- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 20, 2010

Mexican President Felipe Calderon called on Congress Thursday to reinstate a federal ban on assault weapons that he said are ending up in the hands of violent drug cartels south of the border.

Speaking before a joint session of lawmakers, Mr. Calderon echoed statements by President Obama that the U.S. bears some responsibility in propping up the drug trade with America’s demand for narcotics and its supply of guns.

“I will ask Congress to help us, with respect, and understand how important it is for us to enforce current laws to stem the flow of guns and enforce existing laws as well as consider reinstating the assault weapons ban,” he said.

Mr. Calderon said of the 75,000 guns seized by Mexican authorities over the last three years, 80 percent are traced to the U.S. The assault weapons ban, which prevented citizens from purchasing semi-automatic weapons, expired in 2004.

The Mexican president stressed that he respects the gun rights enshrined in the Second Amendment but warned that U.S. failure to rein in weapons dealing could result in the same kind of violence coming back north of the border.

On Wednesday, the Mexican leader appeared alongside Mr. Obama at the White House, where he and his wife later were feted at the administration’s second state dinner. The two men touched on a number of thorny issues, ranging from the drug war to Arizona’s controversial new immigration law and a series of ongoing trade disputes.

An estimated 23,000 people have died because of Mexico’s drug war since Mr. Calderon took office in 2006, promising to crack down on the country’s drug traffickers. A recent spate of high-profile incidents, led by the killing of a U.S. consulate employee in March, have injected a renewed sense of immediacy on the part of the United States.

Mr. Calderon thanked Congress for funding the Merida Initaitive, a $1.4 billion commitment to provide technical assistance, equipment and training to Mexican authorities agreed to under former President George W. Bush. The Obama administration has continued those policies and expanded the effort to include support for civil society and community programs.

During his first presidential visit to Mexico last April, Mr. Obama said he would urge Congress to approve a long-stalled North American arms treaty known by its Spanish acronym of CIFTA, but little progress has been made.