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‘Unprecedented’ School Shooting in Mexico Sparks Gun Control Debate

‘Unprecedented’ School Shooting in Mexico Sparks Gun Control Debate

Mexican law enforcement officials are investigating the origin of the .22 caliber pistol used in a school shooting that killed one person and left four injured in the northwestern city of Monterrey, in what the country’s media have deemed an “unprecedented” attack in scale.

Three people are still in critical condition, and the fifteen-year-old male shooter turned his gun on himself after opening fire at the school on Wednesday.

Aldo Fasci, the spokesperson for the state of Nuevo Leon’s secretariat of public safety, said the agency is questioning whether the pistol used in Wednesday’s shooting at the Colegio Americano del Noreste was obtained from the shooter’s home or through an illegal source. Over the last 10 years, the Mexican government led a tight clampdown on legal gun purchases in Mexico due to the ongoing drug war with local cartels, but many weapons are trafficked illegally across the U.S. border, including a spike in 2006 following the beginning of former President Felipe Calderon’s war with cartels.

Graphic footage of the school shooting leaked on social media shows the boy firing at seated classmates, some at point blank range, and at his teacher, before saying something to his remaining classmates and shooting himself in the head. State officials said the middle school teacher, Cecilia Cristina Solís, two 15-year-old students, and a 14-year-old were all injured, According to the Mexican daily Excelsior, they are still in critical condition. 

In light of this dramatic incident, a public debate between lawmakers over the effectiveness of Mexico’s notoriously strict gun control laws has already begun playing out in the country’s media. Mexicans have long observed the phenomenon of school shootings in the United States with astonishment. Wednesday’s incident has reinvigorated this debate, with calls for still tighter security measures and greater mental health measures available for students at schools.

In an editorial published Thursday, the right-leaning Mexican daily El Universal noted, that “the images of the massacre show a premeditated act which we had become accustomed to see in the United States, not here” and called out a “sick society” in Mexico, which the paper argued has lost touch with family values.

Unlike the United States, the Mexican Constitution creates a distinction between the right to own arms and the right to bear arms. While Mexican citizens are allowed to keep certain low caliber pistols and rifles explicitly permitted by law within private residences, carrying any kind of weapon, openly or concealed is prohibited, unless authorized by the Mexican department of defense. The country’s national gun debate has also been centered around the violence brought by drug cartels. According to El Universal, Monterrey has largely been spared from drug war violence, which has claimed 120,000 lives over seven years, and residents have reported a lower level of uncertainty and distrust in public safety than the national average, according to a survey conducted by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography, a government polling agency.

Since 2013, there have been at least six reported cases of young children or teenagers bringing firearms to schools that have ended in accidental discharges, a death, or minor wounds. None come near the scale of Wednesday’s event — the previous highest casualty total was one person.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said in a Twitter statement that the incident is a call to action for Mexican families to reinforce traditional family values.

According to the New York Times, Nuevo Leon’s education department implemented a school safety program in public schools that included random security checks of student backpacks as part of a regional initiative deemed “Operation Safe Backpack” in 2001. The Monterrey private school later phased out the program after heavy criticism from parents.

Fasci, the public safety spokesperson, said in a press conference on Wednesday mandatory checks may be reinstated.

“There was a reason why book bags were checked,” he said. “I think we are going to have to start doing it again.”

Photo Credit: JULIO CESAR AGUILAR/AFP/Getty Images