Columns / Discourse / February 6, 2013

Power of government regarding the right to bear arms

The rationale behind the second amendment “right to bear arms” was to enable citizens to defend themselves from a despotic government. Our southern neighbor, Mexico, also has a constitution that grants citizens the right to bear arms. Interestingly enough, Mexicans are using their weapons to protect themselves against a force that is considerably more formidable and powerful than their government — which has consistently been considered too weak to accomplish much of anything.

In the midst of contentious gun control debates, the denizens of a rural town in Mexico have not only taken up arms against drug cartels and organized crime, but they have also managed to establish a palpable degree of law and order.

According to Ayutla residents, their town is a much safer place to live ever since informal militias (composed of ordinary men and women armed with machetes, hunting rifles and the occasional semi automatic rifle) have organized their efforts and taken control. Vigilante groups from neighboring provinces have also begun to use violent means to defend their populace.

The response of government and law enforcement officials to vigilante efforts has generally been positive, even though the militias in the Mexican state of Guerrero have also forbidden federal and state armies from entering. According to Guerrero Governor Ángel Aguirre, the citizens of Ayutla are practicing their right to self arm and are therefore operating legally under Mexican law. The rise of ragtag militias illustrates the weakness of local, state, and federal police authority.

In fact, local police officers are often hesitant to arrest criminals because they are afraid of being victims of revenge; this is especially true in cases when there is not enough evidence to charge a crime and the suspected criminals is released.
Disappointment and pessimism characterize the general sentiment towards the Mexican state. Much of the country’s federal resources is heavily invested in curbing gang and drug-related violence in Mexico City, where drug trafficking is the strongest and most invasive. Village citizens claim their government has egregiously neglected to protect them, and has therefore left them with no other alternative means of defense.

In spite of the local militias’ good intentions to protect its people, their efforts unabashedly run the risk of punishing innocent individuals mistaken for gang members or for committing crimes. Individuals are powerless when accused of wrongdoing, especially since townspeople are allowed to remain anonymous when reporting an offense.  A makeshift detention center in El Mezón houses individuals suspected of being part of the gang Los Pelores for an undetermined period of time.  Militia leaders claim that suspects will be given a fair trial, even though they are denied the right to have legal representation.

Many Americans are hell-bent against stronger gun laws and firearm regulation. Those that especially oppose stronger gun control claim that additional regulation invades their fundamental liberty. In their view, granting the federal government more power and control to curb gun violence unavoidably decreases their ability to protect themselves from harm’s way. But the case in Mexico illustrates what happens when one’s own government is too weak to defend their population against an internal non-governmental force. Even though the U.S. and Mexico are quite dissimilar in culture and history, one cannot dismiss the benefits of having a competent, and therefore powerful, federal government.

Tags:  bear arms crime government gun gun control Mexico second amendment victim

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