At Mexico's Lone Gun Shop, Army Oversees Sales

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According to the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, there are roughly 54,000 licensed gun dealers in the U.S. In Mexico there is only one.

Mexico's lone gun shop is on a sprawling military compound in the capital that serves as the headquarters of the Mexican army. It's sort of as if the only place in the United States to buy a gun was in a back office at the Pentagon.

Soldiers stand guard at the metal detectors at the shop's entrance.

Inside, handguns and rifles are displayed behind glass in long wooden cabinets.

Mexican Army Lt. Col. Raul Manzano Velez runs the shop. He explains that ordinary citizens can buy only one handgun. It must stay inside the home where it's registered and it can't be larger than a .38 special.

"They can buy a .22-caliber pistol or revolver up to a .38 special," he says. "It's very limited in Mexico the models available in these calibers."

Hunting and sport rifles can be transported, but they are also heavily regulated.

Javier Manuel Irineo, who is looking through the cabinet glass at some .22-caliber rifles, is a fairly typical customer. He is a farmer and wants a gun to protect his fields.

"I want something to shoot the animals that have been eating my corn," he says.

He says he thinks the regulations in Mexico are reasonable.

To buy a gun in Mexico you first have to fill out some forms. Then your employer has to fill out some forms. And all these forms have to get sent to the army, which decides whether you are eligible to have a gun.

Manzano says if there are no problems, an application can be processed in about a week. But to pick up the firearm, the buyer has to come to this shop in the capital.

"At the moment they come into the shop we take their fingerprints and enter all their information into an electronic database," he says.

Even someone near the U.S. border would have to travel here in person to legally buy a weapon. From Tijuana that would be a two-day bus trip — in each direction.

Manzano says only 7,000 to 8,000 weapons are sold legally in Mexico each year and that includes sales to private security firms.

Yet last year, Mexican authorities seized almost 30,000 weapons that were in the hands primarily of the drug cartels.

Adrian Franco Zevada with the Mexican attorney general's office says gun smuggling from the U.S. is undermining Mexico's efforts to fight organized crime.

"It's quite a hassle to legally own and legally purchase guns in Mexico," he says. So the cartels are getting their weapons, according to Franco, in the U.S.

Close to two-thirds of the firearms seized in Mexico are sophisticated rifles and assault weapons — AK-47s, R-15s, .50-caliber Barretts, Mexican authorities say.

"These are guns that are not made for recreational purposes," Franco says. "These are guns of war." He says guns from the U.S. are arming criminal organizations in Mexico. And he says this is a huge problem that needs to be addressed.

Inside Mexico's only gun store, they actually have some of these weapons Franco refers to — in cabinets that are clearly marked "for government forces only."

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