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Summary

The right to bear arms in Mexico is granted in the Constitution.  This right has been extensively regulated by the Federal Penal Code, the Federal Law on Firearms and Explosives (which greatly expands the provisions of the Federal Penal Code), and the Regulations of the Federal Law on Firearms and Explosives.  The Federal Penal Code specifies the types of firearms that may be possessed or carried by citizens and restricts others for use by the armed forces.  The carrying of firearms requires an individual or collective license, for which specific requirements must be met.  Applicants for licenses to carry weapons are generally required to post a bond, provide a justification for the weapon, and submit evidence of good conduct, among other things.  Licenses may be suspended or cancelled by the Secretariat of National Defense in certain circumstances, typically having to do with the license holder’s conduct.  Holders of licenses are restricted from carrying their firearms at or during specified public events, with certain exceptions for rodeos and gun-related events, or at any gathering where disputes are predictable.  The Federal Law on Firearms and Explosives imposes restrictions on the manufacture, import, and export of firearms, and adds a long list of penalties for violations of its provisions to supplement those provided by the Federal Penal Code.  The Law imposes stiff penalties for the smuggling of arms reserved exclusively for the armed forces.  Mexico is a party to the Geneva Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons.

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Introduction

Like the United States, Mexico has a constitutional provision granting its citizens the right to bear arms, as well as legislation prescribing the limits on that right.  Article 10 of the Constitution reads as follows:

Article 10.  The inhabitants of the United Mexican States have the right to possess arms in their homes for their security and legitimate defense with the exception of those [weapons] prohibited by federal law and those reserved for the exclusive use of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and National Guard.  Federal law shall determine the cases, conditions, requirements and places [under and] in which the inhabitants may be authorized to bear arms.[1]

The above fundamental right has been extensively implemented and regulated by the Federal Penal Code,[2] as amended, and the Federal Law on Firearms and Explosives, as amended,[3] and its Regulations.[4]  Additionally, penal laws of the several states may be applicable.

The carrying of firearms by certain government employees is also subject to the regulations of the government ministries that employ them.[5] Treaties play a role in Mexico’s firearms restrictions, although largely in regard to the selection of weapons for the military.[6]

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The Federal Penal Code: Prohibited Weapons

Articles 160–163 of the Federal Penal Code deal with prohibited weapons.  Article 160 provides that persons who carry, manufacture, import, or store, without a legal purpose, instruments that can only be used to attack (agredir), and which have no application for work or for recreation, will be imprisoned for three months to three years, fined a sum of up to 360 days of the guilty party’s net income,[7] and have their weapons confiscated.  These crimes are punishable without prejudice to the provisions of the Federal Law on Firearms and Explosives.

Article 160 of the Federal Penal Code further provides that public employees may carry the arms needed to perform their duties, subject to applicable laws.

Article 161 states that licenses are required to carry or sell pistols or revolvers.

Article 162 imposes imprisonment from six months to three years plus a fine of 180 to 360 days of the guilty party’s net income for the following persons:

  1. - Whoever imports, manufacturers, or sells the weapons described in article 160; or whoever gives them away or sells them;
  2. - Whoever places pistols or revolvers on sale without legal authorization;
  3. - Whoever carries the weapons described in article 160;
  4. - Whoever without a legal purpose, and without the required permission,
    stockpiles arms; and
  5. - Whoever without a license carries any weapon listed in article 161.

Additionally, any weapons involved in the above-described acts are to be confiscated.

Article 163 provides that the licenses mentioned in article 161 will be granted by the President through the designated department or secretariat, subject to the applicable laws and the following:

  1. The sale of weapons described in article 161 may only be made by mercantile establishments, and not by individuals; and
  2. Applicants for licenses to carry arms must meet the following requirements:
    1. They must post bond in the amount set by the authority; and
    2. They must prove their need to carry weapons as well as their prior history of honesty and prudence, with the testimony of five persons well-known to the authorities.

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Federal Law on Firearms and Explosives: Firearms Restrictions

           Registration and Possession

The President, through the Secretariats of Internal Affairs and National Defense, controls all arms in the nation.  To that end, a Federal Arms Registry (Registro Federal de Armas) is to be established by the Secretariat of National Defense.[8]

Title Two of the Federal Law on Firearms and Explosives requires all firearms to be registered with the Secretariat of National Defense in the Federal Arms Registry.[9] Neither possession nor carrying of any arms prohibited by law or restricted to the exclusive use of the Army, Navy, and Air Force is allowed, except as provided in this Law.[10]

           Permitted Firearms

Tools and utensils known to be used for farming or for any trade, profession, or sport are not considered prohibited arms, providing they are used at the work or sport site, or if it can be shown that they are being transported for the purpose of their use in work or sport.[11]

Possession or carrying of arms with the following characteristics is allowed, but subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Federal Law on Firearms and Explosives:

I.- Semiautomatic pistols with a caliber not greater than .380 (9 mm.), but excluding .38 Super and .38 Commander [Comando] pistols and the 9 mm. Mauser, Luger, Parabellum, and Commander pistols, as well as similar 9 mm. models of other brands.[12]

II.- Revolvers with a caliber not greater than the .38 Special, excluding the .357 Magnum.[13]

Members of agricultural collectives [ejidatarios y comuneros] and other farm workers [jornaleros del campo] may possess and carry, outside of urban areas, any of the [permitted] arms mentioned above, or a .22 caliber rifle or shotgun of any caliber, except those with a barrel longer than 635 mm. (25) and those with a caliber greater than 12 (.729 or 18.5 mm.) [providing these have been licensed].[14]

Concerning hunting and target shooting, the Law provides that

     [t]hose arms that hunters or target shooters may be authorized to possess in their homes and to carry, with a license, are the following:

I.- Pistols, revolvers, and .22 caliber rifles with revolving magazines (de fuego circular).

 

II.- .38 caliber pistols for Olympic or competition shooting.

 

III.- Shotguns of all calibers and models except those with barrels of less than 635 mm. (25), and those of a caliber greater than 12
(.729 or 18.5 mm.).

 

IV.- Three-barrel shotguns of the calibers permitted in the preceding section, with one barrel for metal cartridges of a different caliber.

 

V.- High-powered repeating or semiautomatic rifles, not convertible into automatics, with the exception of the .30 caliber carbine rifles,
short carbines (mosquetones), and .223 caliber carbines, 7 and 7.62 mm., and Garand .30 caliber rifles.

 

VI.- High-powered rifles of calibers greater than those mentioned in the preceding section, for use abroad, with special permission,
for the hunting of big game that do not exist among the national fauna.

 

VII.- Other sporting arms consistent with the legal rules for hunting . . . or the regulations of national or international target-shooting
organizations for use in competitions.[15]

The Secretariat of National Defense is authorized to determine which target-shooting or hunting weapons and munitions may be possessed,[16] but, in regard to hunting weapons, it must obtain the opinion of other secretaries and agencies before making a determination.[17]

Application for approval of a type of hunting or target-shooting firearm may be made directly or through an association or club.[18]

For those who practice the sport of charreria (giving Mexican-style “cowboy” demonstrations), authorization may be granted to have revolvers of a caliber greater than .38, but only for the sake of authenticity of their costumes, and these revolvers must be carried unloaded.[19]

The destruction, loss, or theft of arms must be reported to the Secretariat of Defense, in compliance with regulations issued for this purpose.[20]

Articles 21–23 of the Law deal with gun collecting and museums.  Gun collectors and private or public museums, with prior permission of the Secretariat of National Defense, may have collections of old and/or modern arms.  They may possess arms prohibited by this Law if these are valuable (tengan valor) or have cultural, scientific, artistic, or historic significance.  If a collection or museum not connected to a military institute of the nation has arms reserved for the exclusive use of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, written authorization from the respective branch of the military must also be obtained.[21]

Prior permission is required to acquire new arms for private collections, and these arms must be registered.[22] Disposing of arms in collections, either as a collection or individually, also requires prior authorization.[23]

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Gun Ownership

Under the Federal Law on Firearms and Explosives, arms may be kept in the home for the defense of the owner and those who live there, but such arms must be registered with the Secretariat of National Defense.[24] To make these controls effective, for purposes of the Registry, individuals may have only a single domicile for themselves and their family.[25] Anyone who acquires one or more arms is obligated to register it with the Secretariat of National Defense within thirty days, stating in writing the brand, caliber, model, and serial number if it has one.[26]

Public servants and the chiefs of the federal police services and of those of the Federal District, the States, and municipalities are also obligated to register the arms under their control.[27] Prohibited arms for the purpose of this Law include those already listed in the Federal Penal Code.[28]

           Licenses for Carrying Firearms

A license is required to carry arms, and articles 24–26 of the Law set forth the applicable requirements for obtaining a license.

Licenses are of two types: for officials and for private parties.  Licenses for officials are valid so long as the person holds the position or job that provides the basis for issuing the license.  Licenses for private parties must be renewed every two years.[29] Licenses for private parties may be issued individually for private individuals, or collectively for private legal entities.[30]

             Individual Licenses

Licenses for individuals are for the exclusive use of that individual.  Licenses are issued to private individuals who

  1. earn their living by honest means,
  2. have completed any military service obligation,
  3. have no physical or mental impediment to their use of arms,
  4. have not been convicted of any crime committed with the use of arms,
  5. do not consume psychotropic or other prohibited drugs, and
  6. demonstrate, in the judgment of the Secretariat of National Defense, a need to carry arms because of:
    1. the nature of their occupation or employment,
    2. the special circumstances of the place in which they live, or
    3. any other legitimate reason.[31]

Licenses to private individuals for one or more firearms may also be issued for the purposes of target shooting or hunting, but only if the interested party is a member of a registered club or association and meets the first five requirements listed above.[32]

               Collective Licenses

Licenses are to be issued to private legal entities that are organized under Mexican laws, as follows:

B.   Licenses are issued to [private] security services which

a)   have authorization to operate as a private security service;

b)   have a favorable opinion from the Secretariat of Interior about their justification and need to carry arms; about the amount and characteristics of the arms; and about the places where they may carry them.

C.   Licenses are issued to other legal entities when special circumstances justify doing so, according to the discretion of the Secretariat of National Defense, for their internal security service and protection of their facilities. They must comply with the controls and supervision of the Secretariat.[33]

Foreigners may be authorized to carry arms only when, in addition to satisfying the conditions set forth above, they also have immigrant status or are tourists, and thus may be issued temporary licenses for sporting purposes.[34]

Licenses to officials may be issued either to individual officials or collectively.  Collective licenses may be issued (a) to official dependencies and federal, public agencies under whose office the strategic installations of the country are placed, who must issue credentials, to be renewed every six months, to the individuals who will be using the firearms; and (b) to police departments.[35] These collective licenses are valid only for the number of persons on the police payrolls, and the police departments must issue credentials to the individuals who will be using these firearms.  The request for issuance of collective licenses must be made by the Secretariat of Interior to the Secretariat of Defense.[36]

Members of the Army, Navy, and Air Force are exempt from the licensing requirement in those cases and circumstances specified by the Law and applicable regulations.  Members of Federal Police institutions, the state police, the police of the Federal District and municipalities, and private security police may carry arms in those cases and circumstances established by the Law and applicable regulations.[37]

            Cancelling and Suspending Licenses

The Secretariat of National Defense has the power to issue, suspend, and cancel these licenses, with some exceptions, as provided in article 32, and must inform the Secretariat of the Interior about the licenses that it issues, suspends, or cancels.[38] A license may be cancelled if

I.- the holder makes bad use of the arms or license;

II.- the holder alters the license;

III.- the arms are used away from the authorized places;

IV.- the holder carries a firearm other than that licensed;

V.- the firearm’s original characteristics are altered;

VI.- the issuance of the license was based on fraud, or, in the judgment of the Secretariat of National Defense, the reasons for the issuance of the license no longer exist; or because of a supervening cause, one of the requirements for its issuance is not longer met;

VII.- a court of competent authority has ordered it cancelled;

VIII.- the holder changes domicile without notifying the Secretariat of National Defense; and

IX.- the holder fails to comply with the requirements of this Law or its Regulations.[39]

Licenses to carry arms may be suspended when in the judgment of the Secretariat of National Defense suspension is necessary to restore the tranquility of a municipality or region.[40] Article 32 provides that the Secretariat of Interior has the power to issue, suspend, and cancel official individual licenses to carry firearms to federal employees and must provide notification of such activity to the Secretariat of National Defense for recording in the National Registry of Firearms.[41]

            Restrictions on Licenses

Police credentials alone do not convey a right to carry arms unless there is a corresponding license to do so.[42] Licenses to carry arms must state the territorial limits in which they are valid.  In the case of neighborhood guards or those of a specific place, the license sets forth exactly the area in which they are valid.[43]

Holders of licenses to carry arms are prohibited from carrying these arms to public demonstrations and public celebrations, assemblies or similar meetings, boards and meetings in which disputes are to be argued, or to any gathering for whatever purpose at which disputes are predictable, and are also prohibited from any act to obtain a result through using or threatening to use arms.  Exceptions are made for parades and for sports events of charreria (rodeo), target shooting, and hunting.[44]

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Gun Manufacturing and Import-Export Issues

Articles 37–67 of the Law deal with the manufacture, trade, importation, and exportation of firearms.  Article 37 reserves to the President, acting through the Secretariat of Defense, the right to authorize the establishment of businesses to manufacture or trade in firearms.  The Law covers businesses dealing in any of the permitted firearms mentioned in Articles 9 and 10 of the Law, as well as ammunition and explosives (including but not limited to many types specifically listed), plus detonators, fireworks, and related materials.[45]

Article 55 provides that arms that are imported under ordinary or extraordinary import authorization must be destined to the precise use that is stated in the import authorization; any modification or change that may be made to such destination requires a new permit.[46]

Exporters of firearms must show that they have an import permit from the country to which the firearms are to be shipped.[47]

When commercial shipments of firearms for import or export are in the possession of Customs, the interested parties must notify the Secretariat of National Defense, which must designate a representative to intervene at the Customs Office.  Without meeting this requirement, the removal of the shipment from the Customs Office or its export out of the country cannot be permitted.[48]

Private parties who acquire arms or ammunition abroad must request an extraordinary permit to remove them from the Customs Office.[49]

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Smuggling Arms

The Federal Law on Firearms and Explosives supplements and greatly expands on the provisions of the Federal Penal Code.  Article 84 of the Law may be translated as follows:

Article 84.- Five to thirty years of prison and fines of twenty to five hundred days of the guilty party’s net income will be imposed:

I. Upon a person who participates in the clandestine introduction into the national territory of firearms, ammunition, cartridges, explosives, and materials that are reserved for the exclusive use of the National Army, Navy, and Air Force or are controlled in accordance with this Law.

II. Upon the public servant who, being obligated by his/her functions to prevent such introduction, does not do so.  Moreover, he/she will be fired from his/her employment or position and disqualified from performing any position or public commission; and

III. Upon a person who acquires the items referred to in paragraph one for commercial purposes.[50]

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Additional Infractions

The Law adds a very long list of penalty provisions separate from those listed in the Penal Code.[51] The range of sanctions for violations of the Law are from one to forty-five years of imprisonment, fines from one to 750 days of the guilty party’s net income, suspension or cancellation of the license, and confiscation of the weapons.[52]

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Educational Campaign

Title One of the Law on Firearms and Explosives requires the federal executive branch as well as the governments of the states, the Federal District, and each local jurisdiction (ayuntamiento) to conduct permanent educational campaigns with the aim of reducing the possession, carrying, and use of weapons of every type.  In addition, the Law only permits advertising for sporting arms used in hunting or target shooting under the restrictions set forth in the Law.[53]

Prepared by Norma C. Gutiérrez
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
February 2013

 

  1. Constitución Política de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos, as amended, Diario Oficial de la Federación [D.O.], Feb. 5, 1917, errata, D.O., Feb. 6, 1917. [Back to Text]
  2. Código Penal Federal, as amended, D.O., Aug. 14, 1931, available at http://www.diputados.gob.mx/ LeyesBiblio/pdf/9.pdf. [Back to Text]
  3. Ley Federal de Armas de Fuego y Explosivos, Dec. 29, 1971, D.O., Jan. 11, 1972, as amended.  The current text reflecting all amendments is available on the website of the Mexican Chamber of Deputies, at http://www.diputados.gob.mx/LeyesBiblio/pdf/102.pdf.  The English translations of the Law contained in this report are provided by the author. [Back to Text]
  4. Reglamento de la Ley Federal de Armas de Fuego y Explosivos, May 4, 1972, D.O., May 6, 1972. [Back to Text]
  5. E.g., Reglamento Interior de la Secretaría de Hacienda y Crédito Público, D.O. Sept. 11, 1996, as amended, art. 181(XIX) (dealing with the carrying of firearms by officials on official duty). [Back to Text]
  6. Mexico is a party to the 1980 Geneva Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons, http://untreaty.un.org/cod/avl/ha/cprccc/cprccc.html.  This Convention prohibits or restricts the use of certain weapons, including fragmenting explosives, whose pieces cannot be located with the use of X-rays; booby traps; and certain incendiary weapons.  Decreto de Promulgación de la Convención sobre Prohibiciones o Restricciones del Empleo de Ciertas Armas Convencionales que Puedan Considerarse Excesivamente Nocivas o de Efectos Indiscriminados y sus Tres Protocolos, D.O., May 4, 1982. [Back to Text]
  7. Fines in terms of earnings of the convicted person are defined in the Federal Penal Code. Código Penal Federal art. 29. [Back to Text]
  8. Ley Federal de Armas de Fuego y Explosivos art. 4. [Back to Text]
  9. Id. tit. 2. [Back to Text]
  10. Id. arts. 7, 8. [Back to Text]
  11. Id. art. 13. [Back to Text]
  12. Id. art. 9(I). [Back to Text]
  13. Id. art. 9(II). [Back to Text]
  14. Id. art. 9(II), para. 2. [Back to Text]
  15. Id. art. 10(I)–(VII). [Back to Text]
  16. Id. art. 19. [Back to Text]
  17. Id. [Back to Text]
  18. Id. [Back to Text]
  19. Id. art. 10(VII), para 2. [Back to Text]
  20. Id.art. 14. [Back to Text]
  21. Id. art. 21. [Back to Text]
  22. Id. art. 22. [Back to Text]
  23. Id. art. 23. [Back to Text]
  24. Id. art. 15. [Back to Text]
  25. Id. art. 16. [Back to Text]
  26. Id. art. 17. [Back to Text]
  27. Id. art. 18. [Back to Text]
  28. Id. art. 12. [Back to Text]
  29. Id. art. 25. [Back to Text]
  30. Id. art. 26. [Back to Text]
  31. Id. art. 26, para. I. [Back to Text]
  32. Id. [Back to Text]
  33. Id., para. II(B) & (C). [Back to Text]
  34. Id. art. 27. [Back to Text]
  35. Id. art. 29. [Back to Text]
  36. Id. [Back to Text]
  37. Id. art. 24. [Back to Text]
  38. Id. art. 30. [Back to Text]
  39. Id. art. 31. [Back to Text]
  40. Id. [Back to Text]
  41. Id. art. 32. [Back to Text]
  42. Id.art. 33. [Back to Text]
  43. Id. art. 34. [Back to Text]
  44. Id. art. 36. [Back to Text]
  45. Id. arts. 39, 41. [Back to Text]
  46. Id. art. 55. [Back to Text]
  47. Id. art. 56. [Back to Text]
  48. Id. art. 57. [Back to Text]
  49. Id.art. 58. [Back to Text]
  50. Id. art. 84. [Back to Text]
  51. See Código Penal Federal arts. 160–163. [Back to Text]
  52. Ley Federal de Armas de Fuego y Explosivos, tit. 2, arts. 77–91. [Back to Text]
  53. Id. art. 5. [Back to Text]

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Last Updated: 03/28/2014