Published December 17, 2012
The gun that landed former Marine Jon Hammar in a notorious Mexican prison was legal under that country's federal laws, according to a well-known hunting guide who leads ventures south of the border.
Robert Beall, of Tall Tine Outfitters of Mexico and formerly host of the Pursuit Channel television show "World of Hunting," said the vintage Sears Roebuck shotgun that Hammar declared to Mexican customs officials in Matamoros, Mexico, Aug. 13 while on his way to Costa Rica should not have landed the 27-year-old Hammar in prison. He's been held at the infamous CEDES prison for more than four months awaiting trial for carrying an illegal weapon.
"Based on what I have read, he was totally within the parameters of the law in terms of the weapon," Beall said.
Even if Hammar did not have the proper permits, carrying the weapon did not merit prison time, according to Beall.
"People are usually fined and released if they don't have the appropriate permit," Beall said.
The charge Hammar faces, according to his attorney Eddie Varon-Levy, was aggravated felony of having a weapon used by the Mexican armed forces, which is punishable up to 15 years in prison.
The Mexican federal prosecutor is arguing that Hammar Jr.'s 24-inch length barrel falls one inch below the federal requirement of 25 inches.
Varon-Levy said not only is the prosecution team unable to come to a consensus about how to actually measure the rifle, he was told by high-ranking Mexican military officials that they don't even use the .410 gauge shells fired by the gun, which once belonged to Hammar's grandfather and is considered an heirloom by his family.
"The federal weapons law and hunting laws are in direct conflict with each other," Varon-Levy said.
Mexico typically reserves strict enforcement of the gun laws governing shotguns to those with barrels less than 20 inches long, and firing shells no larger than 12-gauge. Hammar's was .410, the lowest gauge shotgun shells commercially manufactured.
Hammar admitted to Mexican officials he was planning on doing small game hunting, which the gun was appropriate for. His mistake, according to Beall, was not having the appropriate permits. The consulate certificate he should have provided may be obtained from any Mexican embassy or consulate upon presentation of a letter from the hunter's local police or sheriff's office verifying that the hunter has no criminal record. This certificate is also necessary for obtaining the military gun permits, which is issued by the army garrison in the state where the individual is going to hunt.
Varon-Levy said his argument is steeped not in the lack of appropriate permits, but the classification of the rifle and ammunition.
"He only faces one charge and that deals with bringing a weapon used by the military into Mexico," Varon-Levy said. "It wasn't concealed and Jon demonstrated he was in the mental state and had the intent to follow the law on both sides of the border."
Hammar completed the required paperwork in the U.S. for the weapon according to Varon-Levy. He has yet to obtain these documents.
"In a worst-case scenario, Jon should only have been fined for this," Varon-Levy said.
Hammar claims a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent told him the gun was okay to take into Mexico, but the agency said it is not policy to provide information to as to what another country's laws are.
"Due to privacy, CBP does not comment on the specifics of an individual’s processing," said Mike Friel, spokesman, U.S. Customs and Border Protection. "CBP does not provide advice regarding the laws of foreign governments.
This has been refuted by Hammar's parents and Ian McDonough, who accompanied Hammar Jr. on the trip and was also arrested but later released. They claim U.S. agents told Hammar the gun was legal to carry in Mexico.
Hammar remains in the notorious CEDES prison in Matamoros, Mexico, a facility experts say is controlled by Los Zetas and Gulf Cartel members.
Since his incarceration in August, Hammar, who fought for the Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan, has endured threats against his life, isolation for his own protection in a transformed storage closet where he was also reportedly chained to a bed. Varon-Levy said a court date is scheduled for Jan.17.
Hammar's plight has sparked outrage among politicians and supporters. A Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/FreeJonHammar has been established to raise awareness and garner support.