Latin America


The mayor of Mexico City is offering his constituents a trade: cash, bicycles, even computers in exchange for their guns. He says the buyback program will make the streets safer but not all of his fellow mayors are rushing to copy the program. Some in cities overrun by drug traffickers say it's important for law abiding citizens to be able to protect themselves.

From Mexico City, NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.


CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Florentino Olmos sat in a line of folding chairs on the huge esplanade of Mexico City's Basilica Catholic Church. On his lap, a .22-caliber automatic pistol. He and about two dozen other armed residents awaited their turn to hand over the weapons, no questions asked, to a member of the Mexican army.

FLORENTINO OLMOS: (Speaking foreign language)

KAHN: Olmos is 53 and drives a taxi for a living. He says he got the pistol about a year ago after a traffic accident. The guy who hit him couldn't pay for the damage to Olmos' car, so instead gave him the pistol as collateral. The guy never came back.

OLMOS: (Speaking foreign language)

KAHN: He says he heard about the buyback program on TV and brought it down. He's glad to get rid of it legally. Few guns are legally owned in Mexico, getting a permit is difficult. The buyback program started just three weeks ago and already authorities have retrieved nearly 1,500 weapons, including a grenade launcher. One man turned in 19 guns.

Mexico City's Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera told the crowd gathered on the Basilica church grounds that he hopes the program will bring peace to the city.

MAYOR MIGUEL ANGEL MANCERA: (Speaking foreign language)

KAHN: That's the message we are getting, says Mancera, we want to trade these weapons for computer tablets, for other goods that will bring education to our homes instead of violence. The program has been so successful, according to the mayor's office, that they've expanded it to other regions of the city and have even started sending brigades of workers door-to-door to urge residents to turn in their guns.

Mexico City's crime rate has been dropping in recent years, making it one of the safest in the country. But in towns overrun with drug violence, especially those near the U.S. border, some mayors are urging authorities to let residents own weapons.

MAYOR JOSE ELIGIO MEDINA: (Speaking foreign language)

KAHN: Jose Eligio Medina is the mayor of Concordia in the state of Sinaloa. It's home to the powerful cartel run by Mexico's most wanted trafficker, Joaquin Chapo Guzman. He says he thinks residents, especially those living in the rural and dangerous areas of Mexico, should be able to protect themselves.

MEDINA: (Speaking foreign language)

KAHN: He says he doesn't think everyone should have a gun, but that they should be able to form self-defense brigades. Eligio's proposal is gaining attention. But Luis Wertman, who runs a nonprofit citizen safety group in Mexico City and helped organize the gun buyback program, says arming citizens is not the solution.

LUIS WERTMAN: At the end, it works against the society. It doesn't bring you better quality of life, it doesn't give you more security. It generates worse things for the society.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking foreign language)

KAHN: A cashier counts out 3,000 pesos, about $250, for Florentino Olmos, who turned in his .22-caliber automatic.

OLMOS: (Speaking foreign language)

KAHN: Olmos says he could have gotten 4,000 pesos for the weapon on the black market. But this way, he knows that no one will be hurt, and that the gun is safely off the streets. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City.

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