National Rifle Association Helps to Arm Drug Cartels

NRA's large political muscle helps keep arms traffickers in business, high demand for drugs in the US pays for guns

By Margie Burns

Amid the fanfare and the carnage in the increasingly violent war among Mexican drug cartels, there remains one dirty little secret. While trumpeting an unbridled right of citizens to bear arms north of the border, the National Rifle Association’s encouragement of guns sales in this country is almost certainly assisting the most violent of the violent Latin American drug cartels to get the weapons they want.

The cartels terrorize entire populations south of the border with their high-powered weaponry. But they also use their terror to keep their own membership and sub-contractors in line at all levels, with the result that while illegal narcotics operations within the US are less openly bloody than across the Mexican border, they are all the more effective.

Meanwhile, the NRA uses its political muscle and its considerable largesse to oppose any effort to put a dent in domestic and international arms traffic through either law enforcement or regulation. Thus the Obama administration’s brilliant and long-overdue strategy of reducing arms flow from the US into Mexico has been slowed and partly stymied.

One example among many: In a useful overview article on the Mexican drug war, reports, “Chris Cox, spokesman for the National Rifle Association, said that the official but false 90% number [percentage of drug assault weapons coming from US] is intentionally used to weaken the Second Amendment and force a ban on assault rifles in the United States.”

Put simply, the places in Mexico worst off for drug cartel violence include Ciudad Juarez, Tijuana, Chihuahua and Nuevo Laredo. These cities are not locations for high-powered gun manufacturing. There are no factories for AK-47s in them.

By objective accounting, the United States is the source for most AK-47s used in Mexican killings, for AR-15s and for .50-caliber Barrett M-82s. Variations of AK-47s come into the Americas from around the world, shipped by US commerce among others. Grenades and grenade launchers, many thousands of them, come into Mexico from Central America — left over from the Reagan and senior Bush administrations, which shipped them down to the Nicaraguan Contras in the 1980s. This point has been amply substantiated in an excellent series of articles, based on a year-long investigation, by the Washington Post.

The Post reported in December 2010 that “In the past four years, Mexican and US authorities have traced more than 60,000 weapons from the nation’s bloody drug wars back to some of the 7,500 US gun dealers along the border.” Rick Perry fans might particularly appreciate the fact that “The dealers with the most traces in the past two years are in Texas, Arizona and California and are near highways that cross the border and go deep into Mexico.” In “Arming Mexico’s Drug Cartels,” authorities say that “Texas has produced more guns seized in Mexico than any other state, and Houston is the focal point of gun-running operations to the border.” The hype about cartel violence at our doorstep or just across the border, or in effect waiting to pounce on us, in short, is partly misdirection. Those cartels are armed with weapons we sent them, paid for with money we (collectively) spent on their drugs.

It is a cliché, or a truism, by now, that the multi-billion drug trade is fueled by US demand. Sad but self-evident: If there were no customers, or if there were far fewer customers, in the US, traffic in illegal narcotics would become far less lucrative. Equally sad, young people in this country are making what they think are harmless purchases of recreational drugs, thereby funding thousands of maiming, tortures and deaths in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America.

Not knowing how slick an enterprise their huge suppliers have become, as Guy Larson reported in Rolling Stone last year, unsophisticated customers undoubtedly think of themselves as engaging in libertarian acts of individual rebellion.

Did they but know, sticking it to the man has become much more like buying it from the man.

All of the foregoing is well known to NRA forces on K Street — who consistently oppose any recommendation that marijuana be decriminalized, well regulated and taxed to fund treatment programs and law enforcement in the bigger crime circuit, even though many gun owners including sportsmen also engage in recreational use themselves. So much for libertarianism and rugged individualism.

Any reasonably skeptical observer would have to ask why this prudishness about marijuana, this reticence about lightening the load on law enforcement personnel, on the part of gun-totin’ lobbyists often eager to represent their clients as stalwarts in defense of liberty and order.

With better recent reporting, it should be equally a truism that the arms trade is, like the drug trade, fueled largely by US commerce. So why is the NRA so loathe to pursue this angle, and to prevent fellow Americans from pursuing it?

There is a difference between relatively responsible firearms manufacturers and sellers, and irresponsible others, perceivable even to the untutored eye.

Few makers and sellers of long guns, few elk hunters, few proprietors of target-shooting ranges are willingly supporting the Sinaloa cartel.

So why, in the name of all that’s responsible, would the NRA not do all it can to support responsibility in gun ownership and firearms dealing?

Back to the Constitution: All the hoopla over militias and non-militias and the possible significance of a comma in the Second Amendment of the Constitution is still limited to US citizens. This is a point that, interestingly, the NRA tends not to emphasize, but even the most ardent pro-gun advocate is arguing, theoretically, for the right of citizens to bear arms. Those weapons flowing south of the border are not going to US citizens.

Remember the last time you heard this point made on Rupert Murdoch’s rightwing Fox News Channel? No? The way Fox unfailingly echoes NRA talking points may provide a clue to the underlying political agendas.

Margie Burns is a Texas native who now writes from Washington, D.C. Email See her blog at

From The Progressive Populist, October 15, 2011

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