Mexican activists call for change in U.S. gun industry

Some U.S.-made M4A1 rifles with grenade launchers, part of an arsenal seized to the leader of the drug cartel 'Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion', Erick Valencia Salazar, are presented to the press on March 12, 2012 in Mexico City.

Kai Ryssdal: The American war on drugs and Mexico's problems with gun violence met up today in Washington. What's being called a caravan for peace has been traveling the country the past month or so, trying to draw attention to the violence in Mexico. The activists: many of them are family members of people who've been killed. They're asking Washington to change the way the U.S. goes after drug traffickers, in part by targeting the American gun industry.

Marketplace's Jeff Tyler reports.


Jeff Tyler: Javier Sicilia is a respected poet from Mexico with a personal connection to the war on drugs.

Javier Sicilia: It’s an absurd, stupid war. It kills innocent people, like my son.

About 70,000 people have been murdered in Mexico since 2006. American activist John Lindsay-Poland says most of the Mexican victims were killed with guns smuggled from the U.S.

John Lindsay-Poland: In Mexico, in the last five years, there are about 100,000 firearms that have been recovered at crime scenes. And more than two-thirds of them were sold by dealers legally, commercially, in the United States.

He says, many of the AK-47s used in Mexico are manufactured in Romania, then imported to the U.S. and smuggled across the border. The group is calling on President Obama to enforce an existing law prohibiting the import of foreign assault weapons. It’s a small step. But one the president has the power to make.

Lindsay-Poland: We’re urging the White House to take action because it’s so important to do something soon, even if it doesn’t solve all of the problems.

The group also wants the government to pony up extra funds for more oversight. As you might expect, gun dealers tend to see the issue differently.

At this firing range in Las Vegas, gun enthusiasts shoot machine guns. The company, called The Gun Store, also sells machine guns. Owner Bob Irwin says gun dealers don’t need more regulations.

Bob Irwin: I have two people in my store -- full-time -- who do nothing but paperwork for the United States government. It’s an incredibly regulated industry.

He says restricting gun ownership for law-abiding citizens is un-American. That argument that doesn’t carry much weight with poet Javier Sicilia.

Sicilia: The spirit of the Second Amendment refers to defensive weapons. But the arms being sold are for exterminating people. I don’t think assault weapons are covered by the Second Amendment.

Members of the peace caravan bought an assault weapon at a gun show in Houston, which they then sawed in half. John Lindsay-Poland describes a visit to another gun show in Albuquerque.

Lindsay-Poland: One member of the caravan went up to a dealer and said, Can I buy as many of these assault weapons as I want?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ And she said, ‘If I want to get them into another country, for example, into Mexico, would I be able to do that? And he said, ‘Well, I couldn’t do that for you, but we know people who can.’

The peace caravan is asking gun dealers along the border to voluntarily stop selling assault weapons. Hector Garcia runs a gun store in El Paso called Country Wide Shooters. I asked if he would consider not selling assault weapons.

Hector Garcia: No. Why hurt the people who live next to the border, I mean, they’ll just go somewhere else. They’ll just go up to Oklahoma.

Garcia sees the violence in Mexico as a result of supply and demand.

Garcia: If you could cut down on the usage of narcotics in the United States – eliminate half of the market – you could eliminate a lot of the violence that goes down south.

That’s one of the few points on which both sides agree.

I’m Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.

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