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.

The dark before the light

0be6f-winter-solstice-signToday is the winter solstice. The shortest day of the year. Our national political situation feels very dark but I am hopeful that shedding light on the truth and evidenced-based research into the causes and effects of gun violence will help protect the vulnerable amongst us from their entitlement to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

As we go into the new year it is worth remembering that almost 100 Americans lose their lives to gunshot injuries. That is more than 33,000 a year and another 70,000 or so are injured by guns. That includes transgender people and fetuses.  Mass shootings are happening far too frequently and affect our diversity of citizensScience-based studies have been stifled about the cause and effect of gun violence.

Everyone is vulnerable to getting shot anywhere and that is not going to change unless we all speak out and stand up like this military officer did at his hearing to be approved by a Senate committee for a job at the Department of Defense.:

“I’d also like to, and I may get in trouble with other members of the committee, just say how insane it is that in the United States of America a civilian can go out and buy a semiautomatic assault rifle like an AR-15,” Dr. Dean Winslow, the nominee for the Department of Defense’s top health affairs job, said during his confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee today.

Winslow was responding to a question from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) asking if the Texas gunman, 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley, should’ve received a “dishonorable discharge” from the military — the worst possible way to leave the armed forces — instead of a “bad conduct discharge” for assaulting his spouse and child.

He was not approved.

I guess we can’t speak our minds about guns and gun violence and talk common sense in America where gun violence takes more lives than in any other democratized country not at war.

In this new America since January of this year, speaking the truth and voicing your views are under attack and it is truly frightening.

What is also frightening is that the far right “Trump TV” is talking about a coup. What does that mean? Will there be armed people taking over the government? I fear that with all those armed insurrectionists out there with arsenals and the fomenting of paranoia of government coming from those in the government, it could lead to tragic consequences. Half of U.S. guns are owned by just 3% of gun owners. That seems like a signal that some folks in our country are ready for something- not sure what yet.

But maybe these two know something. Alex Jones, conspiracy theorist and nut job, and Roger Stone, friend of our President, made a video of themselves at a gun range getting ready for civil war if Trump either resigns or is impeached. Let’s take a look:

The visit was documented in a nearly one-and-a-half-hour-long December 19 video posted to Jones’ YouTube channel with the title “Roger Stone Prepares For Civil War After Trump Is Removed From Office: LIVE AUTO GUNFIRE.”

Jones set up the video by explaining that when Stone “was recently asked by TMZ what happens if Trump is assassinated or overthrown, he said it would cause a civil war.”

I suppose I don’t need to remind my readers that “overthrown” is a dark word fraught with accusations and pregnant with meaning to some. If the President leaves of his own accord, is asked to leave after things get too dicey or is impeached, this is not being overthrown as if in a third world country.

But then again, the way things are going with attempts to ban words, stifle the media, shut down entire departments, “overthrow” regulations that are important for public health and safety, throwing people off of health care, attacking the FBI and the Justice Department, attacking immigrants and minorities, threatening to fire Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, tweeting false accusations, blaming past administrations, meeting in secret to pass bills and “investigate” former administrations, avoiding a serious investigation into the actual known threat of Russian interference in our elections and much much more, it feels like we are a third world country.

We are better than this. When conspiracy theorists and lunatics arm themselves to the teeth in preparation for a civil war, we are in a dangerous place.

But there are actually some things we can do. Certainly making sure that we resist these machinations to “burn down the house” as Rep. Adam Schiff said last night in an interview on the Rachel Maddow show. Peacefully resisting and protesting any move to shut down our freedoms of the press, freedom to express ourselves, and any attempt to take down our democracy are an option.

And regarding the ever contentious issue of gun rights and gun violence, the Brady Campaign has an idea. Start talking more common sense with friends and relatives over the holidays when people are gathered together and the conversation turns to politics  (which it most likely will given the chaos happening all around us).

Let’s take a look:

A good discussion always starts with a place of common understanding. Find the ideals that unite you both – like respecting constitutional rights, while also preventing gun deaths – and focus on those. Starting at a point of understanding and recognition of your shared beliefs will lay the groundwork for a more productive conversation, and remind you why you’re having this conversation. It’s important to emphasize working together to accomplish a common goal, rather than view this discussion as a quick way to change someone’s mind.

And more:

This step is the crux of what most people think of when they envision of a “political debate.” But it doesn’t need to be intimidating or scary. Keep in mind the tips we’ve given you up to this point – remain engaged and open, don’t get defensive, and continue to share your viewpoints in a calm, rational manner. It’s okay if you find a place where you disagree – that is bound to happen – but this is where you can share the results of common-sense solutions like background checks with your audience.

It is too important to our liberty, our freedom, our rights, our democracy, the safety of our families and friends, to excuse extreme thoughts and behavior. For there is common ground in the middle. We know this from the polling done for many years now. Almost everyone agrees on requiring background checks for all gun sales, for example. And many other measures to strengthen our gun laws are also supported by a majority of Americans.

If we treat each other with respect and dignity without name calling and attacking, we will be a better country. And if we have conversations and make policy in the light of day instead of secretly and in the dark, even if we don’t agree, we can at least understand how it happened and have a chance to rebut or attempt to change minds.

The one thing I know for sure is that arming up will lead to bad things. Loaded guns in volatile and angry situations will inevitably lead to chaos and tragedy.

In the new year, I have to hope that shedding light on the truth and finding common ground on many issues, but particularly on the gun issue, can bring our country out of the darkness of the gun violence epidemic where we have been hiding for way too long. This is about safety and the health of our communities and families.

Happy solstice. Happy holidays. May your holidays be peaceful and joyful. And stay safe wherever you are.

 

Who’s in charge anyway?

Business man select choice - Vector illustration - EPS10Only in America. Dangerous and irresponsible people can get their hands on guns. Easy Peasy. The “pizzzagate” incident is a classic example of why we need to strengthen, not loosen, our Brady background check system. Let’s take a look at the guy who saw fit to check out a lunatic conspiracy theory ( my last post) at a DC pizza restaurant:

 

 

John Sifford, a captain in the sheriff’s office in Rowan County, where Welch lives, said the gunman’s misdemeanor charges would not have impeded the department from issuing him a concealed weapons license or a permit to purchase a pistol. But there is no evidence that Welch applied for, or received these permissions, Sifford said.

It appears that Welch may have not obtained legal permission to buy or carry the .38-caliber revolver found in his possession in the pizza parlor. (…)

Welch had also been convicted of drug crimes. In 2007, he pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor drug possession charges. But the “unlawful user” prohibition has an expiration date. A conviction, positive drug test, or confession only prohibits individuals from buying guns if it occurred in the past year. That’s according to the FBI’s detailed guidelines about just what designates someone as an “unlawful user” of illegal drugs, which indicates that Welch was probably not covered by the prohibition.

So as long as Welch obtained his guns after 2008, there is likely no legal reason why the sales should have been blocked. Stephen Fischer, an FBI spokesman, declined to directly address whether Welch had passed a background check or not, due privacy restrictions.

Do you know anyone like Welch? They are in our communities and they can have guns- no questions asked. Do you think that is a good idea? And if the answer is yes, why?

It’s pretty obvious that this guy should have been flagged in the FBI’s National Instant Check System as someone who could not be responsible enough with a deadly weapon to be able to legally buy one. And even if he was flagged at a federally licensed dealer, he would know how easy it is to obtain an AR-15, powerful semi-automatic handgun or just about anything else he wanted from a private seller at a gun show or on-line.  (armslist.com)

Because, this is America.

Apparently our next President believes this is OK as do his cronies in Congress. They hate government restrictions on who can have guns, where they can be carried, what kinds of guns and ammunitions are sold, and where they can be sold. They do like conspiracy theories. And who will @realDonaldTrump listen to when it comes to protecting Americans from senseless gun violence or many other public health and safety issues that Americans depend on in their daily lives?

Who will really be in charge?

Those who will be in charge don’t like Medicare or Social Security. They do love tax cuts for the rich and corporate tax cuts. They love cronie capitalism. They love power.They don’t like the minimum wage. The don’t like restrictions on businesses. They hate environmental protections that make sure we have clean water and safe food and that we aren’t poisoned by the air or medicines or cleaning supplies. They love fossil fuels no matter what they do to our environment and that may actually be depleted if we don’t find other energy methods or supplies. A climate change denier will head the EPA.

They hate an affordable health care system that has insured tens of millions of Americans who weren’t insured before the Democrats finally got a bill passed to fulfill the really moral case for the right of all Americans to have health care. They don’t seem to care that people couldn’t buy insurance if they had a pre-existing condition but, of course, they have government insurance so it doesn’t affect them. A man who has authored the repeal Obamacare bill over 60 times will now be in charge of finding a way to provide health care to all without providing health care for all. 

They hate a woman’s right to choose her own reproductive health care decisions. Would they love it if men could bear children and this happened to them? Think about it. They don’t like women in positions of power and they don’t like Muslims, minorities, Mexicans or anyone who disagrees with them ( well- him actually- you know @realDonaldTrump).

He (@realDonaldTrump) seems to love Russia and Vladimir Putin and denies the evidence that Russian hackers influenced the American election.  Would he have hated that if he had lost? I’m just asking.

A general who believes in conspiracy theories will have the daily ear of @realDonaldTrump. This general’s son, more extreme than him, until just the other day, worked for the transition team of the President-elect. So who’s in charge anyway? Why would the son of a man who believes in conspiracy theories and who is, himself, even more extreme, with little or no experience in government get security clearance for some of our country’s most classified information? What could possibly go wrong?

Sigh.

Oh, and they love the billionaires who are now going to tell the rest of us that they care about the middle class and low income Americans. One is a woman who hates public education and will now run the department of Education. One is a woman who runs the World Wrestling Entertainment business and will be in charge of small businesses.

Sigh. So much for “draining the swamp.”

They love those deals that save 750 jobs for a mere $7 million in tax breaks- er uh- or maybe a 35% tariff on imports brought in by companies who outsourced American jobs to make the products they are going to import back to our country. And if you call @realDonaldTrump out on his lies, as an Indiana union leader just did, watch out.

Or this young woman who dared to ask @realDonaldTrump a question at a rally?

Death threats. Do the guys making the threats have guns? I’m just asking.

And is it a good idea for the President of the United States to be tweeting ugly and accusatory things at private citizens who question him? I thought that only happened in third world countries.

Who’s in charge anyway? Who will stop the man with the tweets? Is this how our country will find out what is actually happening in the administration?

But I digress. And oh yes, a supposedly brilliant neurosurgeon is going to be making decisions about housing for the poor. 

Sigh.

Who cares? I do, for just one. The almost 3 million Americans who gave Hillary the popular vote win but she lost the electoral college vote by 77,000 votes care. But oh yes- he – (@realDonaldTrump) won by a landslide. He likes to remind us of that while he is lying his head off and tweeting about the millions of illegal votes in the popular votes.

Oh- and they like to threaten the media, business people, union leaders, or anyone else who challenges them about anything. This is the way it works. When you blog or do anything in the gun violence prevention movement, you open yourself up to ugliness and lies. Like the one about any common sense gun law to protect innocent Americans from harm leading to gun confiscation. Of course it does- like it did for the last 8 years of Obama’s presidency. Mass shootings are more common and more frequent.  American toddlers killed more people than terrorists but they love to go after the Muslim ( naturally) terrorists for killing Americans with guns legally obtained here in America. See San Bernardino shooting in linked article.

Black is white. White is black. Domestic abusers, drug abusers, felons, terrorists, dangerously mentally ill folks- all walking amongst us as the next potential threat to our safety. And what are we doing about it? Appointing people to be in charge of policy and regulations who hate regulations. They want to dismantle our government.

And then what? They have no idea. Let’s just say that it won’t be pretty.

There will be no common sense if the next 4 years are like the past year and the transition period.

And in the midst of this chaos, incompetency, deception and outright lying, threats to the media or others, mixing private business with foreign deals and government policies, taking away the rights of people to be free of gun violence, to make health care decisions, to have health care, to make a living wage, to drink safe water, to be able to breathe clean air, and so many other important public health and safety measures, what we don’t need is  making it easy for crazy people who believe in conspiracy theories to have guns.

What could possibly go wrong?

If you want to see a film that depicts what goes in the lobbying world, check out “Miss Sloane” now  playing in theaters all over the country. It’s the gun lobby against the “gun control” organizations. It’s not a pretty picture and it’s going to get worse?

We know who is now in charge and it’s not a pretty picture. The folks in charge don’t seem to care that 33,000 Americans a year are killed by firearms- oh and another 70,000 injured every year.  And the man who will be in charge of the Justice Department is against measures that could save lives.

Lives matter. Facts matter. The truth matters even if one of @realDonaldTrump’s cronies said we should not take what he says literally:

Trump is different. On his own terms he’s an outsider and a “disrupter” who claims that political elites range from stupid to malevolent. He also has zero experience in foreign or domestic policy. What he says — and how he says it — takes on greater importance precisely because he lacks a track record in public office to put his language in context.

This seriously-not-literally thing is a great analytical insight into how then-candidate Trump communicated with his supporters. But it is fairly ridiculous hogwash as a prescription for how to treat an actual president, or president-elect, of the United States.

Yes. Trump is different. That does not make it OK to lie and let us think one thing when he meant another or believe the opposite of what he just said.  Or tweet out untruths to millions who may act on what was tweeted. In what world is that OK? Who is the real Donald Trump? How will this work out? Who is in charge? Who and what can we trust? What will all of this drama and chaos do to the American psyche?

It’s exhausting really and we deserve better. I do try to believe that most Americans are better than this.

I am hoping for the best but expecting the worst.