Guns at the borders

I have written before about how the loose gun laws in the U.S. actually are contributing to our border crisis. Here’s how (from an article in Common Dreams:

The link between homicide and migration is captured in this startling ratio from the Inter-American Dialogue in 2018: In Honduras, a 1 percent increase in homicides drives up migration by 120 percent. (…) But what I had not, and certainly should have, grasped is our nation’s central role in generating fear by allowing a flood of US weapons to continue across our southern border. The flood into Mexico alone includes “[m]ore than 212,000 illegal firearms” from the U.S. each year owing to “straw purchases,” observes the Los Angeles Times. 

Central America is hardest hit.

There, gun laws are comparatively strict, yet “homicide rates are among the highest on earth.” In El Salvador, with the world’s highest rate, almost half of weapons found at the country’s crime scenes are from the U.S. officials here estimate.

And more, from the article, that is pretty significant because it refers to how crime guns used in drug trafficking, homicide and terrorizing citizens in Mexico and other Central American countries come from our very own country:

The country has only one gun store. Located in Mexico City, it is guarded by the army. Seventy percent of guns seized in Mexico were originally sold in the U.S.—most of them in Texas, California, and Arizona according to the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. 

“Once in Mexico, these weapons end up in the hands of drug cartels or get shipped to gangs in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador,” says The Associated Press. In Honduras, “armed holdups on public transportation are a regular occurrence, where nearly half of the unregistered weapons originated in the U.S.,” reports the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.. 

“The number of firearms smuggled from the United States was so significant that nearly half of American gun dealers rely on that business to stay afloat,” reported the University of San Diego in 2013.

The author wonders why this is not more widely known. It is simple. The NRA and its lapdog politicians have conveniently sought to blame others for the problem. The outrage over what what was named Operation Fast and Furious, an ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives) operation to try to stem the sale of illegal guns used by the Mexican drug cartel to reap terror and violence and allow for more drugs to come into our own country was part of this blame game.

Though the Obama administration, the ATF and former AG Eric Holder are not blameless, trying to understand how guns get into Mexico illegally adding to the violence this was a worthy operation it seems to me:

Because federal law prohibits the ATF and local law enforcement agencies from releasing the results of crime gun traces, firearm trafficking patterns are hidden from public view. The trove of records reviewed by The Trace tell two clear stories: High-volume gun traffickers often depend on a single retail gun dealer for most of their wares. And rarely do those gun sellers face consequences.   (…) “It’s one big operation. You’ve got drugs — cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, heroin — coming up from South America and Central America to the U.S., which is a big consumer. And then you have money and guns going south,” said a former ATF official who worked in Mexico during the period in question. He spoke to The Trace on condition of anonymity because he still consults with law enforcement. “Guns are the tool of the trade,” he said. “People aren’t killing each other with machetes.”

A Minnesota man ( from the above article) trafficked guns he purchased at one gun store in southern Minnesota but he got caught.

Beginning in 2007, a Minnesota man named Paul Giovanni De La Rosa began purchasing guns and delivering them to a business partner who lived near Mexico City. In court documents, he was accused of smuggling more than 100 firearms over the course of 20 trips. The weapons included more than 40 Five-seveN pistols, which are favored by drug cartels because they fire a cartridge that can pierce body armor. After De La Rosa was caught at the Laredo border crossing with weapons hidden inside furniture, he was prosecuted and sentenced to three years in prison. He did not respond to a request for comment sent to his attorney.

Dozens of De La Rosa’s purchases were included in the trove of ATF records reviewed by The Trace. Of the 34 weapons tracked in that dataset, 28 were sold by a single store: Hart Brothers, in the town of Albert Lea, Minnesota.

Hart Brothers is now out of business. I wonder why.

From the quote in the above article from The Trace, this is key: ” Because federal law prohibits the ATF and local law enforcement agencies from releasing the results of crime gun traces, firearm trafficking patterns are hidden from public view.”

Brady and The Trace as well as other organizations have received some ATF trace data through a FOIA request. We have known why the ATF needs to be stronger, not weaker as the NRA minions in Congress want the organization to be-because the Republicans pushed through the Tiahrt amendment which passed in 2003. Why would the corporate gun lobby and some members of Congress not want us to know about crime gun traces? We know the answer. Information is not a friend of corruption, greed and illegal activity,

The ATF is vastly underfunded and under staffed on purpose. Thank you NRA and lapdog politicians.

Laying blame at the feet of others is the M.O. used by those who want power and control and are willing to corrupt the conversation for their own selfish agenda. Hating President Obama and his Attorney General Eric Holder was ubiquitous and overt. Republican leadership did everything they could to discredit our first Black President. They held Holder in contempt of Congress.

And Trump hating and now attacking those who are trying to get to the bottom of his immigration mess at the border is shameless at the least. Rep. Elijah Cummings was holding him and his administration responsible for the horrendous conditions at border detention centers. The detention centers are a stain on our democracy and our history.

Let’s be clear. What is happening now at the border is not the fault of the ATF, President Obama or AG Eric Holder. President Trump, his sycophants in the administration and his Republican minions have made the situation much worse and now, of course, blame everyone but themselves. That is actually how Rep. Elijah Cummings found himself the subject of more of Trump’s offensive and racist Tweets. Comparing Baltimore with the border situation is a shameless way of diverting attention away from the terrible problems created by the Tweeter in Chief.

The Baltimore Sun pushed back in a great editorial piece laying it out like it is. We all must push back on what is happening at the border, what our President is tweeting, and the overt racism and intolerance as well as attacks on entire cities and members of Congress totally unbefitting a President, let alone anyone else.

Finally, while we would not sink to name-calling in the Trumpian manner — or ruefully point out that he failed to spell the congressman’s name correctly (it’s Cummings, not Cumming) — we would tell the most dishonest man to ever occupy the Oval Office, the mocker of war heroes, the gleeful grabber of women’s private parts, the serial bankrupter of businesses, the useful idiot of Vladimir Putin and the guy who insisted there are “good people” among murderous neo-Nazis that he’s still not fooling most Americans into believing he’s even slightly competent in his current post. Or that he possesses a scintilla of integrity. Better to have some vermin living in your neighborhood than to be one.

We all must step forward and take responsibility for the terrible situation at the border and in our impoverished cities. Passing strong gun laws would help fix both violent situations at home and in neighboring countries. We can see how guns make it into the Baltimore area but we are not doing anything about it:

“I would say approximately 60 percent statewide of firearms that are seized by Maryland law enforcement are not Maryland guns, that goes up exponentially in places like Baltimore City and Prince George’s County,” Lopez said.

Maryland has some of the toughest gun laws in the country. Buyers are required to wait seven days after purchase to actually take possession of a handgun. There is no instant background check, and buyers are limited to one purchase per month.

Laws are far more lax in states to the south and west.

In West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, background checks are instant, and there is no waiting period and no limit on how many guns you can purchase at once.

The disparity between gun laws state by state complicates the effort to reduce gun violence, currently an urgent priority in Baltimore.

There is no shortage of supply. (…) “It’s not difficult at all,” Guy said. “Not only are those that are involved in intentionally violent activities have quick access to guns, even those kids that are fearful that if they are not protecting themselves, that they could be another victim, but it’s easy for them to get guns too.”

Passing a federal universal background check law requiring that every buyer is checked out to make sure he/she is not a prohibited purchaser would save lives. That makes common sense. Passing and enforcing straw purchasing and gun trafficking laws would help stop some of the sales of guns that end up in Mexico and other Central American countries. These laws would also prevent some of the trafficking into our major urban areas. Holding irresponsible gun dealers accountable also will stop the practice of selling to those who can’t and shouldn’t get their hands on guns. These same laws would affect violence in our urban centers all over the country.

Immigration, violence, poverty and guns go together. They shouldn’t but they do. President Trump just connected the border situation with urban poverty and violence. In many ways he is right but he doesn’t know it. His intent was to denigrate, attack and criticize and his Tweets have only drawn attention to the atrocious conditions in both places. Plus I’m pretty sure he did not want us all to know that his own son-in-law Jared Kushner is partly responsible for the “rat infested” living conditions in Baltimore. Seriously- you really can’t make this stuff up.

It’s in our hands to affect change. We don’t have to accept what has become an untenable situation. Holding our leaders accountable for their negligence is key to making change happen.

Take action. Not sides.

Profiles in cowardice

cowardiceIt all started when President Trump was elected- actually during the 2016 campaign. It seemed that some of our own leaders had no courage in challenging a man who was obviously and clearly not fit to lead our country. Is it too late for us to correct our terrible mistake after just one year? We will see who has courage and who does not.

The past week has brought us to a new low in American democracy. Our beliefs are being challenged. Our moral courage is being challenged by a man who is unfit to lead us.

I want to talk about how lies and misinformation are leading us to a dangerous and unsafe place.

It turns out that science is actually important to the well being of the world. So is research based evidence about just about everything. In my neck of the woods, the flu epidemic is ramping up and people are getting sick. Unfortunately influenza can cause death. It has and it does. In 1918 it took the lives of millions of people around the world. Warnings are being issued that we would not be prepared for such an epidemic now if it occurred. Are we not a country and a world that sent people to the moon, built a space station, has made huge advances in cures for diseases and in technology and other such forward moving ideas?

I found this article about the influenza season and in general about what it might take to keep us safer from a possible pandemic. Note this from the article:

Washington, at the moment, is not particularly interested in science. Research budgets have been slashed, and more cuts are coming. The government spent only $75 million last year on flu vaccine research. The White House is not interested in developing a universal vaccine, the best solution if an animal flu virus infects humans and then goes viral.

Many are worried. Michael Osterholm, professor and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, and Mark Olshaker, a documentary filmmaker who with Osterholm wrote “Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs,” recently sounded a full-throated alarm in the New York Times.

“We are not prepared,” they said. “Our current vaccines are based on 1940s research. Deploying them against a severe global pandemic would be equivalent to trying to stop an advancing battle tank with a single rifle.”

Sigh.

We live in a modern world and country where our very own President and his minions have dumbed down vital government agencies by appointing those who know nothing about the departments they lead. Worse yet, they want to destroy the very departments they lead. (See Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and others).

Cutting funding to departments is a trick of those who hate the government. That is the case today. Anti-science sentiment could kill us- and it does.

I am currently reading Dan Brown’s latest book, Origin. One of the main characters reveals some evidence to the world that would shake up the religious leaders and espouse supposed science over religion.

It’s a fascinating read and makes one have to think about what is possible ( or impossible) based on real science and research. Edmond Kirsch, the main protagonist,  revealed his research (posthumously) and his supposed evidence that the world as we know it would end in 50 years.

It’s science based on one person’s tenuous research. It challenges what we know and what we don’t know. But in the end, facts win out. It’s fictional, thank goodness.

So where am I going with this?  Simple. What we need is common sense which is sadly and tragically lacking in the current state of an administration bent on using its’ own #fakenews to attack what they believe is #fakenews. We have a President who lies with every word he says. We have a cover-up by otherwise supposedly intelligent leaders who are supposed to protect us by acting with integrity if something goes awry.

Instead, they are making us less safe by aiding and abetting an administration that will surely implode over its’ own insanity and constant lying and offensive behavior.

Research is important. Facts are important. Science is important. Facts matter.

Since the beginning of this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, 436 Americans have died from gun homicides or “accidents” including 72 children and teens shot and killed or injured. Those are facts. Denying those facts are the corporate gun lobby and some conspiracy theorists, supported by an unstable “genius” sitting in the White House, paid for in part by the corporate gun lobby.

That same corporate gun lobby is making sure that the ATF is underfunded and understaffed so that it can’t do a proper job of monitoring gun stores, gun sales and gun shows in order to make sure there are not bad apple gun dealers selling guns to those who can’t own them. That same corporate gun lobby has made sure that the Centers for Disease Control does not get funding for research about gun violence.

As I have written about previously, there are conspiracy theorists ( one Alex Jones, friend of our President) who claim that mass shootings have not actually happened. And to make matters worse, the NRA foments fear and paranoia in order to encourage loosening gun laws, keep their own power and influence and make sure profits are good for the gun industry. According to the above linked article:

“We’re seeing the rise of a new NRA,” says Adam Winkler, a UCLA law professor whose latest book, Gunfight, chronicles the battle over gun rights. “It’s long been committed to a die-hard approach to gun policy; they focused like a laser beam on Second Amendment issues. Now it’s focused on immigration, race, health care. We’re seeing the NRA become an extreme right-wing media outlet, not just a protector of guns.”

Immigration and race are the President’s new focus for his lunatic tweeting now causing a big stir all over the country ( except from the Republicans in Congress and leadership).

Denying real facts and underfunding agencies who are in place because one of governments’ most important work is to protect us from harm of any sort. It should be alarming to us all ( but isn’t to far too many) that this is the way we are going– backwards instead of foreword. It’s downright frightening.

This week has unmasked and revealed the truths that the majority of Americans have known since before our current President was elected. He is not interested in protecting us. He is actually interested in himself. With his unwitting or perhaps cynical lack of the truth and information, he is taking us to a place from which I hope we can dig out.

Lying about everything is taking us backwards and dumbing down the office of the most powerful person in the world. The circling of the wagons in order to win elections is an act of cowardice and cynicism that we haven’t seen ever in America. The list of offenses and behavior by our President is endless but here are just a few:

Attacks on immigrants of color;  outright lying about the outcomes of “tax reform”;  FISA kerfuffle; loosening gun laws and refusing to pass gun policy that is vital to public health and safety; health care debacle; attacking the intelligence and security community; nominating totally unqualified judicial nominees for political gain; attacks on current federal judges for ruling against him; firing the FBI director out of fear of the Russia probe; calling opponents demeaning names; depleting important departments that need to be staffed and funded; proposing off-shore oil drilling ( except in the state that hosts the “winter White House”; outright racism; firing scientists in agencies that rely on scientific research; bating a lunatic North Korean leader; unfounded attacks on the media; proclaiming that his “button” is bigger than the other guy’s “button”; lying about President Obama’s citizenship; claiming that White Supremacists were nice people during Charlottesville racist protests; blaming President Obama as reason for canceling London trip; fomenting about Hillary Clinton more than a year after the 2017 election; obsessing about “collusion” and potentially refusing to meet with the Special Prosecutor; denying that Russian influence in our election may have led to a flawed election and then doing nothing about it to protect the integrity of our democracy.

In a meeting with a few leaders working on a compromise on immigration and DACA, our President demeaned and attacked citizens of Africa and Haiti by using the word “shitholes” to describe where they live and said that he didn’t want Haitians here. Did he remember that today is the 8th anniversary of the earthquake there that killed 300,000 people and left others to leave for a better place to live?

What I have heard today about the President’s words are the following adjectives:

abhorrent….despicable…disgusting…vile…offensive…undignified…unPresidential…repugnant…appalling…outrageous…vulgar…racist…paranoid…lying…profane…deplorable…(Speaker Paul Ryan used the weak word- unhelpful)…lunatic…ridiculous…and many more.

Where are the voices of common sense? Where are the Republicans? They are making apologies for an unhinged President whose tweets are making us less safe and calling attention to his lack of decorum, curiosity, morality, intellectual reasoning, filters, social skills, and understanding of consequences to name just a few.

And the worst of all of this is that he is getting away with it, thanks to the acts of cowardice exhibited by those in his own party, cowering in front of the Emperor who is actually wearing clothes that they can’t see.

Yes, he is an unusual President. That is the least of our worries.

And because this is a blog about the issue of gun violence I will end with just one more of the many incidents that point to the reason we need to educate the public about how easy it is for kids and teens to access guns they should not have and use them either on intentionally or not to harm others.

In St. Paul, Minnesota, some teens were riding around in a car when one of them was shot. They lied about what happened but they didn’t get away with it. The bullet was shot from the back seat of the car by one of the teens who injured another.

Teens should not have access to guns. But they do because we have failed our own children about how risky gun ownership can be. Every gun in the hands of a child must first pass through the hands of an adult. We are failing to keep our children safe from senseless injury and death.

This is not normal or inevitable. This is insanity itself. Because we are ignoring science, research and common sense, innocent Americans are dying and being wounded by bullets every day in numbers that are epidemic. Ignore it at our peril.

We must insist on research and science if we care about our children and grandchildren. The fact that some are preventing us from understanding and knowing the truth is an American tragedy.

We can hide but we can’t escape the consequences of purposeful and cynical lying and obsequious behavior by our very own elected leaders. This must change for the future of our country. We are now dangerously close to living in a country described in the novel 1984

Intolerance of “others” and hatred and racism has caused enough trouble in America. The Southern Poverty Law Center keeps track of hate groups and the numbers are not reassuring given the current atmosphere. Unfortunately for us, our own President is fomenting this and more to others who feel the same way. The most frightening thing about this is that many in his base are the gun rights extremists who may just act out their own fear and paranoia if it’s continuation by our nation’s leader and the gun extremists amongst us is allowed.

Guns and hate never go together. Guns and anger never go together. Guns and intolerance of others never go together. Guns and fear and paranoia never go together.

Stand up and show some courage Republicans. Where are you? You are a profile in cowardice.

We are better than this.

UPDATE:

Because this editorial in the Star Tribune is so relevant to what I wrote, I am including it in my post:

Trump’s latest “hate-filled things” have already reverberated internationally. In just a few examples, a spokesperson for the African Union told the Associated Press, “Given the historical reality of how many Africans arrived in the United States as slaves, this statement flies in the face of all accepted behavior and practice.” Botswana’s government called Trump’s comments “reprehensible and racist.” And South Africa’s opposition leader added that “the hatred of Obama’s roots now extends to an entire continent.”

The slight against Africans comes at a time when China, America’s chief geopolitical rival, is making great inroads by investing in — and respecting — numerous nations on the continent. Trump’s comments only make the job harder for America’s already beleaguered diplomats.

How much longer can our democracy withstand the leadership of a man unfit to be in the office of leader of the free world?