By Eugenio Weigend
I have recently written about the effects of firearms on the current state of violence in Mexico. During my discussion, I have mentioned how the possession of firearms has had a dreadful effect on the behavior of criminal groups. Access to firearms makes these groups more prone to commit crimes such kidnappings, extortions and violent robberies.
The sense of insecurity in the country continues to be delicate, and public opinion remains skeptical towards the ability of the government and its institutions to protect its citizens. Considering this lack of trust in government, several regions have decided to take justice into their own hands. In Michoacan, for example, the population has created an “self-defense” group to protect themselves against the criminal organizations that operate in the region. This group has been able to tackle down several members of organized crime that have been responsible for kidnapping, extorting and abusing women.
Informal groups such as these come to play an important role on conflict areas. Since government has lost its ability to protect its population, defense groups have arisen in Mexico to fight organized crime. The informality and purpose of these groups make them outcasts from the official justice system and vulnerable to prosecution. However, they have been able to regain – to some degree – their lives as they used to be before organized crime took control. How are they doing it?
This is an odd example that shows how the possession of firearms by regular citizens can work as defense instruments to halt criminals. In Mexico, the law prohibits the possession of guns by its citizens and has very strong regulations towards firearms. However, in cases like this in which government is unable to protect its citizens, and in which the emergence of self-defense-groups becomes a successful solution to this government-task, then it is possible that the Mexican legislation could rethink its policies towards some type of firearms, allowing citizens to defend their homes.
I am not stating that everyone should be able to own a gun, and of course it is true that if the proliferation of these defense-groups continues, everything will spiral down into total chaos, as the government loses its monopoly over the use of force. However, given the lax regulations in the United States towards firearms, and the high impunity rates in Mexico that allow criminal groups to operate freely, giving citizens instruments to defend themselves may sound like a better option for the commonweal within this scenario of conflict in the short run.
To regulate firearms is a challenging debate and it does not differ much from the current debate regarding the regularization of marijuana. This situation is, without a doubt, a case that needs to be analyzed carefully. It is important to carry out a cost/benefit analysis and determine the effects that a shift in regulation like this may cause along with its unintended consequences and possible costs. The case of Michoacan has yet to conclude and its development will serve as a living example of these possible effects in the short run.
Overall, I am arguing that Michoacan is an interesting case study for the role of firearms in the hands of citizens, but it must be analyzed carefully and with serious studies. I still believe that it is important to continue the efforts to reduce the illegal flow of firearms from the United States and it is urgent that the rule of law return to Mexico at efficient levels to reduce criminal impunity.