Our Gun Laws Don’t Hurt Just Us

Lax American gun legislation is not only an issue for Americans at home, but is also a threat to citizens of other countries, including Jamaica and Mexico.

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The fight over American gun legislation has existed in some capacity since the Second Amendment was ratified in 1791, which granted “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” With the uptick in mass shootings in recent years, however, the issue has been thrust into greater light. From Las Vegas to Parkland to Pittsburgh, mass shootings have become frighteningly common, causing many to advocate stricter gun legislation. But this discourse has framed the issue as a purely domestic one when this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Lax American gun legislation is allowing guns to be smuggled into countries such as Jamaica and Mexico, leading to their incredibly high homicide rates. It is thus imperative that the U.S. strengthens its gun legislation laws—not only for the sake of citizens at home but also for those abroad.

The Jamaican government is currently struggling to deal with the recent increase in serious crimes, which ranges from gang robbery to murder. The country has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, and over 80 percent of these crimes are committed using a gun—as opposed to the 32 percent worldwide average. The issue has become so severe that the Jamaican government has been forced to keep a list of the 30 deadliest guns in the country, giving them names such as Ghost or Ambrogio in order to keep track of them. But due to the lack of documentation required by the United States federal government, the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) often has little more on weapons than a single piece of paper with the original owner’s details. There is no legal requirement to document more than retail sales, and a national registry is not allowed. These practices allow the gun smuggling industry to thrive—to the severe detriment of Jamaican citizens and their government.

A similar issue is present in Mexico, where the murder rate is at an all-time high. The Mexican government recorded more than 30,000 first degree murders in 2018, 20,005 of which were committed with a gun. The number of guns being smuggled into Mexico is astounding: during an investigation from 2011 to 2016, the ATF found that 106,001 guns were recovered by law enforcement. Out of these guns, 70 percent were originally purchased from a licensed gun dealer located in the United States. But even this dramatic number is likely an understatement, as it only accounts for guns submitted to the Bureau for tracing. Estimates place the actual number of guns smuggled across the border every year at 213,000. They’re becoming the weapons of choice for Mexican drug trafficking cartels, with nearly half the guns recovered from Mexico being semi-automatic rifles. However, the media’s fixation on the movement of immigrants and drugs across the U.S.-Mexico border has largely failed to cover the perhaps more pertinent issue of American guns.

It is not just impoverished countries that are highly susceptible to gang violence and other crimes perpetuated by lax American gun legislation. Our neighbor to the north, Canada, has grown increasingly concerned about the number of guns smuggled past the U.S.-Canada border. During the same time period as the investigation of Mexico, the ATF found that 98.5 percent of the 8,700 guns recovered from Canada came from the United States. In addition to this, the Canadian Border Service has experienced an increase in gun seizures at the border—up to 316 guns in 2015 from 226 guns in 2012. Canadians have become worried about the threat of guns in organized crime and other dangerous activities, with an Ottawa police inspector noting: “Now you’re seeing more guns being used for enforcement or for intimidation, debt collection, or protection.” Clearly, the safety of many countries is at stake due to our careless gun legislation.

The issue with American gun legislation comes down to two main problems: the large inventory of guns and the ease at which a person can purchase one. In the U.S., it is estimated that there are over 300 million guns circulating in the country, and that number keeps rising. The U.S. manufactured an annual average of 3.5 million guns from 1996 to 2005, compared to the annual average of 6.7 million from 2006 to 2015. Gun imports have also increased, from a 1.3 million annual average to a 3.5 million average. This large inventory allows U.S. gun smugglers to purchase guns at very low prices and earn very large profits, making the process lucrative. However, the larger issue at play is the ease at which a person in the United States can purchase a gun. In order to purchase a gun, a person must be a U.S. citizen over 18 who passes a short background check. The background check is often faulty, however, and many are able to slip through the cracks even if they have disqualifying characteristics. Once the gun is purchased, there is no legal requirement to track it, culminating in the use of the “straw buying” tactic that many gun smugglers employ. It involves a person who is legally allowed to purchase a gun acquiring the weapon for a third party, who receives the gun after the straw buyer fills out the necessary paperwork. Since the transfer from straw buyer to gun smuggler is usually undocumented, straw buying becomes an easy method of bringing guns into the smuggling network. These two factors make it extremely easy for the trade to thrive—to the great detriment of many in the aforementioned countries.

As Americans, it is often easy to get swept up in our own politics and forget the impact that our laws and actions have on the rest of the world. Though it is hotly debated whether a person even has a right to own a gun, there is no doubt that the lack of gun legislation is causing homicide rates to spike drastically. For this reason, it is imperative that the United States takes action to strengthen its gun laws. The first step should be requiring background checks for all handgun sales—even those that do not involve a licensed gun dealer. Though 19 states have acted to close this loophole, it is crucial that universal background checks be instituted. In addition, gun trafficking and straw buying should be considered federal crimes in order to deter people from engaging in these acts. Another method to prevent gun trafficking is to mandate the report of multiple sales of long guns. Though licensed gun dealers are required to report to the Bureau if a person buys more than two handguns in a five day period, this does not apply to long guns, which are commonly-trafficked weapons. By mandating that multiple sales of long guns be tracked, the government will be able to cut down on the number of guns leaving the country.

This issue has been prevalent for far too long. Though our own country cannot agree on whether a citizen has the right to own a gun, Canada, Mexico, and Jamaica have all instituted strict gun laws. Canadian gun laws include the prohibition of most semi-automatic weapons and the requirement of a license, background check, training, and 28-day waiting period for first-time owners. Jamaican gun laws follow a similar vein, with the prohibition of semi-automatic weapons, requirement of a license, training protocols, and strict background checks. As for Mexico, only the Mexican Secretariat of National Defense is allowed to sell guns, and in order to purchase a weapon, a citizen must submit an extensive application and undergo a strict background check. All three of these countries have realized the need for stricter gun legislation, but their efforts are being undermined by the United States’ inability to act.

The United States has a moral obligation to increase gun legislation—not only for the sake of its own citizens, but for the sake of those affected by the homicide crisis in countries around the world.