American Guns: Not Just Killing Americans (See Mexico)

Why U.S. policies are killing Mexicans and what can be done about it

Published by LinkedIn Pulse May 28, 2015

By Brian E. Frydenborg (LinkedInFacebook, and Twitter @bfry1981)

UPDATE 9/13/15: Donald Trump keeps talking about how bad the crime and criminals in Mexico are, and how that is spilling over into the U.S.  Americans should know the U.S. role in making the Mexican crime situation even worse.

Originally posted 4/18/2013 here at American Gun Laws thanks to Jason Rogers


Other articles in this series: 
How Not to Stop Terrorism & Gun Violence: Lessons from the Republicans

Development: The Fix for Terrorism & Violent Crime

Gun Violence in the U.S.: The Numbers Behind the Madness

Why Is the U.S. So Good at Gun violence?

The Irrelevant Second Amendment

There is a country near the U.S. in which tens of thousands people have been murdered as a result of drug-related killings since 2006. No, it’s not Canada. We are talking, of course, about Mexico. It was in 2006 when what is commonly termed Mexico’s Drug-War (the big one) began when former Mexican President Felipe Calderón initiated his crackdown on the major Mexican drug cartels. He came to power promising to shut them down, but ultimately left office having fallen far short of that goal.

It is worth taking a brief look at how the Mexican drug cartels became so powerful. When the U.S. drug war broke the Colombian cartels beginning at the end of 1980s, and simultaneously shut down much of the Caribbean and south Florida drug lanes, Mexico’s cartels filled much of the vacuum, going from just courier status for the Colombian drug lords to being wholesalers and controlling the main routes for the biggest drug market in the world: the U.S. Having that much money for a product in such high demand, it is no wonder that the flow moved to Mexico when so many other routes were shut down. Perhaps not as simple as the law of supply and demand, but that law cannot be dismissed either in this situation. With so much more of the business directly under their control, the money, power, and stakes generally became that much higher and the competition that much more fierce. The RAND Corporation estimates that from 40-67% of U.S. marijuana comes from Mexico, and as much as 95% of its cocainecomes through Mexico, up from 77% in 2003 and 72% in 2002Heroin and methamphetamines are also big on the list. Our own State Department estimates that Americans send between $19 billion and $29 billion every year to the Mexican drug cartels. As for the drug-related violence, it was already getting worse by the time Calderón took office and started his war against the cartels. In Mexico itself, as many as 40-50% of the population in general works in the “informal, if not illegal, economy,” according to one Brookings Institute scholar, with the drug economy being a huge part of this. Overall, the drug trade alone could be 3-4% of Mexico’s entire economy—perhaps $30 billion—and employs 500,000 or more people there.

OK, so by now I assume you get it: drugs in Mexico are a big deal, that industry and those cartels fates are tied more to the U.S. and the American people than any other place or any other people, and it has been getting worse, much worse, in just the last few years. The United Nations notes that the murder rate in Mexico increased 65% from 2005-2010, and in 2013 Human Rights Watch noted that over 60,000 people had been killed as a result of drug-related violence in Mexico since 2006 (even only up to September, 2011, Mexican officials had put the estimate at 47,515, and the Mexican paper Reforma estimates even more, over 70,000, and other estimates run that high, as well).  To put this in perspective, in one of my last articles on gun violence I noted that not even 7,000 Americans in uniform had been killed from late 2001, when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, through early April 2013 in operations relating to both Iraq and Afghanistan. Just remember, too, these are just the known murders known to be tied to drugs. These numbers do not include “normal,” non-drug related murders, which, combined with the drug-related murders, could top 120,000 for just six years (27,199 known in 2011 alone, the highest reported toll). The number of murders in Cuidad Juarez alone, right on the U.S. border, topped 10,500 in the same timeframe. During Calderón’s six-year term, official Mexican estimates are that 26,121 people also “disappeared.” These are very sobering numbers, considering that almost all those people have still not been found and in all likelihood are also dead. Political officials are not safe, either: 27 mayors were murdered just between 2004 and 2010, and over 3,000 soldiers and policeman just through most of 2011 had been killed.

Guns play a huge role in all of this. While overall murders committed by guns in Mexico are lower than the U.S. rate of 72.5% of all murders, it is still high: almost 55% in both 2009 and 2010, up from nearly 40% in 2007 and 2008, and far higher than the 31% in Calderón’s first year in power, 2006, and the 28.5% in 2005 before he took office. This means the gun-problem in Mexico is getting dramatically worse in recent years; compared with the period before Calderón, Mexico has seen a roughly 1.85 times increase in the gun-murder rate through 2010, a 2.75 times increase in the overall murdersthrough 2011, and over 3.5 times the gun murders through 2010.

For Americans, here comes the part where they might want to pay close attention: huge amounts of U.S. guns have been seized at Mexican crime scenes, over 20,000 in 2009 and 2010 alone, and those are just the arms seized by Mexican authorities, not those still in use by the cartels. Additionally, in just the year, 2009, 37,000 guns were seized at the U.S.-Mexican border alone.  And while stricter gun laws have helped California become a less attractive place for Mexican cartels and other undesirables to get a hold of firearms, that is not the case in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.  Overall, a conservative estimate has some 252,000 guns sold in the U.S. through “straw man” deals being trafficked  into Mexico every year, with a report using data from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) and published by several sitting Democratic U.S. senators (some cry politics because of this) noting that 70% (it used to be 90%) of all the guns that Mexican authorities traced originated from the U.S.  Only about 30 percent of seized guns in Mexico have been subjected to tracing, but however incomplete the information, the bottom line is that very large numbers of guns being used to commit crimes in Mexico come from the U.S., whether it is 90% of them, 70%, or much less. And that means Mexicans are dying because of U.S.-originated weapons falling into the wrong hands. There is a reason the Mexicans cartels come here to buy guns instead of trying in Mexico: it is easier to get guns in the U.S.  As I discussed in my previously cited article, there are some relatively easy ways to reduce these numbers, since so many of the guns used by criminals come from such a small portion of dealers. But that means universal background checks, closing loopholes, and more funding for the ATF to go after the bad gun dealers, as I argued earlier. Too bad a background check measure was filibustered by Republicans in the Senate even as I was writing this article.

There is only hope if there is political will, and that seems to be lacking.

Since I wrote this article in 2013, drug-related gun violence has been declining, but is still a very serious problem confronting both U.S. and Mexican officials.

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