CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico – Despite strict gun-control laws in Mexico, crime scenes are riddled with bullet holes. Both drug cartels and common criminals have guns. Now more private citizens are arming themselves for protection, even if it means breaking the law.
“People are desperate,” said Rogelio “Chief” Bravo, a private investigator in El Paso who has worked for clients just across the border in Ciudad Juarez too. “They’re telling the government, if you can’t protect us, let us protect ourselves.”
Juarez is ground zero in the drug war with 8,000 killings since the city exploded in violence in 2008.
Mexican authorities regularly display the weapons they confiscate from powerful drug traffickers.
Earlier this month, federal police raided a home in an upscale neighborhood in Ciudad Juarez looking for kidnapping victims. Instead they found a well-stocked arsenal that included three anti-aircraft guns, a grenade launcher, dozens of grenades, AK47s and several machine guns.
The stash was hidden behind a mirrored wall in a gym that opened at the touch of a button on the floor. Inside with the weapons and ammunition there was a poster of the 1983 movie drug lord “Scarface” played by Al Pacino.
Many ordinary residents in Mexico believe guns are banned.
“The Mexican constitution allows people to possess firearms,” explained John Hubert, a certified-concealed hand gun instructor in El Paso. “But over the years the government has passed so many requirements and laws and restrictions that it’s basically almost impossible.”
Hubert and his wife, who is also a certified concealed handgun instructor, own the El Paso Shooters Academy.
They’ve trained licensed gun owners in Texas who are dual Mexican citizens.
“They live here in the states and they also live over there. They’re doing it for protection,” said Kathy Hubert. “We’re kind of phasing that out, unless we know who they are.”
She recalled one family in Mexico who wanted tactical training.
“These people did have a ranch and they had guns. They were doing it for protection, coming over here for more training,” she said.
Gun owners in Mexico by law must register their weapons with the military, which is the only authorized gun dealer. Any weapon above 22 calibers is only authorized for military use.
“People cannot defend themselves,” said Bravo, the private investigator as he practiced his shot at a shooting range in El Paso. He then demonstrated the tiny bullet hole from a 22 compared to the larger 9 mm, or even larger 40 caliber firearm on the target.
According to residents in the state of Chihuahua bordering Texas, more people are banding together to form gun clubs, especially in rural Mexico. The military licenses gun clubs for sport or hunting.
Residents in the Nuevo Casas Grandes, LeBaron and Galeana said people are well armed in the region. All wanted to remain anonymous for fear they could run into trouble with authorities. Even those who had registered their guns did not want their names revealed.
One long-time resident said a relative asked soldiers how he could protect himself if he ran into trouble tending to an apple orchard in a remote area frequented by drug traffickers.
They reminded the apple grower the law requires gun owners to keep their weapons at home. One solider wished him luck and added “Que Dios te bendiga.”
Ttranslation: May God bless you.