“Even the priest keeps a pistol”

This story originally appeared in the March 6 edition of the El Paso Times.

NUEVO CASAS GRANDES, Mexico — On the ranch lands near the U.S. border, people no longer take security for granted and have turned to weapons to stave off drug thugs.

Teachers, ranchers, town officials, business owners and lawyers in rural towns of northwest Chihuahua near New Mexico have armed themselves.

Legal or not, they are ready to use their guns for protection.

In a country caught in the clutches of a vicious drug war, people have decided it’s better to fight than to fall victim to the violence, which has claimed about 35,000 people nationally.

It is estimated that 15.5 million weapons — including small-caliber handguns, shotguns and semiautomatic rifles — are owned by residents of Mexico while the army and the police have just under 1 million weapons at their disposal, according to a organization in Australia that tracks weapons worldwide.

Fed up with chronic violence, some Mexican residents might be ready to push their government to make weapons more easily available.

“I don’t go around without my gun anymore,” said an official in a nearby town. In November, gunmen shot him in the chest as he drove along a highway. Because of the small size of his town, he did not want to be identified.

The man keeps a pistol in a drawer at his office and another in his truck’s glove compartment. In January, the government issued him a license to carry a loaded .45-caliber gun.

Many others share the town official’s fear.

Life in areas southwest of Juárez has been cruel in the past two years. Besides slayings, a string of extortions, kidnappings and armed invasions of businesses and homes have taken them by surprise, many said. Fearful, these residents said they can’t just sit and watch while criminals attack callously.

Guns are necessary, they said.

The story continues here…