Ask a Mexican

Where do people buy guns in Mexico?

Dear Mexican: Like many Americans, I've heard about the Fast and Furious scandal, in which our own ATF was shown to be corrupt and guilty of supplying guns that ended up in the hands of the drug cartels. I also recently saw a report about the violence in Mexico, and it mentioned something that I was unaware of. The report stated that there is only one place in all of Mexico for a citizen to purchase a firearm. However, we know that the cartels in Ciudad Juárez (and other parts of Mexico) are heavily armed. Of course, there is always the larger world market the cartels could use to find their firepower. But just across the border in the U.S., there are hundreds of gun stores, in addition to an ATF that is apparently willing to supply guns to them.

I'm not much of a gun proponent or opponent. I don't think firearms, in and of themselves, are the cause of or solution to most of our societal problems. However, I do know that firepower makes cartels powerful, and the drug violence coming out of Mexico is hard to ignore. In light of the fact that Mexicans can only legally obtain one gun, purchased from one location (if they meet all the requirements), what are the statistics for gun ownership in Mexico? How does the Mexican culture differ when it comes to average citizens and their view of safety and their right to protect themselves? There are obviously differing opinions in the USA about gun ownership, gun rights, and gun control. Similarly, I would expect that Mexicans have different views and opinions among themselves regarding firearms.

But one gun store? In all of Mexico? Meanwhile, Juárez is awash with guns and blood.

Curious Jorge

Dear Pocho: Before I get to your pregunta, a quick comment on Fast and Furious: While I'm no fan of the Obama administration, isn't it so gabacho for Obama critics to only care about the smuggling of guns into Mexico, which causes untold misery to so many, when they can embarrass him with it? Refry this, gabachos: Mexicans have been buying guns in the States and sneaking them into Mexico since the days of the Magón brothers. And Ronald Reagan sold arms to the Contras — or was that okay because he was fighting supposed commies?

Back to the question: Mexicans love their guns as much as they love salsa, and while the Mexican government highly regulates sales of guns (although it's nowhere near as stringent as the one-shop rule you read about would imply), gun violence is still high. A July 2012 post by the Guardian cited stats that showed Mexico's gun-ownership rate was 15 per 100 people (#42 in the world), which paled en comparación to the U.S.'s astounding número uno rate of 88.8 per 100. The homicide-by-firearm rate per 100,000 goes to the Mexicans: Whereas in the U.S. the figure was 2.97, the Mexico cifra was 9.97. As for the percentage of homicides due to firearms? Mexis 54.9 percent, Americans 60 percent — not much difference. One huge caveat, though: The report was compiled based on stats from 2007, long before the narco-wars engulfed most of Mexico. With a police force as ineffectual as the GOP's Latino outreach program, the right to bear arms for Mexicans isn't just some hifalutin' constitutional ideal; it's usually the only way to ensure that you stay alive.

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Gustavo Arellano
Contact: Gustavo Arellano