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.
Log in to post8 Comments

Echoing the others, a semi automatic rifle is NOT an assault rifle. True assault rifles have not been legal for non military/law enforcement since 1986 (pre-'86 ones are grandfathered in).

More importantly, if US guns are the cause of this violence, why is it out of control only south of the border? For example, Juarez is a blood drenched war zone while CQ Press has named El Paso as the safest city in the U.S. (population > 500,000).

Regarding John Lindsay-Poland's comment that 2/3 of Mexican crime guns come from the US; where did that figure come from? Did anyone at APM vet this at all?

Even the Brookings Institute quoted a Mexican study revealing only about 18% came from the US. Plus, some of those come from the Mexican military, who use American arms. The study also reported guns came to Mexico from the Middle East, Europe, Asia, South America.

Have you heard a SINGLE WORD about stopping guns from any of these sources?

I didn't think so. We legal gun owners are tired of being blamed for the actions of criminals, of being assaulted by politicians, of media outlets pushing a gun control agenda using gun control terminology. Go after the real problem: organized crime.

So Marketplace is another member of the crowd falsely implying that "assault weapons" are machine guns. It would be good to know where Mr. Lindsay-Poland is getting his information, and what qualifies him as an expert on the subject. Is it enough just to be an "activist" in the right place at the right time? Isn't there some journalistic principle that calls for covering both sides of a contentious issue? This is why some people say the news media have a liberal bias.

The Obama administration has banned the import of some weapons to the US because they can take a magazine. It is called the M1 Carbine. The Fed Gov gave these weapons to another nation to use, now that they are no longer being used the nation that has these US made, US legal, (Still given away by the US government) weapons, Obama banned the import of them.

So demanding that the President ban the importation of weapons that look like fully automatic weapons is nothing more than trying to amend the Constitution with out bothering to follow the law to amend it.

These non-citizens protesting our laws because their government won't allow them the basic human right of self defense is not our problem. They should be trying to change their government to allow humans the right to defend themselves rather than depending on their owners to protect them.

the Obama administration is currently blocking information seeking in the "Fast and Furious" program the ATF ran that has resulted in several US deaths. Yet rather than point out that failed program the Obama admin is trying to hide, we get unvalidated statements that someone else said they knew someone else who could get weapons into Mexico. (no context if they were talking about legal importation or illegal.)

When you consider that the M4A1 Assault RIFLES in the opening picture are ONLY Sold by the US Government to military and law enforcement or Foreign Governments either directly or by Federal approval of the sale by a private manufacturer they should be demonstrating in front of the White House and the State Department and the BATFE. Private civilian sales of those weapons has been banned for some time now.

I'm disappointed that Marketplace chose to air the gun-ban lobby's dishonest portrayal of U.S. gun stores as sellers of machine guns to Mexican drug gangs. With the sound of machine guns providing the background context, your story implied that the so-called "assault weapons" rountinely sold to American hunters, target shooters and collectors are machine guns and that they are being shipped en mass to Mexico. A little fact checking would have shown that the sale of machine guns to private citizens has been illegal in the U.S. since the 1930's, except under extremely strict federal licensing restrictions, and that real machine guns are prohibitively expensive-- tens of thousands of dollars-- for individuals. The semi-automatic guns sold in gun stores may look like real AK-47's or M-16's but their mechanical function is identical to that of sporting guns used by Americans for over 100 years. The notorious "Fast and Furious" scandal uncovered a plot by the U.S. Justice Department to implicate
U.S. gun stores in the Mexican drug murders by coercing U.S. stores to allow the illegal sale of semi-automatic guns to Mexican smugglers. Actually, millionaire Mexican gang leaders have little difficulty obtaining real machine guns from corrupt foreign governments or from rogue elements in Mexico's police and military units.

For what it's worth, the Second Amendment has nothing to do with 'defensive weapons' as claimed by Javier Sicilia. No, friend, the 2A was so the citizenry could possess equal weaponry to the military. It serves as a bulwark against tyranny and is a powerful reminder to all those in government of who they work for. Unfortunately for them, Mexican citizens do not have this right and as such must live under local war/drug lords and a corrupt, ineffective government who claims the laws regarding inanimate objects in a neighboring country cause Mexicans to simply go mad and want to kill one another.

Further, the AK 47 is a fully automatic rifle. It fires multiple shots with a single pull of the trigger. Many AK 47 - looking rifles are sold in the USA, however they are semi-automatic rifles, meaning that a single pull of the trigger produces a single shot. An assault rifle is one that is fully automatic. Therefore, the visually similar although mechanically different rifles sold in gun stores all across the USA, are not, in fact, assault rifles.

Your efforts to steer the story in order to suit the anti gun agenda are very obvious. Most of your listeners who do not live in CA, MA, or NY will see this for what it is: a puff piece designed to play on the emotions of folks who don't know any better.

I agree with Kicker269. Columbia is a good example. They have been in a drug war for well over 30 years. There are no American gun dealers near her borders, and yet there is no shortage of AK-47's, explosives, or any other weapons (radio controlled bombs affixed to innocent civilians is a speciality). But their war continues, unabated, fuelled by the drug money. And here is the kicker: after all those years of killing and mayhem, drug production has not diminished but increased!

The media is transfixed with gun control. Instead their focus should be on funding psychiatric clinical help for the masses. People kill people, not guns. If some nut drives a sports car into a school yard, causing multiple casualties, will the media begin to lobby Detroit for a ban on sports cars?

If one accepts the premise the increased gun violence in Mexico is tied to the consumption of illegal drugs in the United States it is difficult to understand why Marketplace fails to point out the obvious solution to the problem - drug legalization.

With Generous Support From...