- - Thursday, April 12, 2012

Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s visit to Washington last week featured his usual lecturing of Americans about gun control. This time, he had some good ideas, although he remains wedded to many bad ones, too. A polite guest, Mr. Calderon did not mention the “Fast and Furious” operation during his public events with President Obama. But reports indicate that he did bring it up privately, and he was furious - justifiably so. From late 2009 until early 2011, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) orchestrated the delivery of more than 2,000 firearms to Mexican drug cartels. According to Mexico’s attorney general, those firearms have been used in 200 homicides in Mexico. Another victim was U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, killed in December 2010.

If Mr. Obama gave Mr. Calderon the same explanations that his administration has been propounding since last year, there was no reason for Mr. Calderon to take Mr. Obama seriously. The administration’s all-purpose excuse of “It’s Bush’s fault” has been applied to Fast and Furious. From 2006 to 2007, the very same Phoenix ATF office that perpetrated Fast and Furious ran a similar operation, which supplied more than 400 guns to Mexican drug trafficking organizations. The head of the Phoenix ATF office, gun control enthusiast William Newell, led both operations.

The difference is that when ATF headquarters in Washington found out about Mr. Newell’s gun-walking, they took immediate action, which led to the operation being shut down. But during the Obama administration, they enthusiastically supported Fast and Furious.

Did Mr. Calderon have sufficient briefing to ask Mr. Obama about the cover-up? The Obama administration has stonewalled many congressional subpoenas. Currently, the White House is blocking testimony by former National Security staffer Kevin O’Reilly, who wishes to testify under oath. Documents show that Mr. Newell kept Mr. O’Reilly updated on at least some aspect of Fast and Furious; testimony from Mr. O’Reilly could help uncover what the White House knew and when it knew it.

Did Mr. Calderon ask whether there will be prosecutions under the Arms Export Control Act, which prohibits firearms exports without a U.S. State Department permit? Unlike most gun control laws, the Arms Export Control Act has no implied “law enforcement” exception.

Mr. Calderon would have been well within his rights to warn that his government will initiate lawsuits - or even criminal charges - against the Americans who intentionally conspired to promote illegal gun-smuggling into Mexico.

Legally speaking, these would be much stronger cases than suing American firearms manufacturers. For that possibility, Mr. Calderon retained the New York/Texas firm of Reid Collins & Tsai LLP, on Nov. 2, 2010.

Speaking to the Washington press, Mr. Calderon claimed to have “a great deal of respect for U.S. legislation, especially the Second Amendment.” He would have more credibility if he respected the right to arms found in the Mexican Constitution:

“The inhabitants of the United Mexican States have a right to arms in their homes, for security and legitimate defense, with the exception of arms prohibited by federal law and those reserved for the exclusive use of the Army, Navy, Air Force and National Guard. Federal law will determine the cases, conditions, requirements and places in which the carrying of arms will be authorized to the inhabitants.”

Defying the Mexican Constitution, Mr. Calderon’s government allows the existence of only a single gun store in the entire nation, a small shop in Mexico City run by the army. For the average citizen, it is very difficult to obtain permission for anything other than a .22-caliber pistol - a relatively weak weapon to use against a violent home invader.

While the Mexican Constitution grants the government extensive discretion about permits for carrying a firearm, that discretion is abused. In practice, carry licenses are restricted to the wealthy and the politically connected. In a nation of 105 million people, there are only 4,300 carry licenses. That is one reason why Mexico has the second highest-kidnapping rate in the world (behind only Venezuela, another gun control paradise), with even middle-class Mexicans being victimized.

Although blaming America first may be useful in Mexican politics, it makes no sense in the case of firearms. Research from the public-sources intelligence organization Stratfor reveals that only 12 percent of Mexican crime guns can be traced to U.S retail gun stores. Of those, the average weapon age is 15 years, indicating that they were legal American guns that were stolen and then sold into the black market.

Mr. Calderon blames Mexican crime on expiration of the U.S. ban on “assault weapons” (ordinary firearms with politically incorrect cosmetics). Yet in the three years following the September 2004 expiration of the ban, there was a sharp decrease in homicides in Mexico. Mexico had thousands more homicides from 2001 to 2003 when the ban was in full effect. Inaugurated as president in December 2006, Mr. Calderon massively escalated the drug war there, resulting in a 22 percent increase in homicide from 2007 to 2008 and a continuation of the problem ever since. Whatever the good intentions of Mr. Calderon’s policy, a much higher homicide rate has been the result.

Mr. Calderon also called for gun registration in America. He should have first consulted his fellow Washington visitor, Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Three days after the Obama-Harper-Calderon summit in the District, Canada took its final steps to eliminate the nation’s registry of long guns. Hard experience had shown Canadians that the registry was a massive waste of money and law enforcement resources, and that government lists of law-abiding people do not keep guns out of the hands of criminals.

David Kopel is an adjunct law professor at Denver University, and co-author of “Firearms Law and the Second Amendment” (Aspen Publishers, 2012).