Mixican drug cartel seized guns firearms
Courtesy VOA
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By Larry Keane

Recently The Washington Post published an article depicting the rampant organized crime crisis in Mexico. There is no question that the crime and violence fueled by drug cartels in our southern neighbor are major problems for Mexico, the United States and for the global community. However, the authors make a mistake typical of the gun control crowd; they blame the firearm rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution for the problems in Mexico.

Cartels are becoming bolder, showcasing weapons and drugs in videos used to not only attract potential recruits but also threaten those who might oppose them. Mexican officials who articulate their frustration in the article are very quick to blame cartel activity on their pro-gun northern neighbor and the authors are more than eager to parrot these inaccurate sentiments in the article.

The misplaced blame is unfortunate because the right solutions cannot be implemented if the problem is not correctly identified. If firearm rights are the problem, why does the United States not face a similar level of cartel-related violence?

Particularly under President Trump, crimes are prosecuted. The government enforces the law. Making the United States more like Mexico, with its clearly ineffective gun control policies, will not solve Mexico’s problem and is surely not a successful model for the U.S. to follow.

Narcotics activity is an ongoing, destructive problem in Mexico, a country infamous for its uneven enforcement of its own laws. The United States has a role to play as a partner in helping to deter and prosecute any cross-border cartel activities. However, shifting the conversation from law enforcement and rooting out government corruption to the Second Amendment is unhelpful and misguided.

Straw Purchasing

Cartels, while illicit, typically operate based on for-profit business model. Buying firearms in bulk from countries in Central and South America is much more efficient than traversing the U.S. border with one or two guns at a time. With so much attention put on the northern border, this option is preferred for arming large amounts of sicarios at a time.

Inversely, buying firearms in the United States is a bigger hurdle than what Mexican officials and The Washington Post would like their readers to think. One of the ways that cartels can acquire firearms here in the U.S. and take them across the border is by straw purchasing – an illegal activity. While there are many avenues for criminals to secure firearms, passing more gun laws here in the United States, a strategy that Mexican officials demand, would do nothing to curb criminals from committing crimes.

Straw purchasing is when a non-prohibited person lies on a background check form to buy a firearm for someone else. This is already a serious and known federal crime, enforced with a felony conviction sentence of 10 years in jail and a $250,000 fine. Gun shops are educated by ATF through the NSSF-funded Don’t Lie for the Other Guy partnership program to identify and deny such transactions. However, like border security officials, they cannot catch everyone who lies and breaks the law.

Cartels routinely bribe young adults and incentivize addicts to illegally purchase firearms in the United States and then illegally traffic those guns over the border using narcotics routes or sometimes border checkpoints. Thankfully, through the efforts of the Department of Justice with Operation Legend, straw purchasers are being prosecuted and brought to justice for illegally supplying guns to criminals.

Myths and Guns

The Washington Post wrongly points a finger at firearms being purchased at gun shows without a background check. This over-simplified vilification misses the facts on background checks. Licensed firearm retailers must run a background check before selling a firearm in any circumstance, whether in a store, at a gun show or online and, the vast overwhelming number of guns sold at gun shows are sold by licensed dealers after a background check. The myth of the “Gun Show Loophole” has become a rallying cry for antigun proponents and those who do not understand legal commerce of firearms.

Another prominent myth is that 90 percent of firearms recovered in Mexico originated from the United States. This is unequivocally false. This myth originated from Congressional testimony by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) when the ATF misstated and quickly attempted to clarify that 90 percent of the firearms traced by the ATF in Mexico circa 2008 came from the United States.

Mexico only submits to the ATF for tracing those firearms that they identify as coming from the United States. The ATF is not asked to – and has no way to trace firearms that are from outside of the United States. While the Mexican government rarely releases data on the number of firearms seized, it did in 2008. When the number of firearms submitted to the ATF for tracing is compared to the actual number seized in Mexico, the truth is about 12 percent of firearms seized Mexico came from the United States.

(AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

Mexican officials should look internally before casting blame and making policy demands of other countries. Not all firearms that originate from the United States were trafficked or otherwise illegally brought into Mexico. Often, governments sell firearms to each other, which is certainly the case with the United States and Mexico.

The United States and other countries sell firearms under official contracts to Mexico’s government. With the incentives provided by cartels, many soldiers and police officers have taken their training and service firearms and put it to work for the lucrative, but illicit, narcotics trade. Defections have soared to more than 150,000, which contributes to the ongoing problem of too many criminals and not enough police to push back.

In this April 16, 2016 file photo, Mexico’s Defense Secretary Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda salutes soldiers at the Number 1 military camp in Mexico City. Mexico’s Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard wrote in his Twitter account Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, that U.S. Ambassador Christopher Landau had informed him that Gen. Cienfuegos has been arrested in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte, File)

Mexico’s Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda was accused of taking bribes to allow a narcotics cartel to operate in Mexico. Zepeda, who served as Mexico’s Secretary of National Defense from 2012-2018, was arrested by U.S. authorities in October for suspicions of money laundering and narcotics conspiracy. Charges were later dropped, rumored by threats from Mexicano authorities to push out Drug Enforcement Agency authorities from Mexico, among other threats.

Enforce the law

Compounding the problem further are black markets like Tepito where firearms are one of many items that can be purchased illegally in a tented shopping area. Here, the black market is operated by Union de Tepito, a cartel that uses children as lookouts and is fortified enough that law enforcement agencies avoid the area altogether.

In some instances, law enforcement officials are even working for the cartel, proving again that giant drug cartels are the problem, not the firearms themselves. The United States, which has vastly more firearms and more first time gun owners than ever before, does not have the same crime problems as its neighbor south of the Rio Grande.

More guns does not equal more crime. Annual data from the FBI shows reduced violent crime for another year in a row in the United States.

Mexico has one gun shop in the middle of a military base, operated stringently by the military. This creates a largely unarmed law abiding populous who, in turn, become helpless victims against well-armed criminal elements on a national level. It is safe to say that following the Mexican model of government and lawmaking for firearms would not be advantageous for law abiding citizens on either side of the border. Time and budgets of both nations would be better spent catching criminals instead of deliberating what new laws can suddenly cease all criminal activity.


Larry Keane is SVP for Government and Public Affairs, Assistant Secretary and General Counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

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  1. They could make a fortune by having a gun show and selling them off right now…if they could get them across to the USA side, of course…
    and look at all that ammo…

  2. If anything, Mexico should be a glaring example of what happens when you DO have gun control! When you have to drive around the bodies in the road, that should tell you it’s not working.

    • The governing Elite, accompanied by their hired bodyguards, on both sides of the Border don’t care about the man in the street! You are chattel for them to control and profit off of…think of Feudalism – a two class society of the few very rich and privileged and masses of the very dependent (poor). More simply put: The Rulers and The Ruled.

      Modern Progressives call this return to a Feudalistic state an “advancement” over Capitalism.

    • It’s much, much easier to buy explosives, rocket launchers, and 5.56 Gatling Guns in Mexico. Than it is in the USA with a Second Amendment. All are expensive. So the rich, criminals or law abiding, will always have them.

  3. Here we go with white privilege again. It is racist and unfair to expect disadvantaged, poor, primitive people to act the way sophisticated, educated, privileged white people think and do. It is not the fault of Mexicans, or a government of Mexicans (the political power is actually Spanish, but that is another story) to do any better without help from caring, sympathetic (emphasis on “pathetic”), woke people like us real Americans.

  4. The people in some rural areas have armed themselves and formed “autodefensa” self defense militias.
    Since the locals know the area, and know who is in the cartel, they have had great success getting weapons from the criminals and driving them out of their local area.
    That’s led to pushback from the army who are against the citizens defending themselves.

    • From what I’ve heard, most of the people who formed autodefensas a few years ago are dead or in prison. The government did far more damage to them than the cartels ever could have.

  5. At some point we will be at war with either the Mexican government run by criminals or the cartels full of criminals directly. It’s a matter of when not if the Mexican government is taken over by people who don’t care how they get rich hurting others.

    And drugs can be 100 percent legalized tomorrow yet these bad people will still be criminals. They will just switch to personal crimes like kidnapping and extortion. And cheaper illegal drugs not taxed by revenue hungry governments.

    The future 4 years is looking pretty grim.

    • “And drugs can be 100 percent legalized tomorrow yet these bad people will still be criminals.”

      Wait a second! Are you saying that legalizing drugs here won’t turn gang criminals into respectable entrepreneurs? Mind blown.

        • @LarryinTX

          Not necessarily, look at the California and Washington statistics since they legalized MJ. With the State requirements to video / ID all purchasers, as well as paying an exorbitant tax, many users have chosen to continue purchasing through their “alternative” market sources….avoiding the surveillance and taxes.

          The dopers sold Montana voters on legalizing MJ this election by promising “…billions and billions…” * of dollars in State tax revenues. Researching CA and WA statistics on tax generation shows that their projections regarding how much would be generated by MJ sales have only been a small fraction of what they “promised” the taxpayers.

          *imagined in Carl Sagan’s voice as when he intoned it as his catchphrase in the show Cosmos.

    • Yeah pretty grim. And JESUS is coming again! I do like the Meh-he-co gunshow in a tent idea thing…muy bueno😏

  6. Attempting to use facts against an Ideology controlled by emotion is like… Trying to teach a pig to sing…It wastes your time and annoys the pig.

  7. What we really need along the southern border is wall – oh wait, that’s being done (sort of). Well then, how about some firepower? Nope, can’t do that either. US authorities and politicians are too chicken to start shooting thousands of cartel guys, and the rich and famous would object to loosing their party favors and servants. Well, hell – shoot them to.

  8. Libertarians Liberals and the Left will never hold Mexico accountable for the problems they have created for themselves. It’s a lie that making drugs legal will end crime and violence anywhere on planet earth. Criminals will never give up “the power that comes out of a gun barrel”.

    The three L’s have supported raising the dollar level, that a person can be charged with as a felon. They wanted to help enable addicts in San Francisco. Now you can steal nearly $1000 from any store. Shoplifting and car break ins are out of control.

    And then sell your stolen goods for more drugs. Mexico has morality problems that only they can fix. And morality has almost nothing to do with sex.

  9. Just took a quick look at the Merida Initiative blurb sheet linked in the beginning of the article.
    Added up the USD value of the components listed therein. It comes to $643.5 million.
    That’s a lot of slop in the trough.
    I wonder how much of that is coming from the citizens of the USA and how much from other sources.

    A taxpayer from the USA

  10. Of that 12% of firearms originating in the US, what percentage of that is composed of firearms obtained by governmental agencies? It is well known that police and military members will sell firearms or even defect with their issued weapons.
    The number of firearms slipping into Mexico by gun runners has to be some subset of that 12% number.

  11. All we can say is that the war on drugs has been an outstanding success.

    Not only has it allowed us to channel tax revenue and debt into the prison-industrial complex to enrich our friends, it’s also strengthened the people’s perceived need for oppressive laws against the keeping and bearing of arms. Surprisingly, the efforts of law enforcement to kidnap, cage, and murder people for possessing and consuming plants has made the public support them even more (even we didn’t think people were that stupid).

    The depravity of the drug cartels has gotten so bad that, truthfully, even we repealed every drug law we’d still have more than enough justification to go after those guys, but that war would end quickly as the cartels stopped wasting resources fighting against us. So thanks, Nixon and Ehrlichman. And thanks, all you suckers who keep falling for this ‘just enforce the law’ propaganda we keep spewing.


    Your political masters

    • I’ll keep an open mind about it until I see the data. Even though weed (and other drugs) isn’t legal everywhere, it has been decriminalized in many localities. Let’s look at the data. What impact, if any, did it have on criminal activity? What impact has it had on the quality of life, the workforce, homelessness, depression, etc?

      We do know the impact of introducing heroin in a pill prescribed by your doctor. Outside of a few legitimate uses, it was a disaster.

      • The pharmaceutical companies think it was quite a success, doctors are not doing to bad either, a lot of people make a lot of money off someone’s addictions. Tobacco, alcohol, drugs, coffee, tea, sugar, gambling, take your pick and abuse it, it’s You and your choice that creates the problem. .

        As long as we blame guns for crime and drugs for addictions the social problems individuals create will never be fixed.

        • “As long as we blame guns for crime and drugs for addictions the social problems individuals create will never be fixed.”

          Do individuals always create the problems? Addictions don’t just exist because one enjoys the chemical response within the body. Addictions exist because people self-medicate. People don’t self-medicate when everything is hunky-dory. Substance abuse and metal illness occur more frequently among households earning less than $70k per year. Successful recovery among the lower economic class is also less likely. Weirdly enough, the decisions made by the upper economic class keep making the lower economic class WORSE, but somehow, they keep making the rich richer. Hmm.

          Let’s paint a picture. Mark lost his decent paying job as a result of decisions made by idiots in Washington D.C. He looks for work in the construction industry, but wages are depressed due to competition from illegal aliens. Mark decides to “learn to code” only to find out that wages are depressed due to competition from visa workers being brought in. Mark’s wife leaves him for the pharma rep making bank across town. Mark goes to the doctor because his back is killing him from falling off a ladder at that construction job. Doc says, here take these for one month. No one tells Mark that these pills can be highly addictive. Mark is now an addict. Let’s blame Mark.

        • “Do individuals always create the problems? ”

          Well, if it ain’t individuals it must be inanimate objects.

          Here it is: we can’t chose what happens to us, but we individuals are solely responsible for how we respond. Choice is reserved to individuals, inanimate objects are not even cognizant that choices exist.

          The idea that hardship in life is abnormal is a modern (post-1945) construct, at total variance with human history. We all need somebody to lean on, but drugs ain’t “somebody”.

        • It was Mark who chose to use the drugs that was prescribed. Pain blockers do not fix the problem, the back will always be compromised.

        • Mark needed help with something, so he went to the expert. Mark isn’t a doctor. Mark didn’t realize that the drug company intentionally hid data about their drugs. Mark’s story, from start to finish, is about the greed of the elite. They’re the ones responsible for killing the middle class. Your line of thinking is like telling a depressed person, just stop being depressed dummy, it’s your fault.

        • “It was Mark who chose to use the drugs that was prescribed.”

          By the way, how does one make an informed decision when the facts are intentionally hidden from view?

        • “By the way, how does one make an informed decision when the facts are intentionally hidden from view?”

          Being an informed individual means individual effort to become informed, not rely on the hired help. Being informed about drug dangers means researching the drug, and the reports of both benefits and problems.

          At 18, I became intimately informed of the dangers of “safe” drugs (Benzadrine, West Coast Turnarounds, etc). While taking final exam for an Economics course, I noticed that the girl who usually sat next to me didn’t look right. After I finished the exam, I waited in the hall for the girl to exit the classroom. She didn’t even recognize me. She looked like a zombie. She couldn’t walk without the wall holding her up. I asked if she needed help, and she nearly collapsed. I managed to catch her, and had to pick her up and carry her back to her dorm.

          On the way, the girl said she had been awake on “Bennies” for four days and nights, cramming for tests. I asked why she did that, and she said “someone” told her “Bennies” improved the memory, and made memorizing crib sheets easy. Immediately after delivering her to one of her friends out side the dorm, I made the decision to avoid any serious drugs unless there was no other way to deal with medical treatment, for short periods. I was dutifully informed about the downsides/dangers/disasters of drug use….at 18.

        • Well yes, the greed of the elite is a thing.
          A depressed persons depression could be fixed by eliminating what depresses that person, highly unlikely in today’s world. But back to my post, Hydrocodone was a success for the pharmaceutical companies and doctors prescribing it. A real money maker.

        • “Being an informed individual means individual effort to become informed, not rely on the hired help. Being informed about drug dangers means researching the drug, and the reports of both benefits and problems.”

          Okay Sam, the next time I’m prescribed anything or actually, anytime I make ANY purchase, I’ll be sure and contact you so you can infiltrate the company and discover the corporate secrets that could possibly cause me any harm. I’ll be counting on you for this!

        • “I’ll be sure and contact you so you can infiltrate the company and discover the corporate secrets that could possibly cause me any harm. I’ll be counting on you for this!”

          Great !!

          $450/hr, non-refundable.

        • “Well, if it ain’t individuals it must be inanimate objects.”

          Yes, because from what I wrote, I CLEARLY indicated that poor ole Mark was a victim of those nasty inanimate objects. It isn’t about the haves and have nots, it’s about the powerful decision makers and the rest of us that have to deal with the negative consequences of their decisions.

          I’m very happy that victims don’t exist in your world. It sounds like a very “blissful” existence.

        • “I’m very happy that victims don’t exist in your world.”

          “Victim” is a choice. So is resistance to circumstance. Anyone who responds to circumstance by turning to drugs and alcohol is victimizing themselves.

          My world is not bliss; it is hard work, and determination. Get knocked down, get up and push on. Share knowledge (and sometimes money) with others who are down and need someone to show the way forward (not the way of surrender and stagnation). Get knocked down again, and get up and push on.

          At one point, I had an income that allowed, at the time, about $3/day for food (after all the other expenses). Bad decisions led to bad outcomes. So….different choices were called for, and different choices made. Some “good times” followed, and then a few more “bad times”. Finally, a fair amount of “safety” for the last coupla decades. Lying down and waiting was never a plan, or a choice. Neither were drug addiction or alcoholism.

          Give a person a fish while teaching that person to fish. Bringing a sandwich daily so the “victim” can be comfortable without effort is not smart, compassionate, caring, sustaining, nurturing. It is merely a means to enable a form of slavery.

          Not to brag (but it is), we give modestly to 14 different community support services (it was 15, but we dropped that one because they began flying the rainbow flag). Sometimes we debate whether it is better to have a broad contribution, of one focused on a single mission. However, we research to ensure none of the organizations encourages endless dependency on “charity”.

          One thing that is different for the current generations is the lack of a proper model for being adults. That makes it tougher to withstand the pulse of life, and carry on. Tougher, but not inhumane.

        • @Sam

          Excellent answer!

          May I add that I check the orgs we donate to for how much their “overhead” is. There are many prominent orgs that scarf most of the money donated as salaries to the execs, advertising and solicitations…some of these name-brand orgs only forward 5 – 10% of collected monies to the orgs designated beneficiaries or causes….these numbers are morally unacceptable to my spouse and me.

          Stars and Stripes offers a very good downloadable pdf on how to choose a responsible charity to contribute to. Excellent advice on how to spot bad actor / fraudulent charities.
          To view: Search for the CFC Guide on the Stripes site.

          There are numerous on-line sites that rate charities as to their overhead, reliability, honesty, etc. I typically look for the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) guides for the most concise information.

        • For a number of years, the Colonel and I were volunteer fundraisers for United Way. The “overhead” percentage was 6%, the rest went to associated local agencies (charities). When researching potential organizations to support, the absolute limit is 10% retained by the service organization. I am still having trouble trying to sort out just what it is Wounded Warriors provides. (Indeed, it is an outrage that private organizations must exist to assist wounded/injured veterans)

        • “Gotta be a government loan, or subsidy, somewhere.”

          I’ve never taken a government handout (outside of applying for a grant every year while in school) despite being eligible for multiple programs for several years. Holding the powerful accountable isn’t the same as holding a victim’s hand. It’s best not to let the scummy decision makers ruin things in the first place. But when it happens, because it always does, we better call them out for it.

        • “But when it happens, because it always does, we better call them out for it.”

          Yes, when it happens. Unfortunately, there is more opportunity for malfeasance than resources to identify and eradicate. There will always be greed and avarice. Regardless, we are all responsible for being as alert and informed as possible. Case-in-point, knowledge that some companies take advantage of the ignorant, the uninformed. Such knowledge is the responsibility of the individual to obtain, and act on.

          Once upon a time, it was nearly impossible for the public to find information on medicines and procedures. Those days are long gone. Along with acquiring a “second opinion”, the individual has many tools (mostly free) to form a third opinion.

          Sorry you cannot access government support to enable you to hire me as a researcher. Your are probably correct – doomed.

  12. El Paso TX and Ciudad Juarez Mexico combined are the largest metro area straddling an international border in the world. I lived in El Paso for 30 years. The year I remember most: Juarez averaged 8 murders/day (This decreased sharply when the Army moved away) while El Paso had 8 murders for the entire year.

  13. Actually with the ammo availibity problem and the prices of guns going up, the next illegal product Mexico is likely to be selling in the US will be guns and ammunition!

  14. The elephant in the room is the crazy demand for illicit drugs existing north of Mexico. Mexican cartels supply the US drug habit. Cartel weapons from whatever source – north or south — are merely tools of their trade. Eliminating the demand for illegal drugs will exterminate the cartels. Exterminate the cartels and the problem is solved. Our national drug laws have never worked. Swaths of our citizenry insist on self-destructive behavior which will likely never change. We spend billions playing whack-a-mole with the cartels trying to enforce unenforceable laws. The solution? Legalize recreational drugs here in the US. Like distilleries and breweries in the ethanol drug trade, legitimate drug companies will quickly pick up the production. Even taxed and regulated like ethanol, access to “quality,” cheap, legal recreational drugs will kill the cartels overnight.

    • The drug cartels support America’s war on drugs. In fact they covertly lobby for it.
      What has happened in America with legalized marijuana is that now the “imported” weed is much cheaper to purchase.

    • The government will just add the letter “M” to the government agency BATFE. And potheads will still be arrested. For not paying federal and local taxes. Historically the legalization crowd used, tax collection, as a reason to make weed legal. They boasted about the “great amounts of $$$” the government could get.


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