Wednesday, Sep 28, 2016
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Editorials

Guns across the border

AMERICA'S border with Mexico, it appears, is not a river flowing north, carrying drugs and illegal immigrants, but a road with illicit traffic in both directions. Traveling south are weapons and ammunition that end up in the hands of drug traffickers to be used eventually to battle Mexican law-enforcement officials.

According to the Los Angeles Times, weapons began moving south in large numbers three to five years ago. Officials have no idea how many guns are making it across the border but last year, 2,455 weapons were traced to sellers in the United States, with Texas, Arizona, and California the source in nearly two-thirds of the cases.

Currently, there are more than 6,700 licensed gun dealers along the 2,000-mile border with Mexico. While the gun dealers innocently claim they follow the law and run background checks on buyers, the fact that there are more than three gun dealers for every mile of border makes it difficult to believe they don't have some idea where the guns they sell are going to end up.

And where these weapons end up is in the hands of Mexican drug dealers, who have been waging a war against Mexico's police and army, a war that has claimed the lives of more than 4,000 people in the last 18 months, including 450 police officers, soldiers, and prosecutors, not to mention cartel members, corrupt officials, and innocent bystanders.

Compounding the problem, the Times reported, is the fact that while there are 16,000 Border Patrol agents - most on the lookout for illegal immigrants crossing from Mexico - there are only 100 U.S. firearms agents and 35 inspectors trying to keep thousands of high-powered weapons and ammunition from moving across the border in the other direction.

Some arrests have been made on both sides of the border, but all too often the weapons are confiscated only after some bloody confrontation between drug cartel members and Mexican law enforcement officials.

Both Mexican and American officials would like to end the cross-border weapons trade as much as they'd like to stem the tide of illegal immigrants and drugs, but because the guns are moving south the problem has received scant interest in the United States.

It should come as no surprise that Texas and Arizona - states with very liberal gun-ownership laws - are often the source of weapons found in the hands of Mexican cartel members. The situation is one more example of why laws regulating the sale of firearms need to be both strengthened and stringently enforced.

More important is the message Washington's relative inaction sends to Mexico: We don't want your illegal laborers or your drugs, but we don't mind selling the very guns used to protect the drug trade.

If the United States really hopes to stop the northerly flow of drugs and people, it must also get serious about clamping down on gun dealers whose weapons by the thousands end up in the hands of Mexican drug traffickers.

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