The only gun shop in all of Mexico is behind a fortress-like wall on a heavily guarded military base on the outskirts of Mexico City, reports the Los Angeles Times. To enter the Directorate of Arms and Munitions Sales, customers must undergo months of background checks, which require submission of six documents. The facility embodies the country’s cautious approach to firearms, and a visit there illustrates the dramatically different ways two neighboring countries view guns, legally and culturally. Like the 2nd Amendment in the United States, Mexico’s Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms, but it also stipulates that federal law “will determine the cases, conditions, requirements and places” of gun ownership. For many Mexicans, even those who love guns, the thought of an unfettered right to owning one is perplexing.
Yet as with so many aspects of life in Mexico, the influence of its powerful neighbor is keenly felt: Each day the army gun store sells on average just 38 firearms to civilians, while an estimated 580 weapons are smuggled into Mexico from the U.S. That paradox is increasingly relevant given Mexico’s unprecedented gun violence, which has claimed more than 100,000 lives over the last decade. Last year was Mexico’s deadliest since the government began releasing homicide statistics in 1997. This year, it is on track to surpass that record. American firearms are directly driving the violence. About 70 percent of guns recovered by Mexican officials from 2011 to 2016 were originally purchased from legal gun dealers in the U.S., according to the ATF. Mexican leaders have long complained about the phenomenon.