According to an article published in the Washington Post this week, entitled, In volatile Mexican state, it's citizens vs. cartels, residents across the Mexican state of Michoacan are increasingly organizing into citizen militias in order to combat the threat posed by one of the country's most powerful and ruthless drug cartels. And despite strict federal laws barring most civilian firearm ownership, average citizens are arming themselves for the fight with everything from machetes to old hunting rifles, to firearms seized from their cartel enemies.
The article describes the formation of the militias as a "desperate reaction" to a reign of terror carried out by Mexico's third largest cartel, the Knights Templar. Cartel actions in the region include drug smuggling, general violence and intimidation, and an extortion racket that taxes every avenue of commerce, from the revenues of a taco stand to the wages of a farm laborer. Those who refuse to pay can be subject to having their loved ones kidnapped, or death.
Local and federal government attempts to reign in the cartel have proven fruitless. Some interviewed for the story noted that they had filed complaints about cartel activities only to be ignored, while another accused local officials of outright corruption. The Mexican federal government has stationed 3,000 Mexican soldiers in the region, but militia supporters are skeptical, with one stating, "We don't know if they are helping us or hurting us." The report notes, "Soldiers have unsuccessfully tried to disarm the militias, which residents believe would amount to a death sentence."
According to the Post, the leader of the campaign, a 55-year-old doctor named Jose Manuel Mireles, "described what is happening as an armed social movement," with thousands of "citizen-fighters." And the movement appears to be working. Mireles told the reporter, "These people who had tied people up, blindfolded them and executed them, when we shoot, they run. I think they are afraid of us."
This isn't the first instance in which Michoacans have banded together to fight the cartels. In 2011, the Post reported on a citizen militia in the town of Cheran, organized to fight the threat of cartel-backed illegal loggers. Reliant on the forest as a natural resource vital to their livelihood, residents threw out their unhelpful, or some say complicit, local government, and replaced it with one that permitted the formation of a citizen militia.
Similarly, in 2011, the El Paso Times reported that "teachers, ranchers, town officials, business owners and lawyers" in the Mexican state of Chihuahua were defying the law to arm themselves against criminal violence. According to those interviewed, ignoring the law is necessary, as only "affluent people or politicians" can acquire a permit to carry a concealed weapon, which can require a bribe of up to $10,000.
The recent experience in Michoacan outlined in the Post serves as a testament to the power of armed citizens in the face of violent criminals and ineffective government. Additionally, it is an important reminder that the right to self-defense protected by the Second Amendment is not just an American right, but an innate human right that is not conditional upon a given government's respect for it. It's a bitter irony that even as President Obama promotes gun bans in the United States as a solution to the violence caused by Mexican cartels, ordinary Mexicans are forced to defy existing bans in their country to fight for their lives. Their experience is a lesson for those who think more laws somehow change the predatory instincts of evildoers who operate outside the law.