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The other public health crisis: Gun violence in Mexico

Maria Termini

Today we are all in an unimaginable state from the effects of the rapid spread of the coronavirus. Many have died, many are experiencing the painful course of this disease, and many are living in fear. Unprecedented measures have been taken to prevent and control the spread of this virus. Still, there is another serious public health problem that cannot be ignored and continues to kill in ever-increasing numbers. This is the epidemic of gun violence in Mexico, which is now experiencing its highest homicide rate in recorded history.

Last November, I worked in a border shelter and met many Mexican families forced to leave their homes. Many had experienced family members killed, tortured or disappeared, death threats, rape, or robbery of everything they owned. Because of a corrupt and broken justice system, the Mexican government cannot protect its citizens from organized criminal groups and even the military and the police. All these entities are heavily armed, thanks to the weapons coming to them from the United States. The vigorous gun trade, legal and illegal, between Mexico and the U.S. is a big factor in the escalating violence that Mexico is experiencing. Mexico is the main importer of U.S. firearms. Many guns are manufactured in New England: Colt (Connecticut), Sig Sauer (New Hampshire), Century Arms (Vermont), Mossberg (Connecticut), and Smith and Wesson (Massachusetts).

The overall statistics of gun violence in Mexico statistics are chilling. According to Al-Jazeera, more than 61,000 people are known to have been forcibly “disappeared” in Mexico, many of them migrants. Firearms were used in more than 68,000 gun homicides in the last three years. In 2006, the U.S. and Mexico declared war on drugs and implemented a military aid package called Plan Merida, which provided Mexico with large quantities of weapons that got into the hands of the wrong people.

The U.S. plays a primary role in this violence, as the principal source of arms flowing legally and illegally to Mexico. The U.S. exported more than $33 million of firearms, ammunition and gun parts to Mexico last year, far more than to any other Latin American country.

Guns exported to Mexico are sold to the Mexican army, which is empowered to legally distribute them to local and state police, security companies, and private non-military individuals. The Mexican army spent more than $1.4 billion between 2007 and 2017 for weapons, including grenades, assault rifles and bullets. The 2018 budget for the Mexican army greatly increased, to $3.6 billion. The illegal gun trade also continues to flourish from gun shops and gun shows from which it is easy to smuggle them across the border into Mexico.

We must do all we can to call attention to this epidemic of gun violence in Mexico and urge Congress to reduce legal firearms exports to Mexico to levels from before the war on drugs; support a federal ban on the sale of all assault weapons and high capacity magazines; and require tighter control of gun exports. Guns should not be sold to those credibly involved with human rights abuses. We must make these demands clear to our legislators. Together we can work to stop policies of warfare and violence and instead focus on development, fighting poverty, and community investment. We have clearly seen how more guns creates more deaths and suffering. We know that the war on drugs will not be won with violence. The many deaths from guns have made this clear. We can stand together for values of peace and justice in all places and oppose this gun trade which has been shown to only increase violence

Maria Termini is an artist, author and musician who has traveled extensively in Latin America. She is a member of Massachusetts Peace Action.

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