Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador has a two-track strategy for dealing with the drug cartels that serve as the de facto center of authority in many states south of the border; offering “hugs, not bullets” to cartel members while blaming U.S. gun makers for the crimes the cartels are committing with impunity against Mexican citizens.
Obrador’s lawsuit against the firearms industry was rejected by a U.S. District Court judge in Massachusetts earlier this year, but the case is now on appeal with the First Circuit. Meanwhile, his hopes of hugging it out with the violent cartels have been dashed as violence has surged across the country in recent months. Some Mexican citizens have decided to fight back as best they can, knowing that the government is incapable or unwilling to come to their defense. Earlier this month villagers in Texcaltitlan killed ten cartel members in a rolling battle, armed with little more than sickles and single-shot hunting rifles thanks to Mexico’s restrictive gun control laws, but as the Associated Press recently reported, the cartels have fought back by abducting more than a dozen residents, including children.
José Luis Cervantes, the head prosecutor for the State of Mexico, located west of the country’s capital, Mexico City, said no ransom demand had been received. Previously, state officials had denied anyone was kidnapped, and said they were simply “missing.”
But residents of the village and a nearby hamlet said the Familia Michoacana drug cartel was demanding they hand over the leaders of the uprising, in exchange for releasing the kidnapped children and adults.
Cervantes said none of the villagers would face charges for the Dec. 8 clash, because the confrontation had been classified as “legitimate self defense” because the farmers were defending their properties.
Gunmen from the Familia Michoacana cartel, which has long dominated the area, had showed up in the village earlier, demanding local farmers pay a per-acre (hectare) extortion fee from farmers.
The bloodshed occurred in the hamlet of Texcaltitlan, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) southwest of the capital. A video of the clash that emerged appears to show the gunmen wore military-style uniforms, some with helmets. Villagers apparently set their bodies and vehicles on fire.
It’s great that Cervantes has determined that the villagers were acting in self-defense and won’t face charges for fighting back against the cartels, but it’s still appalling that the Obrador administration is denying those villagers (and other law-abiding citizens) from using the most effective means of defending themselves. Under Mexico’s draconian gun laws, firearms can only be purchased at a lone gun store in Mexico City, and only after an extensive licensing and screening process. Once approved, which can take months on end, qualified citizens can buy a semi-automatic handgun or revolver no larger than .380 caliber, .22 caliber rifles, and shotguns up to 12 gauge (provided they’re a member of a hunting or shooting club).
Those restrictions have been proven to be utterly worthless at keeping cartels from arming up, but they do a pretty good job of preventing the average Mexican citizen from obtaining the guns that would be most useful in both individual and community self-defense against cartels like the Familia Michoacana. The cartels can easily get their hands on military-grade weaponry thanks to corrupt police and military officials, but the villagers of Texcaltitlan are going to face many more difficulties if they want an AR-15 or other semi-automatic rifle to protect their family or neighbors from becoming the next victim of the cartels, and there’s virtually no way for them to do so without risking prosecution and prison time.
That hasn’t stopped civilian self-defense forces from popping up across Mexico over the past decade, but the nation’s gun control regime has most certainly limited their effectiveness. Not only is it impossible for the average citizen to lawfully purchase or possess an AR-15 or other semi-automatic rifle, but acquiring ammunition for those guns that are allowed to be possessed under federal law is a challenge in its own right.
The scale of the cartel violence in Mexico is heartbreaking, and the conscious decision by the Obrador administration and previous regimes to prevent lawful citizens from being able to effectively defend themselves and their communities is infuriating. Self-defense is a human right, and that right is being violated on a daily basis by Mexico’s government. Obrador’s unwillingness to confront the cartels head-on is bad enough, but to stand in the way of besieged citizens who can’t depend on the government for their protection is simply unconscionable. Mexico has its own presidential elections next year, and while the odds of significant improvement are slim, I’m holding out hope that a candidate will emerge who will vow not only to protect the people, but more importantly, change the law to allow them to better protect themselves.