In the recent debate about stricter gun control, some officials on both sides of the Rio Grande saw a sliver of hope — that such laws might curb the flow of illegal weapons over the United States’ southern border.
“I hope that whatever we are going to do in trying to protect our gun rights but at the same time regulate the legal ownership of weapons is going to have a component on guns that are being smuggled out of the country so easily now and causing the carnage,” said Alonzo Peña, the former deputy director of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement who also served as a Department of Homeland Security attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City.
But the national debate, coupled with the Obama administration’s proposals to tighten gun laws, has only fortified the ranks of Second Amendment proponents in Texas, who remain adamant that the border states that are a main source for weapons in Mexico’s drug war are not responsible for the thousands of murders in that country since 2006.
After President Obama last week called for more background checks on potential gun purchasers and a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, Republican lawmakers immediately rebuked the White House’s efforts. Texas state lawmakers have already filed legislation in Austin that would permit college students to carry weapons on campus and proposed a measure that would also open the door for gun-carrying marshals at primary schools.
Attorney General Greg Abbott last week threatened Travis County and the City of Austin with a “double-barreled” lawsuit when they considered banning gun shows on public property, and Gov. Rick Perry has said the country’s Democratic leadership is using the slaughter of innocent children as a political pawn.
“The piling on by the political left, and their cohorts in the media, to use the massacre of little children to advance a pre-existing political agenda that would not have saved those children, disgusts me personally,” Perry said in a statement on Wednesday.
Other Texas Republicans dismissed the notion that it was time to re-evaluate what role the U.S. plays in the carnage in Mexico, where more than 70,000 people have been killed in cartel-related violence since former President Felipe Calderón launched a war on organized crime in December 2006.
A December 2012 report from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives showed that more than 68,160 of the approximately 99,700 weapons recovered in Mexico and submitted for tracing from 2007 to 2011 had originated in the U.S.
But U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin and the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said the data is misleading and that changing gun laws in the United States would not change gun behavior in Mexico.
“The fact is, guns are illegal to possess in Mexico,” McCaul said, “and that certainly hasn’t had any effects on the drug cartels.”
He said he understood that the debate is fueled by emotion, which he said was inevitable after years of bloodshed in Mexico and the murder of 20 schoolchildren in Connecticut. But he also said the public is not aware that many of the weapons favored by cartels like the Zetas come from other countries and are often not traceable, which inevitably leads to data that reflects poorly on the U.S.
“We all feel for what happened recently with the shooting in a very emotional way, but the fact is, a lot of their AK-47s, which is the Zetas’ gun of choice, those are coming from China and Russia,” McCaul said. “We could make guns in the United States illegal altogether and I don’t think it’s going to stop the drug cartels from getting weapons.”
Gun-control proponents who link the United States’ gun laws to violence in Mexico have drawn attention to what they call the gun-show loophole, which allows many dealers to sell firearms without conducting background checks. Critics call it a significant flaw that allows weapons to fall into the wrong hands, and law enforcement officers say it has aided the illegal smuggling of weapons into Mexico.
Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, a Republican and gun collector who authored the state’s concealed handgun law in 1995 when he served as a state senator, drew attention last month when he suggested that he was open to changing how background checks are conducted at gun shows.
But Patterson is not changing his mind on gun rights. What he is actually calling for is a privacy measure, he said, which would allow a customer to get a background check at a gun show that is good for the duration of the event — but that would not leave evidence of the purchase.
Patterson said what gun owners fear is what they believe gun control proponents want: to record every conveyance of a firearm.
“The fear is that things like that lead to registration,” Patterson said. “Registration may not be unconstitutional, but confiscation certainly is, and you can’t have confiscation without registration.”
In one of his first public statements after being appointed Mexico’s ambassador to the U.S., Eduardo Medina Mora, the former attorney general of Mexico, said the Connecticut shooting presented officials in the United States with an opportunity to quell the illegal flow of weapons into his country.
And U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, said ignoring the smuggling of weapons across the border during the current gun control debate would be counterproductive to the United States’ work under the Mérida Initiative, a $1.4 billion aid package of equipment and training designed to help Mexico and Central America fight drug violence. He said better enforcement of existing American laws, closing gaping loopholes and instituting waiting periods for the purchase of high-powered guns should be on the table.
“As part of a community that has seen more than 10,000 people murdered in the last five or six years, this is certainly a discussion worth having,” O’Rourke said. “El Paso and other communities that have a unique perspective on this, given the recent violence in Mexico, should certainly be part of the conversation.”
Patterson acknowledged there is a problem with weapons smuggling into Mexico. But he said the best solution to end the carnage there is outside his purview as a Texas official.
“It wouldn’t be a U.S. law; it would be a Mexican law,” he said. “There is no right to bear arms in Mexico. I would put forth a law that would establish a Second Amendment to keep and bear arms for Mexican citizens.”