Pubdate: Mon, 13 Sep 2010
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Page: A14
Copyright: 2010 The Washington Post Company
Referenced: The new report


SECRETARY OF STATE Hillary Rodham Clinton caused a stir last week by 
suggesting that Mexico's drug-trafficking gangs were beginning to 
resemble an insurgency, like that which has plagued Colombia. She's 
right in the sense that the cartels have come to effectively control 
parts of the country, where they "attempt to replace the state," as 
Mexican President Felipe Calderon put it last month. Like most 
insurgencies, the Mexican drug armies also have an external source of 
funding and weapons. Shamefully, that is the United States.

A new report details the abundance of U.S. weapons delivered to the 
cartels -- and the inadequacy of U.S. efforts to stop the illegal 
trafficking. According to authors Colby Goodman and Michel Marizco, 
at least 62,800 of the more than 80,000 firearms confiscated by 
Mexican authorities from December 2006 to February 2010 came from the 
United States. Guns are being smuggled across the border at a rate of 
up to 5,000 per year. The top two varieties are assault rifles: 
Romanian-made AK47s and clones of the Bushmaster AR-15.

The traffickers have used these weapons to inflict appalling 
casualties on Mexican police and other security forces, which 
frequently find themselves badly outgunned. More than 2,000 police 
and federal agents are among the 28,000 killed in drug-related 
violence in the past four years. According to Mr. Goodman and Mr. 
Marizco, whose work was sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson Center and 
the University of San Diego, just one gun store in Houston supplied 
339 assault weapons, rifles and pistols to cartel buyers in just 15 
months -- which were responsible for the deaths of 18 Mexican law 
enforcement officers and civilians.

Some 7,000 gun stores operate along the U.S.-Mexican border. Most are 
not required to notify authorities even if an individual buys dozens 
of assault weapons in a short period. In fiscal 2009 U.S. agents 
revoked the licenses of just 11 stores for violations. Once the guns 
are purchased -- usually by "straw" buyers acting on behalf of cartel 
middlemen -- they are easily trafficked across the border.

The Obama administration and Mr. Calderon's government have stepped 
up programs to combat the trafficking; for example, Mexican officials 
have been supplied with a U.S. database system that allows them to 
more quickly trace captured guns and report the information to 
Treasury's Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives bureau.

Yet like the broader U.S. effort to assist Mexico's fateful battle 
against the cartels, the resources being applied to stopping the gun 
traffic are paltry compared to the threat. Despite an eloquent appeal 
by Mr. Calderon during an address to Congress last spring, neither 
the Democratic leadership nor President Obama has dared to push for a 
reinstatement of the ban on sales of assault weapons.

On Thursday Mr. Obama quibbled with Ms. Clinton's comparison of 
Mexico to Colombia. Yet whatever the differences between the two 
countries, the fact remains that Mexico -- a country of indisputable 
strategic importance to the United States -- is in a desperate fight 
to preserve its civil order and its liberal democracy. That the 
United States should be the source of so many of the weapons being 
used to attack that order is scandalous and unacceptable. Mr. Obama 
should make stopping the weapons traffic one of his national security 
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