A little more than 10 days ago, The New York Times published an article that received little attention in Mexican media. Obsessed as we are with our side of the equation in the fight against drugs (beautiful will be the day when Mexico no longer examines its own navel over everything), few analysts amended the story in which McKinley chillingly explained the scandalous dynamics behind the weapons traffic from the United States to Mexico, a factor central to understanding the spiral of violence involving our country.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 97% of the weapons used by organized crime to wage battle against their criminal adversaries and against the Mexican State comes from the United States. This figure alone demonstrates the urgency to understand the illegal system of transporting weapons from north to south along the border. That is precisely what James McKinley found. And the story should embarrass the U.S.
In so many words, McKinley describes a system rendered defenseless when faced with the mechanics of crime. On the United States’ side of the frontier, more than 6,000 gun shops are in operation. Many of them employ little rigor in applying the lax laws of their country. McKinley illustrates U.S. failure to control the sale of weapons, with the case of a business called X-Caliber Guns, owned by one George Iknadosian.
In its simplicity, Iknadosian’s sales method is chilling. Knowing that trying to smuggle four guns is not the same as attempting it with 15, Iknadosian and his Mexican partners entered Mexico with only two at a time. This ant-like traffic pattern guaranteed them sufficiently low profile. In the end, however, the result is the same: organized crime armed to the teeth, thanks to the generosity of businesses such as X-Caliber Guns. James McKinley’s report ends with the finishing touch of a comparison of the total number of gun stores available to drug traffickers with the number of agents assigned by the Agency for Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives: 200 agents to monitor 6,600 stores. A real shame.
What can be done? Very little. The second amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms, an article of faith for a good part of the population in that country. To change or limit that right in order to stop frontier weapons trafficking, as part of the war against drugs, is simply impossible. The National Rifle Association, a powerful group of lobbyists who defend the right to bear arms in the United States at all costs, has opposed control of any kind. The group, whose stubbornness was evident in the Columbine documentary of Michael Moore, has taken it even further, saying greater control over sales of assault weapons would have no impact at all on the effectiveness of the fight against organized crime at the border. Wayne La Pierre, one of the super-sophisticated leaders of the group, has even has even gone so far as to compare the frontier with the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Such opinions must be deeply exasperating to the Mexican diplomatic force in the United States. But it isn’t worth it to try to change them. James McKinley, himself, with whom I spoke on the radio a few days ago, put it best when he said that the solution is not in gun sale laws, but in monitoring the gun stores.
Thus, Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan has done well to concentrate lobbying efforts in pushing for more oversight of the thousands of weapons retailers at the border. Meanwhile, the work of Sarukhan - and the genuine, catastrophic reality of life on the border - has won him fans, at least in the press. In the last few weeks, The New York Times and other papers, such as the San Diego Tribune, have published editorials demanding that Congress do more to stop the arms movement from the United States to Mexico. Sarukhan’s strongest ally is California senator, Dianne Feinstein, who is endeavoring to introduce legislation to prohibit public sale of assault weapons. Feinstein’s efforts are laudable and deserve diplomatic support from Mexico. Even though the result of her initiative remains uncertain, no one should give up: In any case, time and the bloody dynamics of the drug cartels will work against the myopic United States. When violence begins to invade not only Ciudad Juarez, but El Paso, the Congress in Washington will have to open its eyes. The decisions it makes when that happens will be a different story, a completely different story.