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.

Loopholes

After traveling in Greece, I am recovering from jet lag and getting back to my life. Nothing stopped in the U.S. while I was gone of course. The Mueller report was released with all of the concomitant and expected chaos and controversy. The weather was awful in Minnesota while I was gone. Actually the weather was cool and a bit rainy in Greece for the first part of our trip and our guide explained that the snow capped mountains we saw were very unusual for April in Greece. In a normal year, there is not snow on the mountains in April there. But this was not a normal year.

Clearly it is not a normal year in the U.S. A President and presidency is run amok. The Mueller report revealed that there were enough instances of obstruction of justice to make us all know that this is not normal. And there is no excuse for calling it not normal because what is happening is frightening and dangerous to our democracy. But never mind, the President and his sycophants carry on as if there is nothing to see here even though it is as obvious as a large wart on someone’s nose that we have a serious crisis on our hands.

Speaking of crises- the coverage of the NRA convention, going on as I write, has been amusing and interesting. It reveals an organization also run amok.

From the article:

Turmoil racking the National Rifle Association is threatening to turn the group’s annual convention into outright civil war, as insurgents maneuver to oust Wayne LaPierre, the foremost voice of the American gun rights movement.
The confrontation pits Mr. LaPierre, the organization’s longtime chief executive, against its recently installed president, Oliver L. North, the central figure in the Reagan-era Iran-contra affair, who remains a hero to many on the right.
Behind it is a widening crisis involving a legal battle between the N.R.A. and its most influential contractor, Ackerman McQueen, amid renewed threats from regulators in New York, where the N.R.A. is chartered, to investigate the group’s tax-exempt status. With contributions lagging, the N.R.A. is also facing an increasingly well-financed gun control movement, motivated by a string of mass shootings.

Count me as not sad about this state of affairs. The NRA has stopped common sense gun legislation for way too long for its’ own financial and political purposes. They are not considering the loss of life in increasingly large numbers, spewing hate and paranoia instead of working with us to find solutions to our national gun violence epidemic. It’s time for a reckoning. They have wielded undue influence and money for decades as the bodies pile up. The American public is against what they are doing but some of our lapdog politicians are too afraid to stand up. That is changing though as the U.S House passed several gun laws in the new Congress to keep people who could be dangerous with guns from getting them. The Minnesota House is poised to do the same and other states have passed recent laws to make their residents safe from shootings.

The second amendment is NOT sacrosanct as we are finding out. Laws have passed in spite of the now weakened NRA. The organization has veered off course and they are eating their own. The NRA allegedly took money from the Russians. That is a scandal worth investigating. They have misused their non-profit status over and over again. We all know about the money they take in from gun manufacturers and now, possibly foreign countries.

And meanwhile, during the now controversial and as usual, hateful NRA annual convention, Maria Butina, Russian operative(?) was sentenced to 18 months in prison. She tried to claim she was not a spy. If that is true, pigs will fly. Butina’s job was to get to the Trump campaign via the NRA which the Russians knew could happen. Because of course, the NRA gave more money to Trump’s campaign than has ever been given to any other campaign.

They exploited campaign finance loopholes and now they are getting caught. As is explained in the above article Giffords is taking them on in a lawsuit. It’s about time for accountability:

The worst news for the NRA, however, may be a new lawsuit filed against the Federal Exchange Commission. The FEC is being sued by nonprofit group, Giffords, for failing to uphold financial laws allegedly broken by the NRA.

Back to the second amendment, misusing its’ meaning is ripe for those who are true believers in the hype about an amendment written in the late 1800s when powder guns were the norm. Look, for example, at an article about a Minnesota teen ( 16 years old) who wore a shirt to school displaying the American flag with bullets and handgrenades instead of stars of stripes. Patriotic? NOT. Considering the number of school shootings and lockdowns that our kids must endure, this is plain and simply provocative and meant to be so. From the article:

Valerius said he wore the sweatshirt as a show of support for the Second Amendment, and feels that there should be a “loophole” in the dress code for that type of expression. He wore it to school again Friday.

A loophole? Let’s talk about loopholes that allow anyone, even domestic abusers, teens, felons and those adjudicated mentally ill to purchase any kind of gun they want and then use it to kill people. That is a loophole.

An example of this wonderful loophole in our gun laws is the vigilante extremist who was arrested at the New Mexico border with Mexico for essentially kidnapping asylum seekers. He was a felon with a gun. Where did he get the gun? Easy enough in America. From the article:

Hector Balderas, New Mexico’s attorney general, said federal agents had arrested the leader, Larry Mitchell Hopkins, who had been operating under the alias Johnny Horton Jr. Mr. Balderas said in a statement that Mr. Hopkins was arrested on charges of firearms possession by a felon.

Sigh. Innocent people are terrorized every day by gun extremists. We have our very own home grown terrorists who think they can do anything with their guns and their rights. Only in America.

Trump has been busy encouraging this danger by speaking total falsehoods, fear and paranoia at the NRA convention. It was sickening, actually, to watch and hear but the gun toting crowd loved it. Er, uh, oops- they can’t carry their guns at NRA conventions because……?

Trump also announced during this crazy speech that he would make the world less safe by refusing to sign on to the U.N. Small Arms Treaty which NRA lapdogs in Congress and now the Presidency claim will take away gun rights in America. I like this reasoning from the article quoted from the Protect Minnesota Facebook page because it explains the second amendment and gun rights nonsense so well:

” 1) The NRA, on behalf of gun manufacturers, gets Trump to revoke the small arms trafficking agreement. 2) Arms manufacturers get rich selling guns to gangs in countries like Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras. 3) Armed gangs make life unbearable for the citizens in those countries. Thousands are forced to leave and walk across a continent to “safety” in the US. 4) Trump convinces Americans the these asylum-seekers are dangerous criminals. 5) Frightened Americans buy more guns to protect their families. 6) Arms manufacturers get even richer. The NRA has done its job.”

This is the fact checking of his speech which is always necessary because Trump never tells the truth while speaking to his base:

Members of MS-13, a violent street gang, are a tiny fraction of the number of people apprehended while trying to illegally cross the southwestern border.
In the 2019 fiscal year thus far, border officials apprehended more than 360,000 people trying to illegally cross the border. Of those people, 221, or 0.06 percent, were MS-13 members.

(See above statement from Protect Minnesota)

(…) The 2014 Arms Trade Treaty regulates international sales of conventional weapons (like tanks, combat vehicles, warships, missiles and firearms). It does not “surrender American sovereignty” over gun laws to the United Nations or hand enforcement powers over guns to “foreign bureaucrats.”
The United States was a signatory to the treaty, but did not ratify it as 101 other nations have. Mr. Trump withdrew the United States’ signature during his speech.
The treaty aims to establish international norms for regulating arms sales between countries and addressing illegal arms sales. It prohibits selling weapons to nations that are under arms embargoes or will use them to commit genocide, terrorism, war crimes or attacks against civilians. (…) “It has absolutely no effect on U.S. domestic gun laws,” said Daryl G. Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, which supports the treaty.
Adam Winkler, a Second Amendment expert at the University of California, Los Angeles, agreed and noted that withdrawing the United States as a signatory would have very little impact given that the Senate never ratified the treaty. What Mr. Trump is relinquishing, Mr. Kimball said, is a seat at the international table to set global standards and better enforcement in countries most affected by the illegal arms trade. (…)

You can watch a video of his entrance when someone in the audience throws a cell phone at the President. Thank God no guns are allowed inside of the convention.

Well, back to loophole nonsense. Why would the NRA want to have this woman teaching gun safety to others? She shot an unarmed person and got away with it- another loophole. From the article:

A former Tulsa police officer acquitted in the shooting death of an unarmed man is expected to teach a National Rifle Association course next month.

I want to end with where I began- with our trip to Greece where the origin of the phrase “Molon Labe” began:

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Thermopylae (480 BC), one of the most famous battles in history . King Leonidas of Sparta said the phrase Molon Labe (means “Come and take them” in ancient Greek) to Xerxes I of Persia 2492 years ago when the Persians asked the Spartans to lay down their arms and surrender.

The second amendment apologists have misused this one as well. We visited the site where the battle of Thermopylae took place and where this phrase was used in its’ original context.

The “second amendment” folks claim this phrase for their own purposes which is to let people know that they will resist any attempts to take away their guns or their rights as if that is going to happen. It is yet another loophole in language that has been exploited for political purposes.

The photo shows the famous statue of King Leonidas.

Resisting common sense and any attempts to keep the rest of us safe from danger and shootings by exploiting the meanings of language is disingenuous at the least. They are like the goats ( in photo from my trip taken on the Greek island of Kefalonia) who take risks, follow the ersatz leader and sometimes do dangerous things that could hurt the herd.

Working together works out better in the end for all of us. In Greece and in most other democratized countries, they think the U.S is just crazy when it comes to guns. Our guides told us that in Greece, it is very hard to get a gun of any kind. They are only used for hunting and not much for that , as it turns out. When it comes to semi-automatic assault rifles, they proclaimed their dangerousness and surprise that in America, just about anyone could have one. They don’t believe that guns are necessary for much of anything in Greece and their gun death rate , among the lowest in the world, proves that they have common sense. The ancient Greeks were very wise as are the modern Greeks that we encountered on our trip.

And so it is always instructive to travel for many reasons but getting a perspective on what’s going on at home is useful and mind expanding. We are a country unto our own when it comes to loopholes and gun laws.