Mexican President Felipe Calderon called on Congress on 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, using a highly contentious estimate of U.S. guns seized in Mexico when addressing Capitol Hill lawmakers.
Mr. Calderone said he respects the Second Amendment, but argued that violence south of the border spiked in 2004 after the expiration of a U.S. ban on semiautomatic weapons. Echoing statements made by President Obama Wednesday, Mr. Calderon said the U.S. bears some responsibility in propping up the drug trade with its demand for narcotics and supply of guns.
Pointedly, he warned that U.S. failure to rein in weapons dealing leaves America vulnerable to the drug-war violence wreaking havoc in Mexico.
“With all due respect, if you do not regulate the sale of these weapons in the right way, nothing guarantees that criminals here in the United States with access to the same power of weapons will not decide to challenge American authorities and civilians,” he said.
Mr. Calderon told a joint session of Congress that of the 75,000 guns seized by Mexican authorities over the last three years, 80 percent are traced to the U.S.
That assertion is suspect as gun-rights advocates and several media outlets have debunked similar figures in the past. Indeed, Mr. Calderon’s comments drew a harsh rebuke from the National Rifle Association on Thursday.
“The answer to Mexico’s drug and violence problem does not lie in dismantling the Second Amendment; it lies in making sure that the Mexican government takes care of problems on their side of the border,” NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said. “With all due respect to the president, he’s either intentionally using false data, or he’s unknowingly using bad numbers.”
Mr. Arulanandam pointed to congressional testimony given in March 2009 by an official with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who said there is no factual basis for the claim that as many as 90 percent of the weapons come from the U.S.
Both as a candidate and as president, Mr. Obama has said he supports bringing back the assault weapons ban, but has not pushed Congress on the issue, at least publicly.
Asked on Thursday if he still supports it, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs would not answer directly. Instead, he referred reporters to Mr. Obama’s comments on Wednesday, when he touted the fact that U.S. authorities now search 100 percent of southbound rail cargo.
An estimated 23,000 people have died 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, has injected a renewed sense of immediacy on the part of the United States.
Mr. Calderon’s remarks on guns were not the only controversial statements he made to Congress.
For the second day in a row, he blasted the new law in Arizona that requires police to make a reasonable attempt to check immigration status of people encountered during “a lawful stop, detention or arrest” that they suspect might be in the country illegally. The law specifically precludes using race or ethnicity as a test for reasonable suspicion, but critics say they fear police will resort to racial profiling anyway.
“It is a law that not only ignores a reality that cannot be erased by decree, but also introduces a terrible idea: using racial profiling as a basis for law enforcement,” Mr. Calderon said. “And that is why I agree with the president, who says the new law carries a great amount of breach, when core values that we all care about are breached.”
While Democratic lawmakers in the audience applauded the comment, it sparked a harsh reaction among Republicans.
“The state of Arizona is stepping in where the federal government has failed. It is trying to stop waves of illegal immigrants, many of whom are dangerous gang members and drug and human traffickers, from crossing into its communities,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican. “It’s inappropriate for a head of state to question our laws, especially when the state of Arizona only acted in the best interest of its citizens and with the support of 70 percent of its people.”
Mr. Obama on Wednesday urged Congress to move ahead with a legislative framework, introduced by Senate Democrats, that would create a multistep path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants now in the country, and rewrite the rules for future legal immigration. But he said passage depends on gaining support from Republicans, who have yet to sign on.
In the meantime, Arizona’s two Republican senators continue to press Mr. Obama to send National Guard troops to the border after a spate of recent violence. The administration has said it is reviewing its options.