In The Wake Of U.S. Shootings, A Look At Mexico's Gun Laws
December 17, 2012

Photo by Mónica Ortiz Uribe
A sign in Ciudad, Juarez, Mex., made of confiscated firearms.
It is far more difficult to legally purchase a gun in Mexico than it is in this country. Like the United States, the Mexican constitution guarantees the right to bear arms. Up until the 1960s, firearms were widely available, but student unrest in those years inspired a crackdown and a strengthening of gun control laws. In that year a Federal Arms registry was established, controlled by the Ministry of National Defense.

There is now only one legal gun store in Mexico -- in Mexico City -- and buyers must wait months for approval of purchase from the Ministry of Defense. Purchases are limited to small caliber, non-military weapons that must be kept at home; semi-automatic weapons are only sold to military and police. After the 1960s, Mexican law was changed to prohibit private citizens from openly carrying a firearm or carrying a concealed weapon.

In the aftermath of each violent shooting incident in the U.S., Mexican politicians decry the relative permissiveness of U.S. gun laws. After the Aurora, Colo., shooting, The New York Times reported that former President Felipe Calderon tweeted that U.S. gun legislation was "damaging us all." Calderon authorized the construction of a huge sign in Cuidad Juarez, constructed out of confiscated firearms, saying "NO MORE WEAPONS."

There is robust illegal trafficking in firearms from the U.S. to Mexico. Many accounts have it that up to 90 percent of illegal guns in Mexico are from the U.S., but that figure is widely disputed as it comes from confiscated firearms turned over by the Mexicans to U.S. authorities.

Many other weapons come from other sources, including:

  • an international black market in weapons
  • Russian crime organizations
  • South and Central America
  • The Mexican Army

What about the impact of U.S. gun control laws on Mexican violence? A new paper contends that the expiration of the U.S. Federal Assault Weapons Ban in 2004 had a "measureable” impact on the rates of violence in northern Mexico.

“The expiration relaxed the permissiveness of gun sales in border states such as Texas, Arizona and New Mexico, but not California, which retained a pre-existing state-level ban. Using mortality statistics over 2002-2006, we show that homicides, gun-related homicides and crime gun seizures increased differentially in Mexican municipios located closer to entry ports in these other border states, relative to entry ports in California.”