America's lax gun laws are killing Mexico. Drug cartels are using the easy access to guns on this side of the border to ramp up their war against the Mexican government. The United States cannot allow its neighbor and ally to lose more ground to the narcoterrorists. It needs to crack down on dealers in the States and help stanch the flow of weapons across the border.
Guns bought in the United States and carried on foot or by car across the border were involved in many of the more than 6,000 murders in Mexico's drug warfare last year. Authorities in Mexico and the United States say 90 to 95 percent of the thousands of weapons seized before or after attacks in Mexico have been traced to dealers in the United States.
U.S. gun laws allow for the sale of automatic and high-powered weapons. Mexico limits most high-caliber weapons to military and police forces. Mexico also inspects few vehicles or people crossing the border. Authorities say they have no means to determine how many guns have been smuggled into Mexico, and they note that nearly 7,000 licensed gun dealers operate in the four U.S. border states.
Both nations are threatened by a pipeline that has drugs flowing north and cash and guns flowing south. Straw buyers buy guns on the U.S. side, at both shops and gun shows, and then pass those weapons off to smugglers who carry them to the drug cartels. The traffickers' firepower has become a serious challenge to Mexico's security services, which do not have the manpower or money to stop the smuggling.
This is not just Mexico's problem. The State Department, which restricts its diplomats' travel in Mexico, issued a travel alert last week warning about the spike in drug violence and urging Americans to stay on main roads during the daylight hours. It also noted that the greatest increase in violence was occurring near the U.S. border. American colleges are warning their students as the spring break travel period nears.
Washington needs to crack down on dealers who supply known straw buyers with guns. Better enforcement of existing laws to verify a buyer's identity would go a long way in slowing the smuggling. But the real work is at the border. Smugglers are able to supply the cartels because Mexican officials are so lax about inspecting traffic coming into the country. The cartels cannot be allowed to strengthen; that only raises the risk they would bring this same brand of violence to their drug networks in the United States. President Obama should use the inter-American summit in April as a stage to craft a new strategy with Mexico that would address this security threat to the region.