It is not secret that the US and Mexico have a common gun violence problem. Like any addiction, to control it we have to recognize the problem and decide to change.
On the US side, its most visible manifestation is mass shootings involving hatred, while in Mexico mass shootings involve criminal organizations.
If you need a gut-punch reality check on how bad it is, look at the Gun Violence Archive. They report at least 150 mass shootings (4 or more victims) so far this year. You can see the name and age of each victim.
Mexican mass shootings are more likely to involve drug trade or other criminal activity. While equivalent statistics on mass shootings are not available, Mexico’s homicide rate has been high for a few years in a row, with deaths per 100,000 in the upper 20s. In 2020, in areas where criminal organizations were battling – the states of Baja California, Chihuahua, Colima and Guanajuato – the homicide rates were in the 70s per 100,000. That is incredibly high.
While somewhat different, the US and Mexico have a gun violence problem and neither country is doing enough to address it. We are too comfortable with this problem. Gunfire has become background noise in the literal and metaphorical sense.
Mexico estimates that over 200,000 guns a year illegally enter from the United States. That’s 2.5 million over the past decade. Mexico wants the US to do more to stop the flow of guns south. It is too easy to buy weapons in US/Mexico border states. And, too easy to drive them across the border. However, in 2020 the US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) began coordinating inspections for traffic heading into Mexico. This practice increased the seizure of weapons.
An important study on gun smuggling was recently released by the General Accounting Office (GAO). This US government research institution found that there is insufficient information collected and processed by both countries to be able to figure out what works to disrupt gun trafficking. They recommend that US agencies develop performance measures on gun trafficking and that ATF (regulates guns) and ICE (regulates customs) collaborate more closely. To address gun violence and trafficking, you have to understand it. These recommendations are important and doable.
President Joe Biden recently announced an initial set of steps to address gun violence. It includes better data collection, restrictions on “ghost” weapons (self-assembled weapons – there are kits for this!), and community level prevention programs. This year, the House of Representatives has passed two laws to tighten background checks on gun sales. And a new assault weapons ban bill has been introduced in the House and Senate. While something, this is nowhere near enough.
We might not be able to stop mass shootings, but we can make them much less common. First, we have to decide that we have a problem and that we are ready to take steps to address it. President Biden says, “Enough prayers. Time for some action.” Sounds good. Let’s see the action.
* Joy Olson is the former Executive Director of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a research and advocacy organization working to advance human rights. Twitter: @JoyLeeOlson