Anger Management and Gun Control? New Ways to Reduce Violence in Latin America

3/29/16 Americas Quarterly

By Viridiana Rios, Mexico Institute Global Fellow

Reducing violence is not about controlling violent neighborhoods or even about controlling violent people. It is about inducing people to control themselves. That’s it. The best policing comes when no police are required.

The question is how to achieve this in Latin America, the most violent region in the world and home to countries like El Salvador, Honduras and Venezuela, each with homicide rates similar to war zones.

The answer may be unsettling. Many instances of large decreases in homicide rates in Latin America can be traced not to large-scale judicial or police reforms, but to changes in the behavior of gang members as a result of truces with their rivals. Homicides go down when rival drug gangs, in an effort to improve their business conditions, agree to reduce violence.

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Neighbors in Arms: How US guns are turning Central America into one of the most dangerous places in the world

Photo by Flikr user brian.chForeign Policy, 5/3/2013

When President Barack Obama meets with various Central American leaders in Costa Rica this weekend, he will likely face criticism of U.S. domestic firearm laws. Like Mexico, where he met with President Enrique Peña Nieto on May 2, Central American countries have increasingly raised concerns about U.S. firearms trafficking. They have good reason to do so: more and more arms that originated in the United States are being used in violent crimes across the region. And given the recent death of background check legislation in the U.S. Senate, Obama may find it difficult to reassure his critics that the United States is effectively tackling the problem at home.

According to data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) on U.S. firearms trafficking and an analysis of related U.S. prosecutions, thousands of U.S.-origin firearms (firearms that were either manufactured or imported into the United States) are finding their way to criminals in Central America in the last few years. The flow of U.S. weapons is heaviest to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras — all among the top 10 most violent countries in the world.

According to a new Woodrow Wilson Center report focusing on Guatemala, ATF discovered that 2,687 (or 40 percent) of the 6,000 seized firearms it analyzed from just one Guatemalan military bunker in 2009 originated in the United States. In the past five years, there have also been at least 34 U.S. prosecutions related to American firearms trafficking to Guatemala involving a total of 604 U.S.-origin firearms.

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253,000 U.S. guns smuggled to Mexico annually, study finds

Guns by Flickr user barjackMcClatchy, 3/18/2013

Some 2.2 percent of all U.S. gun sales are made to smuggling rings that take firearms to Mexico, a scale of illegal trafficking that’s “much higher than widely assumed,” an academic study released Monday found. An average of 253,000 weapons purchased in the United States head south of the border each year, according to the study by four scholars at the University of San Diego’s Trans-Border Institute and the Igarape Institute, a research center in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Profit margins at many gun stores are razor thin, and thousands of U.S. gun vendors would go out of business without the illicit traffic to Mexico, said Topher McDougal, an economist educated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who’s one of the study’s authors. The study’s conclusions are likely to add to controversy over what role U.S. weapons smugglers play in Mexico’s drug violence. Mexican officials have long blamed lax gun laws in the United States for the availability of weapons in Mexico, which has only one gun store and considers gun ownership a privilege, not a right.

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Mexico to ask Senate for registry of US guns

guns1The Washington Times, 2/20/2013

In the wake of a tense national clash over the issue of gun control, Mexico has taken an action sure to fan the flames of controversy. In January, the Mexico Permanent Commission reportedly voted to formally ask the United States Senate for a registry of all commercialized firearms in the border states of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. According to Informador, the proposition was introduced by Senator Marcela Guerra, who stated he introduced the resolution in hopes that it would make it easier to trace guns used in violent crimes. InsightCrime explains,

“Close to 60,000 people were killed during the six-year presidency of Felipe Calderon, who left office in December. The US Southwest is a significant source of weaponry for Mexico’s criminal organizations, who typically purchase firearms from US gun stores via a middleman or ‘straw buyer.’”

More minors are arrested (Spanish)

hands in handcuffs

El Universal, 2/4/2013

Mexico faces a  outbreak of  young offenders who participate in organized crime. The most dramatic case is that of the state of Nuevo Leon, but states like Sinaloa, Aguascalientes, Morelos, Tlaxcala and Sonora also recorded an increase in the number of young children mixed up in crime.

In addition to young men, more women are committing high impact crimes such as drug trafficking and homicides linked to organized crime.

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Mission Impossible? (Spanish)


Poder 360, 2/1/2013

La ambiciosa y controvertida propuesta del presidente Barack Obama para que el Congreso de Estados Unidos reinstituya la prohibición de las armas de asalto tipo militar, imponga la revisión universal de antecedentes y reduzca la capacidad de los cargadores de balas, es buena noticia para México.

“Si estas medidas llegaran a concretarse tendrían un efecto importante en la violencia en México”, declaró a PODER Eric Olson, director asociado del Programa Latinoamericano del Woodrow Wilson Center. “Ninguna medida va a acabar por sí misma, o en conjunto, con el problema del tráfico de armas a México, pero éstas y otras pueden hacer más difícil ese proceso, elevando los costos del negocio ilegal y contribuyendo así a la reducción en el trafico”.

Op-ed: Stem the flow of guns to Mexico

guns1Los Angeles Times, 1/27/2013

There are plenty of reasons right here at home to support President Obama’s effort to reform the nation’s gun laws. But if Congress requires additional arguments, it should consider that easy access to guns is also undermining the United States’ avowed goal of combating drug trafficking and transnational gangs abroad.

The U.S. has sent nearly $2 billion in aid to Mexico since 2007, much of that as part of the Merida Initiative, a counter-narcotics program designed to provide aid and equipment for that country’s drug war. Yet that assistance has been undermined by lax U.S. gun laws, which allow members of the drug cartels and their associates to buy weapons here and smuggle them across the border. At least 68,000 of the firearms seized in Mexico between 2007 and 2011 — and probably quite a lot more — came from the United States, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

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