why did mexico become a violent country? 2017. 2. 23.¢ 1 why did mexico become a violent...
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Why did Mexico become a violent country? The role of illegal American firearms and other alternative hypotheses Following a pattern observed in developed countries, Mexico experienced a substantial drop in crime and violence throughout the second half of the XXth century. However, after the 2004- 2007 period, the observed decline ceased and homicides began to increase, whilst other crimes such as violent robberies, extortions and kidnappings appeared for the first time in previously- considered non-violent regions. By comparing the explanatory power of several hypotheses used to date, this paper suggests that more illegal firearms being trafficked from the U.S. after the Assault Weapon Ban (AWB) expired in 2004 is the best predictor for homicide rise in Mexico after then. Keywords
Mexico, U.S, Assault Weapons Ban, homicide, violence, crime, guns, firearms, trafficking
LIST OF ACRONYMS
AWB Assault Weapons Ban (U.S.) Ley de Prohibición Federal de Armas de Asalto
CONAPO National Council of Population (Mexico) Consejo Nacional de Población ICESI Citizens' Institute for Security Studies (Mexico)
Instituto Ciudadano de Estudios Sobre la Inseguridad IFAI Institute of Access to Information and Data Protection (Mexico)
Instituto Federal de Acceso a la Información Pública y Protección de Datos INEGI National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Mexico) Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía SNSP National Public Security System (Mexico)
Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública SEDENA Secretariat of National Defense (Mexico)
Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional – Mexican Army
Introduction Following a pattern observed in other countries around the world (Farrell, Tseloni, Mailley and Tilley,
2011), Mexico experienced a substantial drop in crime and violence over the last decades of the
twentieth century. This trend is clear in the case of homicides for which the rate per 100,000 inhabitants
fell from around 40-50 homicides in the mid-1950s to 17.9 in 1997, and around 11.5 by mid-2000s
(SESNSP, 2014; CONAPO, 2014). By 2004, the incidence of crime in Mexico was at the lowest level
Nevertheless, after 2004, violence generated by criminal organisations began to increase. This occurred
particularly in Mexico’s northern states (which border the U.S.) where authorities started to be
challenged, policeman and Mayors were killed for the first time, and society witnessed a dramatic
expansion of violent crimes such as kidnapping, robberies and extortion (Ríos, 2011 and SNSP 2013).
Alongside these sudden changes in crime, increases in other forms of violence such as confrontations
in public spaces in which innocent victims were injured, the rising prevalence of powerful guns in
criminal hands, and an increase in the fear of crime -as measured by victimization surveys- generated
the perception that Mexico was becoming a ‘failed state’ (ENSI2010; ENVIPE, 2012; USJFCOM;
These changes naturally raise many questions. A first one is about explaining the ‘big picture’. In other
words, how criminological theories might enlighten why a country that was experiencing a decline in
crime (with the size and population of Mexico) suddenly changed trajectory to witness a clear increase
in violence. A second one is about the ‘tactic behind the violence’. This is relevant given that Mexico
has had one of the strictest gun policies in the world. Certainly, an analysis about the illegal gun supply
is lacking and its inclusion would help to comprehend if criminal opportunity actually changed and how
this fact could have triggered violence in the country.
Overall, the aim of this study is to explore some of the most widespread hypotheses used when trying
to explain the spike in violence in Mexico during the last decade. The main argument presented here is
that homicide increase cannot be empirically elucidated by using the traditional ‘criminological
explanations’. By contrast, it proposes an additional hypothesis: due to the timing of these criminal
changes in Mexico and the geography involved, one possible explanation may be found in modifications
to gun legislation in the U.S. This research particularly explores how the expiration of the U.S. Assault
Weapon Ban (AWB) in 2004 might explain the rise of homicide in Mexico after then.
The study is organised as follows. Section 1 outlines a general background -the rationale behind the
paper- suggesting how gun prevalence in the U.S. is linked with illegal guns in Mexico (gun seizures is
considered a proxy) on one hand, and its possible impact: homicides in Mexico, on the other. Section 2
presents the statistical analysis: a fixed effect panel data model linking homicides with gun seizures in
Mexico, controlling by other explanations for violence. Section 3 explores two additional robustness
techniques: a first one to reconfirm the temporal role of AWB expiration in homicides increase, and
some exploratory ideas for a possible instrumental variable. Finally, Section 4 presents some general
findings and further implications.
Graph 1: An input-ouput-outcome model
Source: Author’s elaboration, 2014
1.1 Input: More guns (prevalence) in the U.S. On September 13, 1994, U.S. President William Clinton signed into law the Public Safety and
Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, commonly known as the Federal Assault Weapons Ban
(AWB). This federal law included a ten-year prohibition on the manufacture and import of specific
semi-automatic firearms for civilian use that were defined therein as "assault weapons" (GPO, 1994).
From an analytical perspective, this policy of restricting military-style guns had two main objectives.
On one hand, it aimed to reduce the social costs -morbidity and mortality- associated with the public
shootings, accidents and murders occurring all over the U.S. On the other, it also intended to contribute
1. More available guns in the U.S. as possible input
2. More seized firearms in Mexico as possible output
3. More homicides in Mexico as possible outcome
in stopping the violent crimes experienced in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Baltimore,
D.C., Boston and others (Presidential Libraries, 1994).
Although there is no absolute consensus regarding if this ten-year ban was actually successful or not in
achieving these goals, most of the studies suggest some positive externalities. By restricting high calibre
and large amounts of guns to unreliable users (such as gangs and straw purchasers), this policy could
have contributed to re-empower police forces, on one hand, and to reduce social harm previously caused
by high gun prevalence, on the other (Roth and Koper, 1999).
In any case, ten years later in 2004, the AWB expiration removed the restrictions to private contractors
for manufacturing, importing and selling for civilian use most of the semi-automatic weapons that were
prohibited ten years ago. In addition to a quantitative raise in prevalence, guns also increased its
destructive power (lethality). In fact, ATF (2013) data shows that more 9mm pistols and rifles started
to be produced at higher rates after 2004, coincidentally the preferred weapons by criminal organisations
operating in Mexico (Goodmand and Marizco, 2010).
Graph 2: Gun prevalence in the U.S.
Source: Perez Esparza and Weigend, 2014
Implementation of the AWB
Removal fo the AWB
Mass shootings in Aurora and
Net number of firearms = (manufactured + imported firearms) - exported firearms
1.2 Output: More illegal guns (confiscations) in Mexico
Mexico has had a highly restrictive gun policy for almost 100 years. One of the clearest keys for
understanding this regulation is the 1972 Federal Law of Firearms and Explosives, which basically
reconfirmed two historical bases. On one hand, it fortified the legal and administrative system to control
the proliferation of guns in the country while heavily limiting and restricting the access for civilians,
(and even to the civil police forces). On the other, it granted exclusivity and the constitutional mandate
to the federal government to strictly enforce this policy throughout the Mexican Army (SEDENA).
As a result of these foundations, manufacturing for civilian use has been almost inexistent in Mexico.
Production for government agencies has been rare and, when it has occurred, it has been carried out
monopolistically by the Army, for the Army itself. The rationale behind was to restrict the supply to
civilians under the ‘least-guns-as possible’ paradigm.
In terms of civil possession, for instance, Mexican citizens who want to acquire a gun have to register
to be granted with