The BBC has an article up on the gun-smuggling from the US to Mexico. In typically one-sided fashion, it mentions that guns seized from narcos in Mexico are often traced back to the United States, and that the ATF isn’t effectively fighting this problem.
For those without much knowledge on the subject, it gives the impression that there’s a flood of illegal guns being bought in the US across the counter legally, and then shipped into Mexico to fuel the gun crime there–blaming our “lax gun laws” for Mexico’s narco turf war violence.
First of all, let’s point out that Mexico has a narco problem because the US has a hard-on for drug prohibition, not because Americans can buy guns legally. I’ve often read that canard about drug buyers financing drug crime with their purchases, but the simple twofold truth is that a.) people will always desire and buy mind-altering substances, no matter what the law says, and b.) the War on Drugs serves as a price control mechanism and profit guarantee for dealers and traffickers.
Second, let’s look at that article a little more closely. The picture that accompanies it shows a bunch of 40mm grenade launchers along with ammunition. Looking at that, your average BBC reader could be lead to believe that those things are legal to buy and own freely in the US, and that they originated at a US gun show or gun store. Grenade launchers are, of course, illegal to own, purchase, or sell in the United States without a special registration and tax stamp. Grenade launchers are tightly controlled “destructive devices”, as is their ammunition. (Every single 40mm grenade is also classified as a DD, and subject to a $200 transfer tax per round. Each grenade must be individually registered with the BATFE, which makes them super-expensive and very rare to find in civilian hands.) Considering the difficulty and expense of obtaining a launcher and the ammo for it, never mind the fact that every single launcher and round is registered to an owner with the ATF, I guarantee that the 40mm launchers in that picture came not from the US, but from Mexican military armories.
Third, the language in the article isn’t quite misleading, but it omits a few facts. We are told that “the majority of guns confiscated by Mexico and submitted to the ATF for tracing do originate in the US <emphasis mine>.” What it doesn’t mention is that the majority of guns seized from Mexican narcos do not originate in the US. The Mexican Federales do not submit most of their seized guns to the ATF for tracing because they know their provenance already. Mexico uses a licensed version of the H&K G36 assault rifle, for example, and whenever one of those shows up, they know it didn’t walk out of a gun store in San Antonio. (They also use the licensed version of the H&K 40mm grenade launcher, which happens to look exactly like the weapon in the center of the picture.) So they only send the serial numbers of the non-domestic guns to the ATF, which is the minority of seized weapons. Reading the article over a quick latte, one could however get the impression that most of the crime guns in Mexico are traced back to the US, because they omit that information.
Lastly, even those guns that were bought in the US and then smuggled into Mexico for use by narcos didn’t get sold to Mexican nationals legally. Gun shops have to run federal background checks on every single gun purchase, and foreign nationals, with few exceptions, are not eligible to buy firearms in the United States. If a rifle made it from a legal buyer into the hands of a Mexican criminal, the person buying the rifle and then handing it to said criminal broke federal law. (Buying a gun for a non-eligible person is called a “straw sale”, and will get you ten years in Club Fed.)
Mexico has plenty of problems, but corruption (where and how do you think the narcos get Mexican military hardware?) and the economic incentives created by drug prohibition make up the lion’s share of those, not legal gun sales in the United States. You want to curb the flow of guns and stop the violence in Mexico, you stop guaranteeing those dealers and traffickers a 10,000% profit margin on some powdered plant product. Drug dealers don’t care about cocaine or “poisoning America’s children”, they care about profit. If you held a voter referendum on keeping or tossing drug prohibition, all the drug dealers in the country would vote to keep them illegal. Take away their price control system, and they’ll go the way of the booze runners of the Prohibition era.
But nobody’s going to do that, of course. Between asset forfeiture, inability to learn from the Prohibition, the suitability of drug laws to curb inconvenient liberties, and the millions on the payroll of drug task forces and agencies nationwide, that wouldn’t be good business. And civil liberties continue to take it in the pants.
Remember: a vote for drug prohibition is a vote for gun control. Without illicit substance turf wars, we wouldn’t even have NFA ’34, GCA ’68, or the 1994 Crime Bill. We wouldn’t have asset forfeiture, RICO, or any of the many other onerous laws that shackle our movements and make a mockery of the Bill of Rights. But point that out to a self-righteous dope prohibitionist, and you get the old saw about the damage drugs can do, and do you want to see schoolchildren legally light up crack pipes in front of the CVS at eight in the morning? It’s the same kind of arrogant paternalism that the gun banners display when they talk about how blood would flow in the streets if we removed all the restrictions on gun ownership and carry. “Well, I know that I wouldn’t abuse them, but I’m damned sure those peasants all around me couldn’t handle the liberty…”