There are plenty of reasons right here at home to support President Obama’s effort to reform the nation’s gun laws. But if Congress requires additional arguments, it should consider that easy access to guns is also undermining the United States’ avowed goal of combating drug trafficking and transnational gangs abroad.
The U.S. has sent nearly $2 billion in aid to Mexico since 2007, much of that as part of the Merida Initiative, a counter-narcotics program designed to provide aid and equipment for that country’s drug war. Yet that assistance has been undermined by lax U.S. gun laws, which allow members of the drug cartels and their associates to buy weapons here and smuggle them across the border. At least 68,000 of the firearms seized in Mexico between 2007 and 2011 — and probably quite a lot more — came from the United States, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The stricter gun laws proposed in recent weeks by the White House and some Democrats in Congress would help quell the flow. For instance, legislation sought by Obama and introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) this month would make it easier for federal officials to investigate so-called straw purchases of firearms, in which individuals purchase guns on behalf of others who are prohibited from owning weapons. The bill would also set tougher penalties for people who engage in straw purchases or smuggle guns outside the United States. Another bill, introduced Thursday by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), would ban the sale, transfer, manufacture or importation of certain assault weapons, including semiautomatic rifles favored by Mexico’s infamous Zeta cartel.
The National Rifle Assn. calls the latest gun control proposals an attack on the 2nd Amendment. It argues that U.S.-made guns probably represent a small fraction of the illegal weapons seized in Mexico. Yet it offers no evidence to support the claims that most of the firearms that turn up in the drug war are smuggled through other nations.
The NRA’s arguments are scare tactics, designed to distract from the facts and inspire fear. The current efforts to limit gun violence don’t trample the Constitution. Rather, they aim to protect Americans at home and our interests abroad.