U.S. efforts to limit gun purchases are winning approval in Mexico as President Barack Obama considers measures to stem violence that could also restrict weapons access for drug cartels south of the border.
Eduardo Medina Mora, Mexico’s incoming ambassador to Washington, said last week that there’s a link between the end of the U.S. assault-weapons ban in 2004 and the arming of cartels whose war with the government has left more than 58,000 dead since 2006. The comments echo those from former President Felipe Calderon, who left office last month after a six-year term in which he repeatedly blamed U.S. guns for the surge in Mexican violence.
Medina Mora, who served as Calderon’s attorney general and ambassador to the U.K. before being confirmed as President Enrique Pena Nieto’s envoy to Washington last week, said he hopes last month’s school massacre in Connecticut will spur the U.S. to overhaul gun regulations.
The shooting “opens a window of opportunity for President Obama,” Medina Mora said at a press conference last week. “The Second Amendment and the regulation adopted in the U.S. is not, never was and never should be designed to arm foreign criminal groups.”
Obama said today at a White House news conference that he’s reviewing a list of proposals to reduce gun violence and plans to begin announcing the specifics of his plan later this week. He listed strengthening background checks, banning assault weapons and limits on high-capacity ammunition magazines as initiatives that “make sense.”
“We’re going to have to come up with answers that set politics aside,” Obama said. “And that’s what I expect Congress to do.”
U.S. Congress hasn’t passed major gun-related legislation since the 1994 assault weapons ban that expired a decade later. It didn’t enact new legislation after the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Colorado that was the first in a series of killings at schools and universities in the past decade. National Rifle Association President David Keene said yesterday on CNN’s “State of the Union” program that a White House push for an assault weapons ban won’t succeed.
Mexico’s Congress on Dec. 27 called on the U.S. to tighten gun control laws, saying drug cartels fill their arsenals with weapons bought north of the border. The “freedoms” of the U.S. weapons industry are destroying Mexico and the U.S., Ricardo Mejia Berdeja, a Mexican lower house lawmaker, said in the Congressional statement.
At a prayer vigil in Newtown, Connecticut on Dec. 16, Obama pledged to use “whatever power this office holds” to prevent another mass shooting after 20 children and six adults died at the hands of a gunman wielding semi-automatic weapons Dec. 14.
Calderon in a May 2011 interview at Bloomberg’s headquarters in New York said Mexican authorities had seized more than 100,000 weapons in the previous four years, and that 85 percent of them came from the U.S.
U.S. production of rifles surged 70 percent to a record 2.25 million in 2009, according U.S. Department of Justice data. Homicides in Mexico doubled in the same period, according to the nation’s statistics agency.
Mexico has only one legal retailer for firearms, run by the Ministry of National Defense, compared with thousands of federally licensed firearms outlets in U.S. border states.
Pena Nieto, who took office Dec. 1, hasn’t spoken publicly about U.S. gun laws since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown. In an interview with the PBS NewsHour program broadcast on July 3, two days after his election, Pena Nieto said U.S. ineffectiveness in stopping the flow of guns to Mexico had resulted in thousands of deaths.
Vice President Joe Biden is heading up an administration-wide anti-gun violence task force. Biden and his advisers have signaled that the White House intends to push a package of proposals that includes expanding background checks, limiting high-capacity ammunition magazines, and a renewal of the assault-weapons ban.
“Policy issues don’t stop at the border,” Joy Olson, executive director of the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights and social justice group, said in a telephone interview. “There are policies that we could undertake in the United States that would be good for the U.S. and have a beneficial spillover in Mexico.”