Obama administration should heed Mexico's call to crack down on guns

Friday, May 21, 2010; A18

MEXICAN PRESIDENT Felipe Calderón has shown courage in leading his government to take on the violent drug gangs that have claimed thousands of Mexican lives. On Thursday, he displayed a different kind of fortitude: standing before a joint meeting of Congress and asking for a revival of the U.S. assault weapons ban. The Obama administration, which has been largely absent in the fight against the illegal gun trade, should have such backbone.

Mr. Calderón, who has been in Washington for a state visit, made a powerful case. Over the past three years, Mexican authorities have seized some 75,000 weapons used in crimes; more than 80 percent of those they were able to trace came from the United States. Mr. Calderón argued that the surge in violent, cartel-related crimes coincided with the 2004 repeal of the U.S. assault weapons ban.

"I fully respect, I admire the American Constitution," Mr. Calderón said. "And I understand that the purpose of the Second Amendment is to guarantee good American citizens the ability to defend themselves and their nation. But believe me, many of these guns are not going to honest American hands."

Mr. Calderón is right that the challenge to Mexico's security has "roots on both sides of the border." The Obama administration's newly unveiled national drug policy acknowledges as much and wisely emphasizes drug abuse prevention and rehabilitation to reduce the demand for illicit drugs. The White House also deserves credit for pushing forcefully to assist Mexican crime-fighting efforts. But it has been negligent in the battle against illegal guns, caving to the gun lobby on such issues as an assault weapons ban and a move to close a gun show loophole that allows some purchases without a background check.

In the matter of guns, the U.S. president should take a lesson in principle from his Mexican counterpart.

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