Kristian Ramos: "Want To Make The Border Safer? Pass Gun Violence Legislation"

This article, by Kristian Ramos, ran in NBC Latino earlier this week.  You can find that version here.  

According to press reports, the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” immigration bill will make improving safety in the U.S.-Mexico border region one of its highest priorities.  For those looking to increase the security of the border region, there will be another bill coming up in the Senate that can also do a great deal to make the border region safer: an anticipated bill to curb gun violence in the United States. The legislation contains provisions which will slow the illegal flow of guns from the U.S. to Mexico. These guns provide lethal, cheap and accessible firepower to violent organized crime organizations south of our border.  Taking steps to prevent guns from illegally crossing into the Mexican side of the border will help reduce the violence there and make an increasingly safe region even safer.

Sadly, arming cartels is big business for thousands of gun shops in the U.S.  A new study reports that on average about 250,000 guns are illegally smuggled from the U.S. to Mexico each year, netting U.S. gun sellers close to $127 million annually.  Shockingly, these gun sales represent over 2 percent of all gun sales in the U.S. today.   U.S. officials have long reported that the majority of weapons found at organized crime scenes can be traced back to the U.S.  Former Mexican President Felipe Calderon repeatedly asked the U.S. Congress to slow the flow of guns to Mexico, saying it was his highest bi-lateral priority with the United States.  It is hard to overstate how important slowing the illegal gun flow is to our Mexican neighbors, and more can and should be done.

The Senate gun violence bill will strengthen two areas of American law which can do a great deal to slow the flow of guns into Mexico: background checks and anti-trafficking and straw purchaser provisions.  At an event the think tank NDN conducted with Rep. Adam Schiff and then-Mexican-Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan, both pointed out that there simply aren’t sufficient penalties in current American law for knowingly selling a gun to a criminal or a person with criminal intent.  The trade of guns into Mexico is fueled by these straw purchasers; Americans legally buying guns in the U.S. and then knowingly selling those guns to representatives of Mexican organized crime.  Experienced prosecutors believe that making that intermediary act a much more serious crime will do a great deal to interrupt this illegal flow of guns.  And then of course, a more universal background check system will ensure that these convicted straw purchasers have a much harder time ever plying their trade again.

A modest program by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) started in 2011 shows how powerful this approach can be.  The Multiple Sales Reporting (MSR) program requires gun shops in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas to submit reports of multiple sales of semi-automatic weapons to unlicensed individuals within five consecutive business days. Since the program’s inception the ATF has opened more than 120 criminal investigations based on multiple sales reports. More than 25 cases have been recommended for prosecution, representing more than 100 defendants with various firearms-related charges. The provisions in the Senate gun violence bill would enhance the already existing work that ATF is doing and could very well make a real dent in the southbound flow of illegal guns without doing anything to infringe on the Second Amendment rights of U.S. gun owners.

In recent years, with unprecedented cooperation, more resources and a far better strategy, the U.S. and Mexico have made the U.S. side of the border far safer and significantly slowed the flow of undocumented immigrants into the U.S. while dramatically expanding trade and legal tourism with Mexico.  Mexico also has some of the strictest gun laws in the world, and limiting the flow of guns from our country into theirs would do a great deal to bring further stability to the region.

Passing a common-sense gun violence bill with background checks, straw purchaser and anti-trafficking provisions would address the one area that remains a real black spot on the U.S. Mexico region: violence on the Mexican side of the border. Proponents of doing more for border security should be enthusiastic backers of these provisions of the Senate gun violence bill when it is introduced later this month, and work to secure its passage. The legislation will complement what appears to be a strong and thoughtful Senate bipartisan immigration bill which seeks to build upon the success already made in the region.

For more on our thinking about gun violence, be sure to read this Hill op-ed, "America The Violent? No More," by Simon Rosenberg and Chris Bowman.