As government officials continue to debate whether Mexico is a failed state, the Obama administration and its allies in Congress and the media are using the dramatic spike in cartel-related violence south of the border to push for more extensive gun control in the United States.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the claim last week that, “Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police, of soldiers, and civilians.” Sadly, media already sympathetic toward gun control take such claims at face value, even when the evidence proves that the most dangerous weapons used by cartels in Mexico come from sources outside of the civilian U.S. gun market. Yes, there are small arms and ammunition being smuggled illegally into Mexico by cartels battling the authorities and each other for supremacy. Yes, many of those firearms presently come from the United States, but they are brought in by cartels that specialize in international smuggling.
If our president was an honest man he would admit that even if every last firearm and bullet in the United States magically disappeared overnight, cartel-related violence in Mexico would not abate. The same smuggling networks that bring bulky shipments of cocaine, heroin, and marijuana across the borders of multiple nations as far away as Afghanistan can easily bring in shipments of relatively compact goods such as small arms and ammunition.
The spike in violence due to heavily armed gangs in Mexico can be rectified, but not through the failed model of near-complete prohibition. Instead, Mexico should look to the more successful gun policies of a nation that overcame a far more brutal reign of gunmen. That nation is Iraq.
Iraqi culture has always been a gun culture, even during Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. Even after the coalition invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, Iraqi families were allowed to keep firearms and a limited supply of ammunition for home defense. These included not just aging British colonial-era rifles, but modern firearms like AK-47 assault rifles and Glock pistols.
In an effort to stem al-Qaeda terror attacks in the region, some Sunni tribes and local sheiks formed the Sawa or “Awakening” movement and worked alongside Iraqi police and the U.S. With a ready supply of firearms courtesy of the U.S. military and Iraqi police and army units, these homegrown tribal militias choked the life out of the remaining elements of the Sunni insurgency and allied terrorist groups in al-Anbar and other predominantly Sunni areas. In roughly a year, this partnership decimated the Sunni insurgency in al-Anbar, once the most violent provinces in Iraq’s “Triangle of Death.” As a result of the success of the “Awakening” and a corresponding “surge” of U.S. forces, Iraq is emerging as a viable state.
The Mexican government faces no less of a threat from the cartels that operate using similar terror tactics, and the government may well be served by empowering a besieged Mexican people to take up arms and defend themselves. Currently, Mexicans are only allowed to own .22-caliber rifles purchased from the government, and then only after extensive background checks. But with limited police or military presence in many areas in Mexico, the cartels are the power base and rule by the gun.
The cartels can never be disarmed because despite the fact that laws exist on paper, they are impossible to enforce on either side of the border. Violence can only be reduced by the threat of superior force. In most nations, that threat comes from the government, but when a government fails to provide adequate police and soldiers acting by proxy, then citizens must play a more direct role to protect civil society. If the communities collapse, then so will the neighborhoods, then the cities and states, until ultimately the country itself will fall.
The Iraqi experience has taught us that military and paramilitary forces alone cannot stop terrorism. If Mexican President Felipe Calderón and President Obama are serious about quelling the violence in Mexico, they must begin by ending the cartels’ near monopoly of weapons, and the Mexican and American governments must immediately begin working together to adopt policies that increase the flow of legal guns and ammunition to law-abiding Mexican citizens. Modern guns are not needed. World War II-era surplus rifles would suffice, as would the millions of available Chinese SKS rifles. With a modicum of training and community organization, Mexican citizens could be empowered to defend their communities and assist their police and military forces.
Of course, neither the U.S. nor the Mexican government will take up this call to arms. If there is one thing both governments seem to prefer over peace, it’s power, even if that power is only an illusion.