Andres Oppenheimer, as guest columnist and author of “U.S. gun lobby could help stop Mexico’s violence,” in the April 20 edition of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, in his opening sentences and paragraphs equates the NRA and other U.S. gun owners’ rights organizations with two of the most infamous drug cartels. In so doing, Oppenheimer has not taken long to demonstrate an ignorance of the facts regarding firearms in Mexico, blaming violence caused by those drug cartels on the influx of arms from the United States. At the same time, he demonstrates a similar ignorance by Mexican President Felipe Calderon.
As one of those “gun owners’ rights organizations,” the National Shooting Sports Foundation, representing more than 7,000 firearms and ammunition industry manufacturers, distributors, retailers and others, would like to point out some of the inaccuracies in Oppenheimer’s column.
First, he says that President Calderon called for a renewal of the “assault weapons ban,” quoting Calderon as saying that when there is an “availability of weapons in any given society, there is an increase in violence.” In this case the inaccuracy is Mr. Calderon’s. During the ban to which he refers, which existed from 1994 to 2004, violent crime in the United States did not go down—because the arms Oppenheimer refers to as “assault weapons” generally were not used in crime. In the years since the ban expired, Americans have purchased millions of modern sporting rifles, maligned as “assault rifles,” and violent crime has declined in the United States to its lowest level in decades, demonstrating that there is no correlation between the number of guns in circulation and the level of violence.
Oppenheimer further quotes Mr. Calderon as stating that his government has seized more than 140,000 weapons in four years. Oppenheimer further has Calderon asserting that the vast majority were sold in guns shops in the United States, where there are an estimated 8,000 such shops along the U.S.-Mexican border. The number of gun shops is only relevant if you incorrectly believe federally licensed firearms retailers are somehow responsible for guns going to Mexico. They are not, of course. This is really like saying there are “too many” Ford dealers in the state where there are X number of DWI arrests in which the vehicle driven was a Ford. This also ignores the fact that firearms are only transferred by a firearms retailer after a background check has been performed on the buyer. The independent research group STRATFOR has corroborated NSSF’s longstanding belief: it is erroneous and grossly misleading to say the majority of firearms recovered in Mexico came from the United States. In fact, only 12 percent of the firearms misused in Mexico were originally sold at retail in the United States. The proof can be found in the U.S. government statistics in a report released by STRATFOR.
Furthermore, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive’s (ATF) data show that firearms recovered in Mexico and successfully traced as coming from the U.S. were originally lawfully sold in the United States an average of 15 years before they were seized and traced in Mexico. So that means they were sold long before the “assault weapon ban” sunset in 2004.
As if Oppenheimer’s piece has been presented as reportage, though he editorializes throughout and minimizes the rebuttal of an NRA spokesman to a few short paragraphs, he does conclude with a section of his column called, “My opinion” (as if the whole column had not been his opinion) by stating, “…the Second Amendment doesn’t say that Americans have the right to buy bazookas, or AK-47s, or other military-style weapons, or purchase dozens of them and sell them to whomever they want.” Really, are you to believe that bazookas and automatic weapons are purchased in large quantities at U.S. firearms retailers and then trafficked to Mexico? This is ridiculous and patently false. It has been widely documented by such news sources as the L.A. Times, Washington Post and CBS News, that the drug cartels are acquiring firearms and serious weapons like grenades from Central America and black market sources. Also, more than 150,000 Mexican soldiers have defected to go work for the cartels, clearly taking their U.S. made firearms with them.
Our industry abhors the criminal misuse of firearms, whether on the streets of Miami or Juarez, Mexico. That is why the public should know America’s firearms industry cooperates with law enforcement to prevent the illegal purchase of firearms, most recently working with ATF along the border on a program called Don’t Lie for the Other Guy that warns the public about the serious penalties for straw purchasing.
We can all agree that there are serious crime problems in Mexico, and notwithstanding his factual misstatements, we do applaud Mexican President Calderon’s courage for cracking down on the drug cartels and rampant corruption in his country, which has even reached inside his inner circle. However, laying the blame for Mexico’s crime at the feet of the U.S. firearms industry is more an act of frustration than a crime-fighting strategy, and, as we’ve said before, sacrificing the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans as a means of addressing this issue is neither an option nor a solution.