wrote in the Huffington Post on Dec. 19. “The 20 children gunned down at [Newtown’s] Sandy Hook Elementary School can now be added to the excruciating list of at least 1,200 North American children who have been violently killed since the beginning of the US-backed militarized ‘drug war’ in 2006.” Ackerman also criticized the US government’s failure to prosecute the British bank HSBC for allowing money laundering through its Mexican branch. “The body count will inevitably rise as banks will be able to continue to help drug cartels transfer money freely to purchase assault weapons in the United States without risk of criminal prosecution,” he wrote. (Huffington Post, Dec. 19)

The gun violence in Mexico has in fact gotten some attention in the US media, but mostly from gun control opponents. Some claim Mexico’s experience shows that gun control laws don’t work. In Mexico, a columnist wrote in the Allentown (Pennsylvania) Morning Call on Dec. 22, “rigid gun control means only criminals and the police, who often are in cahoots, can legally be armed. Everybody else is at their mercy.” (Allentown Morning Call, Dec. 22) Others, like Robert Farago of the online magazine The Truth About Guns, simply deny that the drug cartels get their rifles from US gun shops. His recommendation for Mexico is to eliminate gun controls. “If anything, Mexicans should be copying our gun laws and Second Amendment rights,” Farago told BBC News. “What Mexicans need are more magazines, more guns, more bullets in the hands of law-abiding citizens.” (BBC News, Dec. 22)

In reality, “[m]ost law-abiding Mexicans…believe more guns are the last thing the country needs,” according to the BBC. Ironically, the US gun control debate was heating up just as Mexico happened to be tightening its own laws. On Dec. 17 the Mexican Senate passed a law mandating a two-to-six year prison sentence for possession of magazines for automatic weapons. (El Sol de México, Dec. 18; BBC News, Dec. 22)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 23.