Excerpt from Explainer: Gun Laws in Latin America’s Six Largest Economies, co-authored with David Gacs and Rachel Glickhouse. Republished in VOXXI. Led to interview with Fox News Latino.
Although Mexicans have a constitutional right to own guns, one obstacle limits gun purchases: there is only one gun store in the country, located in Mexico City. Still, Mexico ranks seventh worldwide in terms of the number of privately owned guns and violence stemming from a battle against organized crime in recent years has raised concerns about gun smuggling, particularly from the United States.
Article 10 of the Mexican Constitution entitles the country’s citizens to own guns. After civil unrest and the student movements of the late 1960s, a 1971 reform to the constitution made Article 10 more restrictive; citizens were limited to gun ownership at home, while the right to carry weapons—whether openly or concealed—became restricted to federal jurisdiction.
Citizens can largely carry handguns, shotguns, and rifles below specific calibers. Gun ownership requires obtaining a one-year gun permit from the Secretariat of National Defense within 30 days of acquisition. A gun owner must belong to a shooting club to get a permit, can get permits for up to 10 weapons, and can only purchase ammunition for the calibers of guns owned. Other requirements include being 18 years of age, having mental and physical capacity to operate a gun, holding no criminal convictions, and fulfillment of military service. Private sale of guns is allowed, and subject to the same gun-permit laws. A separate permit is needed for a citizen to carry a weapon outside of a residence, and involves requirements such as an occupational necessity (for example, employees of security firms or rural workers).
Despite the permit rules, a sizeable gap stands between the number of weapons in circulation and those registered. GunPolicy.org estimates that the number of guns held by Mexican civilians totals 15.5 million, and yet the number registered is roughly 2.8 million.
Aside from the low registry rates, arms smuggling remains a major concern, given that tens of thousands have died since the Mexican government ramped up its fight against organized crime six years ago. Mexico may only have one gun shop, but there are over 50,000 gun retailers just across the border in the United States. Since 2007, roughly 70,000 illicit weapons captured in Mexico were traced back to U.S. manufacturers or dealers. April 2012 data from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives found that two of every three illegal guns recovered in Mexico came from the United States. With few limits on ammunition sales in the United States, the smuggling of bullets into Mexico is another challenge. A 2011 study published by the University of Notre Dame estimates that the 2004 expiration of the U.S. Federal Assault Weapons Ban led to a 16.4 percent increase in Mexico’s homicide rate between 2004 and 2008.