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Column 012813 Wall

Monday, January 28, 2013

Sorting out the Story of Jon Hammar’s Imprisonment in Mexico

By Allan Wall

Last month, on December 21st, 2012, American Jon Hammar, Jr., was released from a Mexican prison after having been imprisoned since August.   

On the Mexican side, his release was thanks to a good Mexican lawyer, a Mexican chamber of commerce, and apparently the intervention of Mexico’s new President Enrique Peña Nieto (who took office December 1st).  On the U.S. side, Jon’s imprisonment was publicized by Fox News, and taken up by 68 members of Congress.  

Jon Hammar Jr., a 27-year old Marine vet who had served in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and who suffered from post-traumatic stress, was arrested by Mexican authorities on August 13th, 2012.  Jon and a buddy were traveling in a Winnebago.  Their planned destination was the Central American country of Costa Rica, where Jon planned to do   some surfing and hunting. 

Hammar never made it to Costa Rica, because upon entering Mexico he was arrested for carrying a shotgun, facing the possibility of 15 years in a Mexican prison.  (See the photo here of Jon Hammar, Jr., chained to his bed in a prison in Mexico.)

Mexican border authorities must have known immediately that Hammar was no arms smuggler, as old Sears & Roebuck shotguns are not in big demand among Mexican narco gangs.  Not only that, but Mexican border authorities knew Jon had the gun because he himself told them, thinking that if he declared the gun there’d be no problem.

After realizing he had the shotgun, Mexican border agents could have simply refused him entry, or they could have confiscated the weapon.  Instead they threw the whole force of Mexican law against him.

Definitely, Jon Hammar had made a big mistake.  There is a legal way to bring certain kinds of firearms into Mexico.  But Hammar didn’t follow the proper procedures, which include getting paperwork done out of a Mexican consulate in the United States beforehand. 

For some reason, a U.S. official on the border had, according to Jon, given him some really bad advice, having him fill out a form for the weapon on the U.S. side!  Thus, Jon Hammar thought it was fine, declared the shotgun to Mexican officials, and was subsequently arrested.

There are legal ways to bring firearms into Mexico.  American hunters do it all the time, with special permits granted by the Mexican government.  Here is a website about hunting in Mexico, and here is a page on the Mexican Customs website referring to these permits.

This is backed up by the applicable Mexican law, the Ley Federal de Armas de Fuego y Explosivos (Federal Law of Firearms and Explosives).  Article 59 allows the temporary importation of guns for tourists who hunt.  Maybe Hammar wasn’t planning to hunt in Mexico, he was only passing through to get to Costa Rica.  There’s a provision for that, too, in Article 63, about guns brought through “in transit,” of course with permission.

According to Articles 9 and 10, shotguns with barrels shorter than 25 inches are prohibited.  Jon’s old fowling piece was 24 inches long.  That means it was one inch under the limit.  According to Jon’s Mexican lawyer, there was some disagreement about the length and how it was measured.     

But assuming it really is 24 inches, how big a deal is that usually?  According to Robert Bell, of Tall Tine Outfitters of Mexico, "People are usually fined and released if they don't have the appropriate permit.”

In Hammar’s case it seemed they were making an example out of him.

That’s what Hammar’s Mexican lawyer, Eddie Varon-Levy, believed: "The administration of Felipe Calderon and Attorney General Marisela Morales has had the attitude that they have to make examples of people that laws have to be enforced."   

As the lawyer put it, "They could have just taken the gun and not filed any charge. This case should not even be tried."

As mentioned above, Hammar’s release was thanks to a good Mexican lawyer, and apparently the intervention of Mexican President Peña Nieto.  Jon also had support from the Mexican Chamber of Commerce of the State of Tamaulipas, which called for Hammar’s release on the grounds that his “imprisonment sends a bad sign to tourists in the United States.”      

On the U.S. side, Jon’s imprisonment was publicized by Fox News (especially Bill O’Reilly) and taken up by 68 members of Congress, including Ileanna Ros-Lehtinen and Ben Nelson of Florida, and Duncan Hunter Jr. of California.  Apparently there wasn’t much help from the Obama administration/Clinton state department.  There were some diplomatic visits, facilitation of communication, and they helped out the day Jon was released. 

An important lesson for visitors to Mexico (or any foreign country) is to do your necessary investigation beforehand.  Certainly, if you want to bring a weapon into the country make sure you know it’s of legal type, and go through the proper procedures before you ever drive across the border.

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Allan Wall, an educator, resided in Mexico for many years.  His website is located at http://www.allanwall.info.


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