PHOENIX -- X-Caliber, a gun store in a nondescript neighborhood in this city's northern section, has become embroiled in Mexico's turmoil. The chaos there is the result of the Mexican government's decision to wage war against rampant drug cartels that are fighting mostly against each other but also against the portions of Mexican law enforcement they have not corrupted. Operating in that nation's north, they are serving this nation's appetite for illegal narcotics and illegal immigrants.
The gun shop's proprietor, the name of whose shop might indicate familiarity with Arthurian legend, is on trial here, accused of selling at least 650 weapons, including AK-47 rifles, in small lots to "straw buyers" -- persons who illegally pass the weapons on to the cartels, thereby fueling the violence that killed more than 6,000 Mexicans last year. That was more than 2,000 above the 2007 toll and fewer than will die if the rate of killing so far this year continues. (U.S. military fatalities in Iraq in six years number 4,249.) Fortunately, most of the fatalities are members of the warring cartels.
The prosecution of the proprietor is part of the U.S. attempt to stop the southward flow of weapons and bulk currency while Mexico combats the northward flow of drugs, and of human beings brought by "coyotes." But although almost all the cartels' weapons come from the United States, the cartels are generating upward of $15 billion annually from drugs, human trafficking and extortion. So they will find ways to get guns -- and grenades and other military weapons -- for their internecine disputes about control over routes for smuggling drugs and people.
When Gen. Michael Hayden stepped down as CIA director, he listed Mexico among America's biggest national security concerns. But even allowing for the stresses arising from the global economic downturn, speculation that Mexico, with the world's 13th-largest economy, is sinking toward the status of a "failed state" is far-fetched, as is the idea that the cartels can withstand a determined drive by the Mexican military, assisted by U.S. military technologies.