By Kara Rowland
The Washington Times
Mexican President Felipe Calderon called on Congress on Thursday to reinstate a federal ban on assault weapons that he said are ending up in the hands of violent drug cartels south of the border, using a highly contentious estimate of U.S. guns seized in Mexico when addressing Capitol Hill lawmakers.
Mr. Calderone said he respects the Second Amendment, but argued that violence south of the border spiked in 2004 after the expiration of a U.S. ban on semiautomatic weapons. Echoing statements made by President Obama Wednesday, Mr. Calderon said the U.S. bears some responsibility in propping up the drug trade with its demand for narcotics and supply of guns.
Pointedly, he warned that U.S. failure to rein in weapons dealing leaves America vulnerable to the drug-war violence wreaking havoc in Mexico.
"With all due respect, if you do not regulate the sale of these weapons in the right way, nothing guarantees that criminals here in the United States with access to the same power of weapons will not decide to challenge American authorities and civilians," he said.
Mr. Calderon told a joint session of Congress that of the 75,000 guns seized by Mexican authorities over the last three years, 80 percent are traced to the U.S.
That assertion is suspect as gun-rights advocates and several media outlets have debunked similar figures in the past. Indeed, Mr. Calderon's comments drew a harsh rebuke from the National Rifle Association on Thursday.
"The answer to Mexico's drug and violence problem does not lie in dismantling the Second Amendment; it lies in making sure that the Mexican government takes care of problems on their side of the border," NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said. "With all due respect to the president, he's either intentionally using false data, or he's unknowingly using bad numbers."
Mr. Arulanandam pointed to congressional testimony given in March 2009 by an official with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who said there is no factual basis for the claim that as many as 90 percent of the weapons come from the U.S.
Both as a candidate and as president, Mr. Obama has said he supports bringing back the assault weapons ban, but has not pushed Congress on the issue, at least publicly.
Asked on Thursday if he still supports it, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs would not answer directly. Instead, he referred reporters to Mr. Obama's comments on Wednesday, when he touted the fact that U.S. authorities now search 100 percent of southbound rail cargo.
An estimated 23,000 people have died since Mr. Calderon took office in 2006, promising to crack down on the country's drug traffickers. A recent spate of high-profile incidents, led by the killing of a U.S. consulate employee in March, has injected a renewed sense of immediacy on the part of the United States.
Mr. Calderon's remarks on guns were not the only controversial statements he made to Congress.
For the second day in a row, he blasted the new law in Arizona that requires police to make a reasonable attempt to check immigration status of people encountered during "a lawful stop, detention or arrest" that they suspect might be in the country illegally. The law specifically precludes using race or ethnicity as a test for reasonable suspicion, but critics say they fear police will resort to racial profiling anyway.
"It is a law that not only ignores a reality that cannot be erased by decree, but also introduces a terrible idea: using racial profiling as a basis for law enforcement," Mr. Calderon said. "And that is why I agree with the president, who says the new law carries a great amount of breach, when core values that we all care about are breached."
While Democratic lawmakers in the audience applauded the comment, it sparked a harsh reaction among Republicans.
"The state of Arizona is stepping in where the federal government has failed. It is trying to stop waves of illegal immigrants, many of whom are dangerous gang members and drug and human traffickers, from crossing into its communities," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican. "It's inappropriate for a head of state to question our laws, especially when the state of Arizona only acted in the best interest of its citizens and with the support of 70 percent of its people."
Mr. Obama on Wednesday urged Congress to move ahead with a legislative framework, introduced by Senate Democrats, that would create a multistep path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants now in the country, and rewrite the rules for future legal immigration. But he said passage depends on gaining support from Republicans, who have yet to sign on.
In the meantime, Arizona's two Republican senators continue to press Mr. Obama to send National Guard troops to the border after a spate of recent violence. The administration has said it is reviewing its options.
Calderon: U.S. needs assault weapons ban
By Deborah Charles
Mexican President Felipe Calderon urged the U.S. Congress Thursday to reinstate a ban on assault weapons to help cut cross-border gun smuggling and reduce drug gang violence for its southern neighbor.
In a speech to a joint session of Congress, Calderon described efforts to fight organized crime in Mexico, where 23,000 people have been killed in drug violence since he came to power in late 2006 and launched an army offensive.
Washington is also aiding Mexico's battle against drug gangs with a 2007 pledge of $1.4 billion for equipment and police training to help fight the cartels that ship some $40 billion worth of illegal drugs north each year.
The drug violence has become a major political test for Calderon and a growing worry for Washington and foreign investors as violence has spread across the southwest border.
"There is one issue where Mexico needs your cooperation. And that is stopping the flow of assault weapons and other deadly arms across the border," Calderon said to a standing ovation from U.S. lawmakers.
Calderon said the increase in violence in Mexico had coincided with the 2004 lifting of a U.S. assault weapons ban.
The 10-year ban on the sale of assault weapons to civilians expired without being extended by Congress. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has said the administration favors reinstituting the ban, though guns rights groups oppose it.
Calderon said he respects Americans' Second Amendment right to bear arms but said many of the guns are getting into the hands of criminals.
Mexico has seized around 75,000 guns and assault weapons in the last three years, Calderon said. He said more than 80 percent of them came from the United States and noted there were more than 7,000 gun shops along the border.
"I would ask Congress to help us, with respect, and to understand how important it is for us that you enforce current laws to stem the supply of these weapons to criminals and consider reinstating the assault weapons ban," he said.
Though Calderon's request received applause and a standing ovation from mainly Democratic lawmakers, Republicans criticized the Mexican leader for discussing U.S. laws.
"It was inappropriate for President Calderon to lecture Americans on our own state and federal laws," said Senator John Cornyn, a member of the Republican leadership. "Moreover, the Second Amendment is not a subject open for diplomatic negotiation, with Mexico or any other nation."
‘Common problem’: Immigration
On immigration — a common theme during his visit to Washington — Calderon said his country was trying to improve economic conditions so Mexicans would not feel the need to leave their country in order to succeed.
He said Mexico expected more than 4 percent growth this year, even though data released Thursday showed the economy shrank quarter-on-quarter in the first quarter of this year.
Millions of people are still crossing the U.S. border illegally to seek work. An estimated 10.8 million illegal immigrants live in the United States, most of them from Mexico and Central America.
Calderon repeated his opposition to a new Arizona law that requires police to check the immigration status of anyone they suspect is in the country illegally.
"We must find together a better way to face and fix this common problem," he said.
Obama administration should heed Mexico's call to crack down on guns
The Washington Post
Mexican president Felipe Calderón has shown courage in leading his government to take on the violent drug gangs that have claimed thousands of Mexican lives. On Thursday, he displayed a different kind of fortitude: standing before a joint meeting of Congress and asking for a revival of the U.S. assault weapons ban. The Obama administration, which has been largely absent in the fight against the illegal gun trade, should have such backbone.
Mr. Calderón, who has been in Washington for a state visit, made a powerful case. Over the past three years, Mexican authorities have seized some 75,000 weapons used in crimes; more than 80 percent of those they were able to trace came from the United States. Mr. Calderón argued that the surge in violent, cartel-related crimes coincided with the 2004 repeal of the U.S. assault weapons ban.
"I fully respect, I admire the American Constitution," Mr. Calderón said. "And I understand that the purpose of the Second Amendment is to guarantee good American citizens the ability to defend themselves and their nation. But believe me, many of these guns are not going to honest American hands."
Mr. Calderón is right that the challenge to Mexico's security has "roots on both sides of the border." The Obama administration's newly unveiled national drug policy acknowledges as much and wisely emphasizes drug abuse prevention and rehabilitation to reduce the demand for illicit drugs. The White House also deserves credit for pushing forcefully to assist Mexican crime-fighting efforts. But it has been negligent in the battle against illegal guns, caving to the gun lobby on such issues as an assault weapons ban and a move to close a gun show loophole that allows some purchases without a background check.
In the matter of guns, the U.S. president should take a lesson in principle from his Mexican counterpart.