Last week, Mexican President Felipe Calderon unveiled a giant billboard, made with three tons of crushed firearms used in drug violence and visible from the American side of the border, exclaiming, "No More Weapons!" It was yet another plea to the United States to enact the strong gun laws desperately needed to stop the trafficking of guns from U.S. gun shops to Mexico. Perhaps states like California, New York and Massachusetts should consider erecting similar billboards in the southern and western states that feed gun trafficking here at home.
The Mexican drug cartels come to America for their firearms because weak American gun laws make our country the path of least resistance. Thus, President Calderon said in English when he unveiled the billboard near Ciudad Juarez, "Dear friends of the United States, Mexico needs your help to stop this terrible violence that we're suffering." He continued, "The best way to do this is to stop the flow of automatic weapons into Mexico." Similarly, armed criminals in states with strong gun laws get their guns in the states where weak laws offer the path of least resistance as well.
The Brady Campaign's latest "scorecard" of state gun laws dramatically demonstrates that states with strong laws are at the mercy of states with weak laws. The Brady report finds that California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut and Hawaii have the strongest gun laws in the Nation, as well as the lowest gun death rates. It also finds that the 31 states with the weakest gun laws, including states like Arizona, Utah and Florida, "export" crime guns to other states at a rate nine times higher than the states with the strongest gun laws. For example, it has long been known that traffickers who supply criminals in cities like New York, Newark and Boston exploit the ready supply of guns from dealers in Florida and other southeastern states. Maybe the Northeast states, taking a page from President Calderon, should erect a billboard along Interstate 95 in Miami.
In the rare instance when a gun "exporting" state did the right thing and strengthened its laws to reduce trafficking, it made a difference. In 1993, Virginia passed a law limiting the number of handguns an individual could purchase to one gun every 30 days, as a way of ending bulk sales by gun dealers to traffickers. The law caused a significant drop in Virginia's share of guns trafficked from the Southeast to the Northeast. Under pressure from the gun lobby, seeking to vindicate the sacred right to buy more than 12 handguns in a year, the Virginia legislature recently passed legislation repealing the "one handgun a month" law. A recent poll shows that 66 percent of Virginia voters favor retaining the law. Only a veto by Governor Robert McDonnell can save it. Not only Virginians, but all Americans, should urge the Governor to veto the repeal bill and protect this valuable law.
The solution to gun trafficking to Mexico is also the solution to gun trafficking within the U.S.: stronger federal gun laws. At the very least, high-firepower assault weapons and assault clips should be banned, background checks should be required for all gun sales, uniform limits should be placed on bulk sales of handguns, and greater authority should be given to federal law enforcement to shut down the dealers who aid and abet the traffickers.
For gun traffickers, there should be no more "path of least resistance" from American gun shops to Mexico, or to American cities and towns. Trafficking of assault weapons and handguns out of American gun shops is not just a Mexican tragedy. It is an American tragedy as well.
Dennis Henigan is the Acting President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the author of Lethal Logic: Exploding the Myths That Paralyze American Gun Policy(Potomac Books 2009).