It’s time for the American people to stop living in a state of denial and get serious about stopping gun shipments into Mexico.
Mexico’s ambassador to the United States, Arturo Sarukhan, said that as many as 2,000 weapons enter Mexico from the U.S. every day – most of them through Texas and Arizona – and many of them are purchased legally at gun shows and gun stores.
Many of the transactions come in “straw purchases,” where drug traffickers use Americans – including friends and relatives – to buy guns.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives estimates that 90 percent of the firearms confiscated in drug crimes in Mexico come from the United States, and some of the shipments can be enormous.
Both Americans and Mexicans tend to think of the border as the end of the earth. It isn’t. It’s a turnstile.
When someone goes north looking for work, Mexicans naively assume they have seen the last of him. And when guns go south looking for trouble, Americans assume the same about the havoc they create.
Wrong on both counts. Immigrants are going back to Mexico because of a bad U.S. economy.
Meanwhile, the gun violence that Americans subsidize south of the border is boiling over onto U.S. soil.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano didn’t get the memo. She recently told a Senate committee that Mexico’s drug violence had not spread to the United States.
But only a few days earlier, Texas’ Homeland Security Director Steve McCraw told the Texas Legislature that violence from the drug cartels had – “no question about it” – spilled into Texas.
Then there is Napolitano’s own state of Arizona, where its largest city – Phoenix – is now considered the nation’s kidnap capital because of spillover violence from Mexico. Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard is prosecuting gun-trafficking cases put together by the federal ATF.
According to the Justice Department, Mexican drug traffickers have a presence in at least 230 U.S. cities.
No wonder the Obama administration is getting serious about helping Mexican President Felipé Calderon fight the drug cartels.
Napolitano has promised to increase the Homeland Security Department’s cooperation with Mexico to help curb the southward export of assault weapons. And, on that topic, Attorney General Eric Holder caused a stir when he turned the drug war into a debate on gun control.
“As President Obama indicated during the campaign,” Holder said, “there are just a few gun-related changes that we would like to make, and among them would be to reinstitute the ban on the sale of assault weapons (which expired in 2004). I think that will have a positive impact in Mexico, at a minimum.”
That was all it took. Those who love their guns more than their neighbor to the south were eager to believe CNN’s Lou Dobbs when the fear-monger and Mexico-basher declared: “Attorney General Eric Holder is willing to sacrifice our gun ownership rights under the Constitution for the benefit of a foreign government, in this case Mexico.”
Suddenly, the anti-Mexico crowd had a new warning for America. And like the rest of their gibberish, this bit of nonsense fit on a bumper sticker: “Obama will take away your guns – to please Mexico.”
So now laudable efforts by U.S. law enforcement agencies to crack down not on gun ownership but on gun smuggling – through initiatives such as “Operation Gunrunner,” which the ATF launched a little more than a year ago – are an infringement on Americans’ right to bear arms under the Second Amendment?
Somehow, I doubt that James Madison, the father of the Constitution, would co-sign that assertion.
This is a serious issue worthy of serious discussion, without hyperbole or distortions. Congress certainly thinks so, which is why it approved $10 million for Operation Gunrunner in the economic stimulus bill.
Sarukhan, in a recent interview with The San Diego Union-Tribune, cited one bust last year in the city of Reynosa, across the border from Texas’ Rio Grande Valley.
“In a single seizure,” the ambassador said, “we detained half a million rounds of ammo, 270 semi-automatic assault weapons, fragmentation grenades and . . . sniper rifles. And they were all coming from the U.S. side of the border.”
No point in denying it. Much of the death and destruction south of the border is stamped: “Made in the U.S.A.”
Americans helped make this mess. It’s only right that we do whatever we can to help clean it up – not just for Mexico’s own good, but for ours.
Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a columnist and editorial board member of The San Diego Union-Tribune. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org