Last year, in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, then-president of Mexico Felipe Calderón unveiled a hulking three-ton sign built from crushed firearms. The sign, reading “No More Weapons,” was designed to make a statement against the ongoing drug war which has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Mexicans and has caused the disappearance of thousands more to date. Calderon’s choice of Ciudad Juárez —a city just across the border from El Paso, Texas—as the site of the monument was far from random; the same goes for his decision to deliver the message in English. After all, the very weapons used to create the sign were confiscated from American gun traffickers.
The very weapons that, had they passed into the drug cartels’ hands, would have aided in the bloodshed of thousands of innocent Mexicans.
Almost a year after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and just over two weeks after deadly shootings in Chicago and at the U.S Navy Yard, Americans remain divided over whether to proceed with stricter gun control legislation. Representative of the debate’s two sides are President Obama, who has once again called for tighter regulations, and National Rifle Association President David A. Keene, who last semester assured Harvard students that they “would probably be safer” if Harvard allowed possession of firearms on campus.
Each day this debate goes on unresolved, American guns claim more victims. But it is not just American blood for which we are responsible. Our continued indecision has prolonged and exacerbated the suffering of our neighbor to the south.
Wherever you stand on the Second Amendment, remember that Mexico’s laws are much less permitting. Yet its neighbors along the U.S. border boast increasingly lax policies, like Texas’s “Gun Day” legislation and an Arizona quasi-secessionist bill that failed to gain the support of even the NRA. The border is as much ours as it is Mexico’s, and it is thus as much our responsibility to prevent gun trafficking as it is Mexico’s to eliminate the drug cartels’ influence in the region. We, with thousands of legal firearm dealers along the U.S-Mexico border, are not blameless. Mexico, after all, has just one—its military.
What can we do? One thing is clear: We cannot abide by and do nothing. Our current gun laws have not just perpetuated gun violence in the United States but have also had deadly repercussions abroad. Irresponsible as it may be to continue to deprive Americans of responsible gun legislation, it is outright unjust to cause suffering in another country that has done nothing to solicit our weapons. Frustratingly for Mexico, it can do little about its border with the U.S. But the U.S can do something about its gun laws.
One thing we can do is to lengthen prison sentences for those who have been found to purchase firearms with the intent of trafficking them. In fact, legislation proposed by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy would do just that. But amid legislative gridlock that crushed most amendments to existing gun legislation, Congress has been remiss to address gun trafficking. And half a year later, the bill remains in legislative purgatory, still awaiting a vote—the prospects of which, in light of the government shutdown stalemate, grow ever bleaker.
If the bill does make it through the Senate, it would be a good start—but certainly not a finish. Responsible legislation against gun trafficking is a mild treatment for the symptom, not for the cause. Rather, we must be vigilant and take a stance against the accessibility of these guns. If a gun trafficker—someone whose purpose in purchasing a weapon is to sell it across the border—can easily obtain weapons through legal means, then who else are we allowing to purchase guns?
This isn’t revolutionary. This is common sense.
Moving forward, the United States should not abide by the status quo—unless we truly are content with the violence against thousands of Americans and Mexicans along the border. Instead, we should take the initiative on policies that will help end Mexico’s drug war for good. Simple, commonsense policies like increasing criminal sanctions against gun traffickers can remove American fuel from the conflagration of the Mexican drug war. But what Mexicans deserve, and what Americans deserve, is a long-term, bilateral solution to the drug war.
Although the drug war has disproportionately taken Mexican lives, the U.S. and Mexico must be held equally accountable for combating it. Some simple U.S. policy changes can, at the very least, prevent the situation from getting worse. Stricter gun laws, in conjunction with other policies like the legalization of marijuana, have obvious implications for Mexico’s drug war. It’s simple algebra: fewer guns, fewer cartels, fewer deaths.
The Mexican drug war will not end overnight. Nor will it end as a result of one American policy, or two, or 20. It will be a long struggle. But it is a struggle we must confront and for which we must take responsibility. It’s not just Mexico’s struggle, and it must not just be Mexico that works to end it. And in the meantime, the bare minimum we can do is to send
“No More Weapons.”
Kevin A. Hazlett ’16 is a Crimson editorial writer in Lowell House.