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The Mexican Paradox

Gun ownership and gun crime in Mexico

The Mexican Paradox

I read an article about the murder of Catholic priests in Mexico. Apparently, this is becoming quite a problem for our southern neighbors. Four priests have been murdered this year (2018), and 23 since 2012. The article (from the 4/24/18 edition of USA Today) also stated that Mexico had over 29,000 murders in 2017. Wait...WHAT?

To place this number in context, consider the following: According to the 2016 census, Mexico has a population of almost 128 million people. For comparison, the 2017 population of the United States was 326 million, and FBI statistics from 2016 (the most recent available year), show 17,250 homicides. It should be noted, the numbers for the United States and Mexico include all homicides, not just firearm-related homicides. The article went on to say that not only was Mexico statistically the most dangerous country in the world in which to be a Catholic priest, but that its violent crimes statistics in general were comparable to war-torn countries like Syria and Yemen.

Sixty percent less population, yet 60 percent more homicides. I am not sure how this is even possible, seeing how Mexico has VERY strict gun-control measures in place. For example:

  • Hard limits on how many firearms (rifles, handguns, shotguns) a private citizen may own (you may only own one handgun, and nothing else, for home defense)
  • It is almost impossible for the average citizen to obtain a concealed carry permit
  • Not only are there bans on "military-style" weapons, but there are bans on any caliber associated with the military (past and present), i.e. 5.56x45, 7.62x51, 7.62x39, .30 carbine and .30-06
  • National registration of all privately-owned firearms
  • No private ownership of semi-auto handguns over .380
  • No private ownership of revolvers over .38 (.38 Super is also banned)
  • The only place you may possess a firearm is in your primary residence
  • There is only ONE legal gun store in all of Mexico (seriously) and its government operated

And to buy a firearm, you must provide the following:

  • Certified copy of a birth certificate
  • Criminal background check
  • In the case of foreigners, documentation that proves you have legal status (specifically a permanent-resident visa)
  • A work letter on company letterhead that specifies job title, time in grade and salary
  • Proof of address
  • Photocopy of identification with photo
  • If you want to buy a long gun, you will have to include proof of an active membership in a hunting or shooting club. The proof must have the expiration date of the membership.
  • Photocopy of your CURP (Mexican SSN Card)

Bear in mind that gun ownership in the country is strictly protected under the Mexican Constitution. However, that has been eroded over the decades since Article 10 of the Constitution was originally ratified in 1857. Based on a translation from the Philadelphia Academy of Political and Social Sciences (1917), Article 10 of the original Constitution read quite simply, "Everyone has the right to possess and carry arms for his safety and legitimate defense. The law shall designate what arms are prohibited, and the punishment to be incurred by those who carry them." In 1917, Article 10 was rewritten to what it is today: "The inhabitants of the United States of Mexico are entitled to have arms of any kind in their possession for their protection and legitimate defense, excepting such as are expressly prohibited by law and such as the nation may reserve for the exclusive use of the army, navy and national guard; but they shall not bear such arms within inhabited places, except subject to the police regulations thereof." This right has further been extensively regulated by the Federal Penal Code, the Federal Law on Firearms and Explosives (which greatly expands the provisions of the Federal Penal Code), and the Regulations of the Federal Law on Firearms and Explosives. Possessing a firearm is very difficult, but not impossible. Bearing a firearm in modern-day Mexico? Almost impossible to do legally. Just because the right to bear arms is protected in our own Constitution, don't think for a minute that its inviolability is held sacred by those who would seek to gain extra-constitutional control of our country.

It usually takes at least two months to purchase a legal firearm in Mexico. According to CBS news, the only legal gun shop in the country sold 549 firearms in 2000. (Yup, 549). In 2015, it sold a still relatively paltry 10,115 firearms as Mexicans reacted to the out-of-control bloodshed and their government's inability/unwillingness to protect them (according to official statistics, there were a staggering 164,000 homicides between 2007-2014). For comparison, approximately 23 MILLION firearms were sold legally in the United States in 2015, according to the BATFE.

I have a friend of Mexican descent who travels to Mexico quite frequently to see her many relatives. She was very interested in discussing this paradox as long as I agreed to maintain her anonymity. She knows about the country's single gun shop located on an army base in Mexico City and managed by Directorate for Weapons and Munitions Trade of the General Office of Military Industry (which falls under the Secretariat of National Defense…SEDENA). Most of her family is middle to upper-middle class; teachers, physicians, government employees and business owners. And they are gun owners. However, the vast majority of the guns owned by her family have not been bought legally. They were purchased on the black market. Why? It is far easier than trying to navigate the bureaucratic labyrinth established to allow for legal purchases. And they can get exactly what they want. And they don't trust the government not to try to take away those legal firearms. Her family is not alone. While it is extremely difficult to track exact figures, according to the Small Arms Survey, based in Geneva, Switzerland, Mexicans owned 15.5 million firearms in 2007. Only 4.5 million were properly registered with the government. The Mexican system, and the breakdown of Mexican society, has led hundreds of thousands of otherwise law-abiding citizens to become criminals. "My family, they are scared. And they know the government will not protect them. They are almost more afraid of the government than they are the narcotraficantes," said my anonymous friend.

Col. Eduardo Tellez Moreno, manager of the SEDENA-run gun shop in 2016, summed up the Mexican government's attitude toward private gun ownership quite nicely, "It's preferred not to have a gun, even at home, because there could be accidents or worse, accidents within families due to the mishandling of weapons. It's like having a match close to a fire," Tellez said. "It's an obligation of the state to provide security to the people who live in the country, not for you to take justice into your own hands." Again, there were 164,000 homicides in Mexico between 2007-2014. Perhaps the Mexican government is not up to the task of adequately protecting its own citizens.

People on the other side of the argument say it is because of our lax gun laws that Mexico has such a problem; our over-abundance of guns is overflowing our borders like soft serve ice cream in a bowl at a Golden Corral. However, a 2012 article in the New York Times (man, I can't believe that I keep quoting the NY Freakin' Times in my pro-gun arguments) pointed out that, "Many Mexicans acknowledge that Mexican violence would not disappear even if American laws were more restrictive." "If the criminals didn't get their guns from the U.S., they would just get them from somewhere else," said one source quoted in the article.

Whoa! Mind blown. Do you mean to tell me that criminals do not and will not follow gun laws, regardless of how many are written? And that the government may lack the ability to protect me and my family from increasing violence? So, tell me again how more gun control would make our society safer? It is not a gun problem; it is a societal breakdown problem.


Scot Loveland was a Russian linguist in the US Army; worked for the FBI; and conducted undercover narcotics investigations before moving to the private sector. He is currently Chief of Operations and a lead instructor at ATG Worldwide ( in Lisbon, OH. He is also an avid, if incredibly average, competitive shooter and ultra-marathon runner.

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