After listening to Mexico’s president lecture about the need for Washington to ban assault weapons, President Obama said Monday that the U.S. has an obligation to combat gun smuggling that he said is fueled increasingly by drug addicts in rural communities.
Saying drug addiction in the U.S. “traditionally was very urban,” Mr. Obama said at a White House news conference that is changing, owing to the demand for drugs from Mexico’s cartels.
“You go into rural communities, and you’ve got methamphetamine sales that are devastating, you know, young and old alike,” the president said. “And some of that is originally sourced in Mexico. We recognize that we have a responsibility to reduce demand for drugs, that we have a responsibility to make sure that not only guns, but also bulk cash isn’t flowing into Mexico.”
His comments came after Mexican President Felipe Calderon again called on Congress to renew a ban on assault weapons.
“The expiry of the assault-weapons ban in the year 2004 coincided almost exactly with the beginning of the harshest period of violence we’ve ever seen,” Mr. Calderon said. “We have seized over 140,000 weapons in four years — and the vast majority of these weapons were sold in gun shops in the United States. Along the border of the U.S. and Mexico, there are approximately 8,000 weapons shops.”
The Mexican president spoke at length during a Rose Garden news conference about what is an uncomfortable subject for Mr. Obama, whose administration is under investigation by Congress over the notorious “Fast and Furious” program.
Organized by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and overseen by the Department of Justice, the program sent thousands of weapons to Mexican drug cartels via straw purchasers, or people who legally purchase guns in the United States with the intention of illegally trafficking them somewhere else.
At least 300 people in Mexico have been killed with weapons provided by Fast and Furious, and at least one killing in the U.S., the death of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, has been blamed on the program.
Neither Mr. Obama nor Mr. Calderon mentioned Fast and Furious in public Monday. Mr. Obama said stopping the flow of illegal guns into Mexico is a “difficult task.”
“We’ve actually put into practice efforts to stop illegal gun trafficking north to south,” Mr. Obama said. “We will continue to coordinate closely with the Mexican government because we recognize the toll that it’s taken with respect to families and innocent individuals inside of Mexico.”
Mr. Calderon said he appreciated the “administrative effort” being undertaken by the Obama administration to stop gun trafficking.
“We’ve seen a much more active effort in this sense than in any other time in the past,” Mr. Calderon said.
But the Mexican president added that, unless the U.S. enacts a ban on assault weapons and clamps down on gun registration, “We are never going to be able to stop the violence in Mexico or stop a future turning of those guns upon the U.S.”
He also ridiculed the state of Texas for recommending that college students avoid traveling to Mexico for spring break, saying young people were ignoring the warning.
“There are hundreds of thousands of young Texans who go to Mexico, enjoy it, and … we haven’t seen one single incident with U.S. ‘spring-breakers’ in Mexico this past spring,” Mr. Calderon said.