Council on Foreign Relations: More U.S. gun control needed to curb violence in Latin America

To help reduce the out-of-control violence in Latin America and the Caribbean, the U.S. needs to enact tougher gun control laws said the Council on Foreign Relations in a recent report entitled, “A Strategy to Reduce Gun Trafficking and Violence in the Americas.”

Highlighting trace data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the CFR pointed to numbers that indicate over 70 percent of the 99,000 weapons recovered by Mexican law enforcement since 2007 were traced to U.S. manufacturers and importers.

In the Caribbean, the ATF trace data suggests that over 90 percent of the weapons seized hailed from the U.S., and for the Bahamas and Jamaica that number is right around 80 percent.

“The flow of high-powered weaponry from the United States to Latin America and the Caribbean exacerbates soaring rates of gun-related violence in the region and undermines U.S. influence in the Western Hemisphere,” stated the CFR policy memo, written by Latin America studies director Julia Sweig.

To quantify that effect, ATF stats and studies from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimate that Latin America has a 30 percent higher per capita gun-related homicide rate when compared to the global average in part because of flow of weapons from the U.S. into the aforementioned countries.

One of the biggest victims of “lax” U.S. gun laws is Mexico, according Mexico’s consul general for Los Angeles, Carlos M. Sada, who spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the relationship between American-made guns and Mexico’s surging violence.

“Out of the 60,000, or 70,000 or 80,000 people killed in Mexico, how many were killed by weapons smuggled from the United States?” Sada asked rhetorically. “This is an issue that is there and we haven’t been able to stop it.”

Sada blamed Congress for putting this issue on the back burner, not addressing it with the attention it deserves.  He pointed to the delayed confirmation of B. Todd Jones, the U.S. attorney for Minnesota, as the ATF’s director as evidence of Congress’s apathy toward the situation.

The answer to this problem is rather simple: pass tougher gun laws — at least that’s what the Council on Foreign Relations is telling the Obama administration.  Specifically, Sweig believes the U.S. should do the following, among other recommendations:

– Expand the Obama administration’s mandate requiring firearm retailers in four states along the U.S.-Mexico border to report the multiple sales of certain semi-automatic rifles.

In detail, the measure requires over 8,000 FFLs in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas to file reports with the ATF when individuals purchase more than one semi-automatic rifle – with detachable magazine, greater than .22 caliber – within a five day period.

The CFR wants to place this burden on FFLs in every state around the country.

– Work with Brazil to conduct gun buybacks to reduce the “existing stocks of illegal firearms” in border regions on the U.S.-Mexican and Brazilian-Bolivian borders.

– Make it more difficult for firearm and ammunition manufacturers to export semi-automatic rifles and other “military-style weapons” to the nation’s allies.

– Reinstitute the “sporting test” standards of the 1968 Gun Control Act that expired during George W. Bush’s presidency, which prohibit the import of firearms no “suitable or readily adaptable for sporting purposes,” including but not limited to military-style firearms.

– Pressure states and municipalities to enact gun control laws like the ones recently passed in New York, Connecticut and Maryland, which banned the sale of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, broadened existing background check requirements for firearm purchases, and modernized gun-owner registries by requiring, among others, that buyers submit their fingerprints when applying for a gun license.

This state-level campaign was suggested because gun control legislation failed at the federal level.

“While piecemeal regulation of the U.S. civilian firearms market does not represent a comprehensive solution, passage of state and local measures, including gun buyback programs, will reduce the number of weapons in circulation and available for smuggling and generate momentum for a broader federal approach over the long run,” the CFR policy memo noted.

Two quick thoughts…

In the past, I’ve written lengthy response pieces that debunk the notion that “lax” U.S. gun laws are responsible for the violence in other countries, especially Mexico.

Drug-related violence in Mexico

Drug-related violence in Mexico

The reality is that the rise in violence in Mexico is more closely tied to Mexico President Felipe Calderon’s anti-drug campaign, than to an easement in U.S. laws with respect to certain semiautomatic rifles.

All one has to do is look at the numbers and the dates.  The U.S.’s Federal Assault Weapons Ban expired on Sept. 13, 2004.  For the next two years crime and drug-related murders in Mexico stayed at a relatively constant rate.

It wasn’t until 2006-2007, after newly elected President Calderon launched his war on drugs that drug-related murders began to surge in Mexico.

To say or imply that the U.S.’s failure to revive the Federal Assault Weapons Ban played a role in the rise of drug-related deaths in Mexico is a serious misreading of the facts.

The second point to be made is that the ATF’s trace data is flawed.

When the ATF released their report stating that 70 percent of Mexico’s crime guns come from the U.S., Republican Sen. Charles Grassley responded, calling into question the validity of the numbers.

“Thorough gun statistics are hard to come by and tricky to interpret.  The key to this data is that most of these guns can’t be traced to U.S. gun dealers.  And, some of those would actually trace back to the United States because of the federal government’s own gunwalking scandal [Fast and Furious],” he said in a statement.

“We also have to remember that the only guns Mexico is going to submit for tracing are guns they know are from the United States, which clearly paints an incomplete picture of the firearms found in the Mexico,” he continued.

Indeed.  For more on why the trace data is skewed, click here.

All that said, what are your thoughts?  Should the U.S. adopt tougher gun laws in an attempt to reduce gun-related violence in Mexico?