Rep. Schiff, Amb. Sarukhán Address NDN/NPI Capitol Hill Forum on Slowing the Flow of U.S. Guns Into Mexico

A proposed legislation in the U.S. Congress would raise penalties for straw purchasers who acquire assault weapons under false pretenses to resell them to Mexican criminal organizations. Congressman Adam Schiff of California and Mexico’s Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan talked on Thursday, May 31st at the US Capitol about the relevance of this legislation to slow the illegal  flow of guns into Mexico. The forum was  convened by NDN’s 21st Century Border Initiative.

Rep. Schiff , who sponsors the Straw Purchaser Penalty Enhancement Act, said that the United States has a responsibility to decrease violence levels in Mexico since this country is the third largest trade partner and second export market of the United States. “Our prosperity is tied with Mexico”, Rep. Schiff said.

Schiff emphasized that the bill would give two-year sentences to straw purchasers and because of that, it would create incentives for suspects to cooperate with law enforcement officials to fight criminal organizations. He said that currently there is no prohibition to resell arms to individuals unauthorized to own guns in the U.S., including people with criminal backgrounds or foreign nationals.

“Straw purchasers use loopholes in the regulation of arm sales and they face low penalties”, said Mexico’s Ambassador to the United States, Arturo Sarukhán.

Sarukhán said that this bill would help Mexican law-enforcement agencies to use their manpower and resources in a more strategic way to fight criminal organizations. He also mentioned the impact that the expiration of a ban to sell assault weapons in the U.S. has had in Mexico. Since then, the number of assault weapons seized by Mexican authorities more than doubled from 2007 to 2011. “Before then, the highest number of seized weapons were handguns”, said Sarukhán.

Rep. Schiff also noted that the drug war violence not only takes lives of alleged criminals but also members of the press and law enforcement officials in the Mexican side. “Mexico has lost more citizens than the ones we lost in the Vietnam War”, he said.

The Mexican Ambassador also explained that his government does not want to destroy the Second Amendment, which grants Americans the right to own weapons. However, American founding fathers did not contemplate under this constitutional right the international trade of firearms or any illicit cross-border trade, he said.

Sarukhán praised efforts from the Obama administration to require sellers in Southwest border States to report multiple sales of semiautomatic rifles which have led to several investigations of gun smuggling operations. In his opinion, there are misconceptions in both countries on how policies create a negative impact in the other side of the border.

At the conference, Sarukhán said that Operation Fast and Furious, in which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firarms let walk guns into Mexico.  “poisoned public opinion in Mexico” about the U.S. fostering violence south of the border. However, legislation like the one proposed by Rep. Schiff strengthens law enforcement cooperation between both neighbor countries and would have a profound impact in the fight against organized crime in Mexico. “Both countries understand that they need to work together to fight this issue”, he said.