We probably would not be as patient as Mexican President Felipe Calderon was when he found himself in the reverse position this week at a meeting with President Obama in Mexico City. Calderon noted that the flow of semiautomatic assault weapons -- and the power of drug cartels -- had increased considerably since the U.S. ban expired in 2004. "We know that it is a politically delicate topic because Americans truly cherish their constitutional rights," Calderon said diplomatically. He added quite reasonably that the guns aimed at Mexican authorities today may well be turned on American officials tomorrow.
Obama is right that there are other legal avenues for cracking down on weapons trafficking to Mexico, although his decision to pursue Senate ratification of the treaty on arms trafficking adopted by the Organization of American States 12 years ago is more symbolic than substantive. The United States is largely compliant with that treaty. At the same time, even with the recently announced increase in personnel, the federal Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agency has only about 250 officers to patrol the 2,000-mile border with Mexico. And although sales records of the thousands of gun shops along the U.S.-Mexico border are supposed to be audited every year, the reality is that most are audited every three to six years. The administration must put even more resources on the ground and be more vigilant in enforcing existing laws that prohibit "straw buyers" from purchasing guns for the cartels or illegally exporting them without licenses.
That said, we believe the Mexican drug war supplies another strong argument for restoring the 1994 ban on weapons that have no place in civilian hands. Would a ban on assault weapons put an end to the drug war or government casualties? No. But it would help. So it's a shame that Obama has flinched from this opportunity to stem the flow of weapons from the United States to Mexico -- where the private sale of all guns is prohibited.