Powerful U.S. guns fuel Mexico violence

June 28, 2011


As the number of violent deaths along the U.S.-Mexico border continues to climb, a new report reveals a chilling trend: U.S. gun manufacturers, faced with declining sales, are increasingly selling high-powered military-style firearms to civilians.

The report by the Violence Policy Center advocacy group, titled “The militarization of the U.S. civilian firearms market,” says that the civilian firearms industry in the United States has been in decline for several decades, partly because of the growing popularity of video games and the fact that younger Americans and immigrants are less prone to buying guns.

While the U.S. population grew by 24 percent in the two decades ending in 2000, the U.S. production of small weapons fell by 33 percent, it says.

So what has been the gun industry’s response? Try to sell bigger, more-lethal weapons, many of which are used in mass shootings, attacks on U.S. law enforcement officers, or are sold to the Mexican and Central American drug cartels.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon said in Washington last year that more than 80 percent of the guns and assault rifles seized in Mexico that have been traced come from the United States. And in the United States, there are 10 times more people killed and injured annually by guns than there were victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the report says.

“The U.S. civilian gun market has become a militarized bazaar,” it says. In order to increase revenues, U.S. gun manufacturers are bombarding consumers with ads portraying the message that civilians — just like real soldiers — can easily own military-style weapons, it says.

For instance, faced with a 1986 law that bans the sale of machine guns to civilians, the gun industry has in recent years promoted sales of semiautomatic assault weapons that are similar to AK-47 and M-16 military assault rifles.

Unlike machine guns, semiautomatic weapons require that their trigger be pulled back separately for each bullet. But gun manufacturers are increasingly adding new features to their semiautomatic weapons — such as detachable ammunition magazines that hold as many as 75 rounds of ammunition — that turn their products into formidable killing machines.

“The difference between semiautomatic rifles and machine guns is negligible,” the study’s author, Tom Diaz, told me. “Semiautomatic rifles are just as deadly. You can actually be more accurate, because the gun itself doesn’t climb like a machine gun.”

Now that the violence along the U.S.-Mexico border and the killing of U.S. law enforcement officers are focusing growing media attention on U.S. gun manufacturers’ sales of military-style weapons, the gun lobby has rebranded semiautomatic assault weapons as “modern sporting rifles.” But there’s nothing sports-related about these weapons, Diaz said.

I called the National Rifle Association’s press office about a half-dozen times over several days for an official reaction to the report, but was told that all NRA spokespersons were too busy to respond.

Other pro-gun activists told me that semiautomatic weapons are used for sports, and that only a small percentage of violent deaths in the United States are caused by semiautomatic weapons. In addition, they say that many of the U.S.-made heavy weapons used by Mexico’s drug cartels are being purchased from corrupt Mexican army officers.

My opinion: With more than 40,000 deaths in drug-related shootings in Mexico over the past five years, an escalating death toll in Central America and the Caribbean, and U.S. policemen being outgunned by criminals in many cities, the growing sales of these military-style weapons have become a regional problem that requires regional solutions.

The Obama administration should seek congressional ratification of a 1997 regional treaty known as CIFTA, which tries to crack down on illicit firearms trafficking in the Americas. President Barack Obama has said he supports CIFTA, but isn’t doing much to get it passed by Congress.

And Latin American countries should step up diplomatic pressure on the United States to get Congress to reinstate a ban on assault weapons that was allowed to expire in 2004, as well as to get Obama to issue an executive order to stop imports of military-style weapons that often end up in the hands of Mexican and Central American drug cartels.

How many more people have to die in mass shootings across the hemisphere before we put an end to this madness?

Andres Oppenheimer is a Latin America correspondent for the Miami Herald.


cato_the_elder 6 years, 5 months ago

An entire article on Mexican gun use and not one mention of the Obama administration's scandalous plan to put powerful weapons such as 50-caliber Barrett rifles in the hands of known Mexican criminals and "track" them, which was fully implemented and only recently revealed? Was this piece written in order to blame the NRA for what the Obama administration has done? Who within the Obama administration asked Oppenheimer to gin this up? When will people realize how much the liberal media coordinates its "reporting" with the liberal Democrat machine?

jonas_opines 6 years, 5 months ago

Probably the guns play less a part than our drug laws

geekin_topekan 6 years, 5 months ago

Indeed. In the free market rule of supply and demand, the US offers the demand.

beatrice 6 years, 5 months ago

jonas, while I can appreciate your comment on our drug laws, I'm afraid the guns actually do play a part in 100% of the deaths by gun fire.

RoeDapple 6 years, 5 months ago

"How many more people have to die in mass shootings across the hemisphere before we put an end to this madness?" Maybe you should ask why the current administration is making sure the guns get there.


The "Iron River" of guns flowing into Mexico was a mere trickle until ATF got involved


Obama "didn't get the memo". . . . Modus operandi ? . . .


And now at least two US Border Patrol agents have been killed by ATF supplied guns


beatrice 6 years, 5 months ago

One of the worst decisions ATF ever made. However, I suspect Obama really did not know. I doubt if any President is ever clued in on every operation of the ATF. Of course, he is responsible to see to it that those who made it happen are held accountable for their terrible descision.

The ATF should not be in the business of selling guns. Period.

beatrice 6 years, 5 months ago

Like when Scooter Libby got convicted and Bush admitted his role and resigned in disgrace for the outing of an American spy? Like that?

Sorry, but if you aren't going to demand accountability for one, then it is partisan to demand it of the other. As I said, I would be suprised if any President including Obama knew about every ATF operation, and we can't really hold the President truly accountable for every ridiculous thing every federal employee or agency does. We can hold him accountable with our votes, certainly, but if an employee does something wrong or worse, illegal, we can't expect full accountability to fall on the President, even if he is their supervisor. We can, however, question why he didn't have a better understanding of what his staff was doing.

If we knew Obama had signed off on the plan, however, that would be a different matter. It doesn't appear he did. It still doesn't look good for this administration to have such an incompetent as the head of the ATF.

beatrice 6 years, 5 months ago

We were actually talking about the ATF. Presidential accountability for the actions of someone not the president stemmed from that talk, which means all presidents, past and present, are worth discussing. Sorry if that path of the discussion lost you along the way.

think_about_it 6 years, 5 months ago

Don't you see that is Obama's plan? If he can get enough guns into Mexico then people will finally become so enraged that they will allow an outright ban in this country.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 5 months ago

It seems to me that in relation to our southern border;

When a problem comes north across the border, it's the fault of the U.S. When a problem goes south across the border, it's the fault of the U.S.

Not that I believe this to be true. But it's often presented in that way.

Flap Doodle 6 years, 5 months ago

The current regime's war against the US Constitution continues, aided by running dogs like Andres Oppenheimer .

Flap Doodle 6 years, 5 months ago

Taking a cue from the disappointed progressives.

beatrice 6 years, 5 months ago

You take your cues on how to think from those you obviously hate? Sad.

FlintlockRifle 6 years, 5 months ago

I do not believe Oppenheimer about his comment about NRA to busy to talk to this "person" they are never to busy to talk about issues like this """"story"""

unite2revolt 6 years, 5 months ago

This is maybe one of the most poorly written op-eds I have read recently.

George Lippencott 6 years, 5 months ago

Why is this my problem? Why can the Mexican Government not maintain law and order in their own country? The full power of the state backed up by our own efforts should be able to suppress the cartels.

It appears to me that there is so much money floating around that it is becoming almost impossible for the rule of law to exist in that country. Given that level of money and the related corruption I see little or no use in trying to create uproar here to stifle a source of weapons that will be instantly replaced if we actually did something. Simply making a weapon illegal in this country will not stop the trade (from here or from countless other sources more than ready to step in). Perhaps if we stifled our demand for drugs (or legalized them) the money would dry up and we would not need to worry about weapons.

Perhaps if all those yelping about the economic injustice here would focus on the economic injustice there a possibility might evolve for a Mexican government with the actual support of the majority of its citizens.

oldbaldguy 6 years, 5 months ago

Gee, makes you wonder what would have happened if we had annexed Sonora and Chihuaha after the Mexican War like many Southern politicians and Northern Mexicans wanted us to do.

gogoplata 6 years, 5 months ago

The Drug war is a failure. Time to put an end to it.

gl0ck0wn3r 6 years, 5 months ago

One of the dumbest op/eds I have ever read.

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