Mexico’s only gun store sells 38 firearms a day. Hundreds more are smuggled from United States
Each day the army gun store sells on average just 38 firearms to civilians, while an estimated 580 weapons are smuggled into Mexico from the United States
The only gun shop in all of Mexico is behind a fortresslike wall on a heavily guarded military base.
To enter the Directorate of Arms and Munitions Sales, customers must undergo months of background checks – six documents are required – and then be frisked by uniformed soldiers.
The army-run store on the outskirts of Mexico City embodies the country’s cautious approach to firearms, and a visit here illustrates the dramatically different ways two neighbouring countries view guns, legally and culturally.
Like the Second Amendment in the United States, Mexico’s Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms, but it also stipulates that federal law “will determine the cases, conditions, requirements and places” of gun ownership.
For many Mexicans, even those who love guns, the thought of an unfettered right to owning one is perplexing.
Yet on this issue, like so many aspects of life in Mexico, the influence of its powerful neighbour to the north is keenly felt: each day the army gun store sells on average just 38 firearms to civilians, while an estimated 580 weapons are smuggled into Mexico from the United States.
That paradox is increasingly relevant given Mexico’s unprecedented level of gun violence, which has claimed more than 100,000 lives over the last decade.
Last year was Mexico’s deadliest since the government began releasing homicide statistics in 1997. This year, it is on track to surpass that record.
American firearms are directly driving the violence, although US appetites for drugs and rampant corruption among Mexican officials also play a role.
About 70 per cent of guns recovered by Mexican law enforcement officials from 2011 to 2016 were originally bought from legal gun dealers in the United States, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Mexican leaders have long complained about the phenomenon. In 2012, then-President Felipe Calderon erected a giant billboard in the border city of Juarez that spelt out the phrase “No more weapons”.
The letters, formed using crushed firearms seized by authorities, were visible from Texas.
Most trafficked guns are bought in the US from one of the country’s more than 67,000 licensed gun dealers or at gun shows, which unlike stores often do not require buyers to present identification or submit to background checks.
By contrast, would-be gun owners in Mexico must offer a birth certificate and proof that they are employed, and have no criminal record.
The atmosphere at the directorate is more sterile than a US gun store or pawnshop.
It feels a bit like the Department of Motor Vehicles, until one notices the no-nonsense army colonel running things and the machine-gun-toting soldiers patrolling the aisles.
Current law allows citizens one handgun and up to nine rifles if they can prove they are members of shooting or hunting clubs. A separate permit that is difficult to obtain is required to carry the guns in public.
Whereas Mexican leaders have long groused about firearms trafficked from the north, US gun control advocates have only recently begun to highlight the impact of lax American gun laws on Mexico and other countries.
“We have such a serious domestic problem that it can be hard to get any oxygen related to international drug trafficking,” said Chelsea Parsons, an expert at the Centre for American Progress who recently co-wrote a report detailing the impact of American guns on Mexico.
The report found that 66 per cent of Mexico’s homicides were committed with a gun in 2017, up from 15 per cent in 1997.
In recent months, Mexican leaders have again seized on the issue, in part to counter headlines about the country’s spiralling violence and US President Donald Trump’s complaints that Mexico isn’t doing enough to stop the northward flow of migrants and drugs.
President Enrique Pena Nieto brought the issue up at a news conference with Trump soon before the 2016 presidential election, blaming the influx of US firearms for “strengthening the cartels and other criminal organisations that create violence in Mexico.”
Candidates vying to replace him in Mexico’s July 1 presidential race are also using it as a rallying cry.
Front-runner Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the National Regeneration Movement has demanded a new investigation into the defunct Fast and Furious programme, under which US federal agents allowed guns to be bought illegally in the hope of tracing them to leaders of Mexican drug cartels.
US Rep Norma Torres, a California Democrat, said Mexican authorities frequently raise the issue of gun trafficking in meetings with American officials.
“It’s something they bring up in every conversation,” Torres said. Reducing the flow of guns south, she said, “is something we should do if we care about our relationship with Mexico.”