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Mexico ambassador says NRA can help stem gun flows

By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) should be helping the United States and Mexico stem a flow of U.S. guns to Mexico's drug war, Mexico's top diplomat in Washington said on Wednesday.

Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico's ambassador to the United States, said the NRA needs to help combat the illegal trafficking of guns into Mexico by educating American gun owners and sellers about how it threatens security in Mexico.

"This would be a win/win for the NRA," Sarukhan told the Council of Foreign Relations in New York. "They ensure they are not being criticized for ... either complicity, overtly or covertly allowing guns to go into the hands of drug traffickers who then cross them over the border into Mexico."

A raging drug war has killed 31,000 people in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and sent the military to combat the cartels fighting security forces and each other over smuggling routes into the United States.

About 90 percent of the guns seized and traced in Mexico last year were initially sold in the United States. This "iron river" of weapons flowing south to the cartels includes assault rifles and decorative pistols popular with drug kingpins.

The NRA said the United States has adequate laws to address illegal gun sales and trafficking and that Sarukhan was trying to blame the United States for a problem that was Mexico's fault.

"It is wrong for him to blame the second amendment and the National Rifle Association for a problem that originates in his own country," NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said. "This is a very serious and sad situation but the solution has to come from within Mexico."

The second amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives citizens the right to own a gun. Some 90 million people own an estimated 200 million guns in the United States, among a population of about 300 million.

A U.S. Justice Department report on Tuesday said U.S. efforts to slow the flow of guns into Mexico was hampered by failures at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that traces and seizes the weapons.

(Editing by John O'Callaghan)