Article published Tuesday, May 22, 2010, at Fox News.

Mexico's Calderon Knows Nothing About America's Gun Laws

Felipe Calderon's understanding of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban is no more accurate than it is about Arizona's new immigration law.

By John R. Lott, Jr.

During his trip to the United States Mexico's President Felipe Calderón received a lot of attention for falsely claiming that Arizona's new immigration law uses "racial profiling." Calderon's attacks on U.S. policies continued during his address to Congress on Thursday. Immigration wasn’t his only topic. He spent over four minutes of his address lecturing Americans and calling them on to renew the Federal Assault Weapons Ban that sunset in September 2004.

Calderon's message was simple: the reason that Mexicans are losing the drug war is because the U.S. assault weapons ban expired. Yet, Calderon's understanding of what the Federal Assault Weapons Ban is no more accurate than it is about Arizona's new immigration law. Let's review the assertions he made to Congress:

-- Calderon claimed that these were "powerful weapons." It is a common misunderstanding as the "assault weapons" ban conjures up images of machine guns used by militaries. Yet the 1994 federal assault weapons ban had nothing to do with machine guns, only semiautomatics, which fire one bullet per pull of the trigger. The AK-47s banned by the assaults weapons ban were civilian, semiautomatic versions of the gun. The banned guns fired the same type of bullets, with the same rapidity, and doing the same damage as deer hunting rifles. Their inside guts are essentially the same as deer hunting rifles -- some people just like to own these "military-style" weapons because of the way they look on the outside. The firing mechanisms in semiautomatics and machine guns are completely different. The entire firing mechanism of a semi-automatic gun has to be gutted and replaced to turn it into a military AK-47.

Just as Mexican drug cartels are able to bring drugs into their country, they are also able to bring in really powerful weapons from around the world to defend both their valuable drugs as well their turf against competing drug dealers. Reports indicate that grenades and rocket launchers are not even available for sale in the United States and come from countries such as South Korea, Israel, and Spain. Two thousand two hundred thirty nine grenades were seized by the Mexican government from 2007 to 2009. Similarly, machine guns in Mexico originate from China, Israel, and South Africa.

It is hard to believe that Mexican drug cartels would want to get look-alike "military-style" weapons from the U.S., when they can get the real military weapons elsewhere.

Calderon also asserted: "And if you look carefully you will notice that the violence in Mexico started to grow a couple of years before I took office in 2006. This coincides, at least, with the lifting of the assault weapons ban in 2004."

Calderon took office on December 1, 2006. And it is understandable that he would want to claim that the increase in murder rates started before he became president. It is also understandable that he would want to blame his country’s rising crime rate on the United States, but it simply isn't true. As *this* graph from The Los Angeles Times demonstrates, Mexico's homicide rate fell from 15.8 homicides per 100,000 people in 1997 to less than 10 per 100,000 people in 2006. This is a fact, despite Calderon's contention that if "you look carefully" you will see an increase in violence from the U.S. Assault Weapons Ban sunsetting. The 2007 and 2008 homicide rates were both lower than the rate in 2004. It seems pretty clear that the homicide rate in 2009 was higher than 2008, but it isn't clear why a change in U.S. law should take five years to cause an increase in crime especially in Mexico.

-- Calderon also warned: "And with all due respect, if you do not regulate the sale of these weapons in the right way, nothing guarantees that criminals here in the United States with access to the same power of weapons will not decide to challenge American authorities and civilians." There has been no increase in murder rates in the U.S. since the Federal Assault Weapons sunset in September 2004. The U.S. murder rate was 5.7 per 100,000 people in 2003, the last full year without the law, and in only one year since then has the murder rate been as high as 5.7. In 2008, the murder rate was down to 5.4. In fact, the just released third edition of my book "More Guns, Less Crime” covers the years from 1977 to 2005 and shows that the federal and state assault weapon bans coincides with slight, but very statistically significant, increases in murder and robbery rates.

-- Calderon said, "Just to give you an idea, we have seized 75,000 guns and assault weapons in Mexico in the past three years, and more than 80 percent of those we have been able to trace came from the United States," Calderon told Congress.

As Fox News reported last year, not all the weapons seized in Mexico even have serial numbers that allow them to be traced and those weapons come from countries other than the United States. "Not every weapon seized in Mexico has a serial number on it that would make it traceable, and the U.S. effort to trace weapons really only extends to weapons that have been in the U.S. market," Matt Allen, special agent of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), told Fox News for the investigation that they conducted. All that the “more than 80 percent number” cited by Calderon means is that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives could trace that percentage of the guns that had been submitted by Mexico to the U.S.

The true percentage of guns that have gone from the United States to Mexico isn't known, but if American-made guns without serial numbers are excluded, the percentage is probably around 20 percent. (All American-made guns were required to have serial numbers after 1968 and many guns were made with serial numbers at least as far back as the 1930s.) Even if these very old guns are included the percentage rises to at most to 36 percent. It isn't clear how any new American gun laws are going to effect guns probably taken to Mexico more than 40 years ago.

President Calderón really needs to read American laws before he lectures us about how we should change them. More worrisome, the vast majority of Democrats appeared to stand up and give him a long 20 second standing ovation when Calderón called for renewing the Assault Weapons Ban. Banning guns based on their looks and not how they function doesn't make a lot of sense for reducing crime.

John R. Lott Jr. is a contributor. He is an economist and the author of "More Guns, Less Crime (University of Chicago Press, 2010), the third edition will be published in May.".

Home (description of book, downloadable data sets, and discussions of previous controversies)

Academic papers:

Social Science Research Network

Book Reviews:

For a list of book reviews on The Bias Against Guns, click here.

List of my Op-eds

Posts by topic

Appalachian law school attack

Baghdad murder rate

Arming Pilots

Fraudulent website pretending to be run by me

The Merced Pitchfork Killings and Vin Suprynowicz's quote

Ayres and Donohue

Stanford Law Review

Mother Jones article


Craig Newmark

Eric Rasmusen

William Sjostrom

Dr. T's

Interview with National Review Online

Lyonette Louis-Jacques's page on Firearms Regulation Worldwide

The End of Myth: An Interview with Dr. John Lott

Cold Comfort, Economist John Lott discusses the benefits of guns--and the hazards of pointing them out.

An interview with John R. Lott, Jr. author of More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws

Some data not found at

Updated Media Analysis of Appalachian Law School Attack

Since the first news search was done additional news stories have been added to Nexis:

There are thus now 218 unique stories, and a total of 294 stories counting duplicates (the stories in yellow were duplicates): Excel file for general overview and specific stories. Explicit mentions of defensive gun use increase from 2 to 3 now.

Journal of Legal Studies paper on spoiled ballots during the 2000 Presidential Election

Data set from USA Today, STATA 7.0 data set

"Do" File for some of the basic regressions from the paper