Gun laws in Mexico
On paper it’s significantly harder to legally purchase a firearm in Mexico than it is in the United States. So if it’s so difficult to buy a gun in Mexico, where do all of the country’s guns come from? The answer has as much if not more to do with U.S. gun policy than with Mexico’s, though the issue is rarely brought up in America’s political debates over gun control and border security.
The right to own guns is in Mexico’s constitution, as it is in the U.S., but Mexican gun laws are highly restrictive. The Mexican army is the only entity allowed to sell guns in the country, either to private security firms, private citizens or to local police. In fact, there is only one legal gun store in the country, which is also run by the Mexican army and located in Mexico City. Assault weapons and any weapon more powerful than a .38 caliber gun is banned from personal use, with few exceptions. Only the military is allowed to use high-powered firearms.
To apply for a gun license, applicants must have a crime-free record, employment, and to have served in the military, according to Mexico’s federal law of arms and explosives. But the army sells the majority of weapons to law enforcement entities, according to public records obtained by Stop U.S. Arms to Mexico, an organization whose goal is to stop illegal gun trade in Mexico. From 2010 to 2016, the army sold 166,763 firearms to local police forces — 55 percent of all the guns sold by the army during that period. Twenty percent – 67,725 – were retail sales to individuals.
The low number of approved licenses for carrying firearms is striking. Between 2013 and 2018 only 218 licenses to carry guns were issued, according to a public document issued by the Secretariat of National Defense (SEDENA), Mexico’s equivalent of the U.S. Department of Defense and the government agency in charge of issuing gun licenses.
But applications to acquire firearms have been on the rise. According to SEDENA, the agency received 55,567 applications to purchase firearms between 2013 and 2018. Between 2007 and 2012, during Felipe Calderón Hinojosa’s administration, 42,431 applications were reported. From 2010 through 2016, SEDENA reported the government selling 8,000 to 12,000 guns to the public annually.
Gun manufacturers in other countries, such as Germany, also supply weapons to Mexico. But lax U.S. gun laws and proximity to Mexico are key factors that drive guns south from the United States. An ongoing study of arms trafficking to Mexico and other Latin American countries, conducted by the Violence Policy Center, shows that military-style semi-automatic firearms comprise the majority of weapons smuggled south. These can be easily purchased in the United States, and are often harder to buy legally in other countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom and Switzerland, where automatic weapons are banned for civilians.
“As long as you have that violence continuing in Mexico, you’re going to continue to have a demand for weapons,” said Duncan Wood, the director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. “And the easiest way to get those weapons is from the United States.”
There have been efforts in Congress to create legislation to tackle firearm trafficking. In 2017, Reps. Norma Torres, D-Calif, Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., introduced legislation to stop the flow of arms to Mexico. But these efforts have stalled in Congress.
“Trafficking illegal guns to and from Mexico is currently not a federal crime. It really doesn’t get much crazier than that,” Engel said in 2017. “This is just another example of how incredibly lax our gun laws are. Gun runners can cross state and international borders right now without fear of federal prosecution. The federal government is also prohibited from compiling data on this type of activity, also due to our arcane gun laws.”
This will conclude the second part of this blog and will discuss more in part three. So look forward to next week were we continue the conversation that is often missed, thank you for reading.