Thursday, April 30, 2009

NYC Fatal Stabbings Up 50% in 2008

The New York Times reports Knife Killing in [New York] City Increased 50 Percent in 2008.

The reason? Apparently, gun control:
"It was possible, but hard to document, [police spokesman] Mr. Browne said, that measures like undercover gun-trafficking investigations and interrogations, in which people arrested for lower level crimes are asked to provide information on gun cases, had led to the rise in knife killings and the drop in gun slayings."
And who are the victims? The disarmed citizens of NYC:
A psychotherapist in an Upper East Side office. A young woman working in a grocery store. A city bus driver behind the wheel in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, on a lunchtime route.
So we see guns can be readily substituted with knives, clubs, etc.; like tea for coffee. Not really news to some of us, but for some truth is difficult to accept.

The article also carries an interesting correction: "The number of murder victims killed by any means fell to 14,831 in 2007, from 15,087 in 2006; those figures did not represent only those killed by guns." (The paper originally reporter those figures as all being gun homicides.)

The NYT lists the FBI as the correction source. The FBI and Department of Justice (DOJ) lists 2005 total homicides as "16,692." so we have a downward trend overall in the last couple years. That figure probably comes as a shock to many people who have been repeated told it is about twice that high. But looking closely at the data, the homicide rates appear to be even lower. The number of homicides linked to firarms much lower than typically reported by anti-gun organizations.

Exactly what is considered a homicide?
According to DOJ, the weapons used in 2005 homicides were:
  • Handgun - 8,478
  • Other gun - 2,868
  • Knife - 2,147
  • Blunt object - 617
  • Other weapon - 2,528
That's 11346 "homicides" with firearms; 5292 without. But of the homicides listed, 635 are listed as "justifiable," including 192 by citizens and 343 by police. The DOJ doesn't list the weapons used in justifiable homicides, but I think it's probable that the police instances were mostly with handguns, and the citizen examples probably mostly so as well. That would lower the TOTAL number of unjustified murders with handguns each year to less than 8,000 (7,843). The total number of murders with all firearms is then 10,701 according to DOJ.

That is a far cry from the "30,000 gun murders a year" claim we see bandied about--a claim that is made only by using justified homicides, police shootings, accidents and suicides as all being equivalent with murder by describing them all as "gun violence." For example, the Brady Campaign website says "80 people a day die from guns." 365 x 80 = 29,200 a year, but as shown by the DOJ numbers, the 30,000 figure we so often hear actually includes 17,000 suicides, for which there are as many readily accessible substitutes as NYC shows there are for homicide. Those details are left out of the Brady website posting. As noted in previous posts, similar statistical slight of hand is used to grossly exaggerate the number of children shot each year, as well as the total number of accidental shootings.

Starting out with honest numbers is essential to any discussion, IMHO. Let's talk start our discussions by using the real number of gun homicides, of which we see there are between 10,000 to 11,000 a year and THEN look at policies to prevent these terrible crimes. Considering there are about 10,000 to 11,000 gun murders by criminals a year but 2.5 million defensive uses of guns each year, the statistics heavily favor the argument that armed citizens are safe ones; numbers that should also be part of any discussion on the role of armed citizens in our society.

The rise of fatal stabbings of defenseless victims in NYC is best linked to New York City's draconian bans on concealed handgun licenses. Until recently, NYC banned ownership of firearms by most citizens as well. If we want to see a decline in stabbings and other murders, New Yorkers should be given the right to concealed carry and to keep firearms in their homes without having to justify themselves to city bureaucrats. The dots seem easy to connect, but I expect you'll see a different spin put on it the conversation by the New York Times--is licensing kitchen knives next?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Guns in National Parks: Yes, No, or Sometimes?

Last month U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly struck down the last-minute rule by the Bush administration that briefly allowed loaded, readily accessible firearms in national parks. Prior to this, loaded and accessible firearms in national parks had been prohibited since a 1983 ruling by the Reagan administration.

The Obama administration has said they will not challenge Kollar-Kotelly's ruling, which apparently had to do with a lack of any environmental impact studies, so unless something changes it will continue to be illegal to have loaded, accessible firearms in national parks.

MY TWO CENTS
There is an increase in drug and violent crime in national parks. This is especially so along the southern border in parks like Big Bend or Organ Pipe. The park rangers are outgunned and outnumbered. For these reasons, I would favor a ruling whereby national parks followed state law for firearms--laws prohibiting legal carry do nothing to decrease illegal carry already going on. Parks are no different than cities in that respect. (See "Ranger Details Crater Lake Shooting" for an example of violence in national parks.)

Certainly some exception should be made for carrying firearms in motor homes or other campers. These vehicles are treated like residences for many purposes in most states and the rules about firearms in homes would apply. In most RVs, there isn't anywhere "out of reach" to store a weapon. Certainly your "Good Sam Club" members aren't considered to be at a high risk for poaching or committing assault? If you're touring Oregon and want to visit Crater Lake, it's seems silly to say you have to stop off at home first to drop off your weapons that have been in the car for the rest of the trip.

I also think CHL permits (concealed carry) should be allowed in the parks. If you're on a trip around the state & take a firearm, especially a pistol, IMHO the very worst place to leave it in is your car at a remote trail head--taking it with you is much more responsible.

But what do you all think?

QUESTION FOR READERS:
What is your opinion on whether or under what circumstances loaded, accessible firearms should be allowed in national parks? Please support your argument.

Thanks.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Rasmussen Reports: 70% Oppose Gun Restrictions to Fight Mexican Cartels

Even now that the myth that "90%" of illicit guns used in Mexico are coming from the U.S. has been thoroughly debunked (barely 17% of illegal weapons in Mexico come from the U.S.), the talking point has stuck, as today's Washington Post Op-ed by E. J. Dionne on "standing up to the gun lobby" shows.

However, the public isn't buying.

A new poll released this morning from Rasmussen Reports shows 70% of Americans oppose new gun restrictions as a strategy to fight drug cartel crime. Americans seem to understand better than U.S. politicians that the Mexican government's exaggerations and blame-the-gringos game are mostly developed for domestic political consumption, not from a true belief additional restrictions on U.S. buyers will actually staunch the flow of illicit arms to the Mexican cartels. (Click here to read earlier analysis of the true source of Mexican drug violence.)

Watch the Rasmussen Report video here.
--------
P.S. I generally have a lot of respect for E. J. Dionne. But as usual, when it comes to discussion of firearms, gun control seems to remain the one policy topic on which members of the press don't feel obligated to educate themselves about before regurgitating one-sided, intentionally misleading press releases.

Come on E. J. -- you're better than that, aren't you?

How about an expose on the intentional lack of border controls going into and out of Mexico by land, air or sea?

You might also want to learn a few basics about the types of weapons you are lumping together under the politically useful but technically meaningless label of "assault weapon" before you continue to vilify public ownership of semi-automatic rifles as the cause of Mexico's destabilization.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

President Announces Desire to Ratify the Inter-American Convention

In Mexico City today, President Obama announced his desire to see the U.S. Senate ratify the long-titled "Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives and Other Related Materials."

As reported by the Washington Post, President Obama reiterated his support for the Second Amendment, saying: "I believe we can respect the Second Amendment of the Constitution . . . and curb the flow of assault weapons to Mexico . . . None of us are under the illusion this would be easy."

Mexican President Calderon, who seems to have tempered his own former rhetoric about the U.S. Constitutional guarantees denied to his defenseless countrymen, added: "[he] respects the Second Amendment . . . but [wants a solution that] prevents abuse of the right by criminals."

Unfortunately, the inaccurate statistic that 90% of weapons seized in Mexico come from the U.S. was again repeated in the news conference. I think reuse of this widely disproved statistic is only adding fuel to the fire and should be retired ASAP (please mention to any of the administration figures you see.) I expect that those who see any international treaty involving the U.S. and the word "Firearms" as inherently bad will use the opportunity for fund-raising via scare tactics. And in truth we do need to keep a close eye on things.

However, I am willing to take President Obama at his word when he said he will not take away (or try to) firearms in the hands of law-abiding Americans.

BUT WHAT DOES THE TREATY ACTUALLY SAY?

First, here is a link to the cited "INTER-AMERICAN CONVENTION AGAINST THE ILLICIT MANUFACTURING OF AND TRAFFICKING IN FIREARMS, AMMUNITION, EXPLOSIVES, AND OTHER RELATED MATERIALS." Please take a look at it for yourself.

I'm sure this announcement will cause alarm in various pro-RKBA forums & magazines, but my take on it is that the convention doesn't--in itself--actually say anything that should damn it at the outset. Here are some notable excerpts from the pre-amble:

  • "...STRESSING the need, in peace processes and post-conflict situations, to achieve effective control of firearms, ammunition, explosives, and other related materials in order to prevent their entry into the illicit market; ..."
Okay...so far so good...
  • RECOGNIZING that states have developed different cultural and historical uses for firearms, and that the purpose of enhancing international cooperation to eradicate illicit transnational trafficking in firearms is not intended to discourage or diminish lawful leisure or recreational activities such as travel or tourism for sport shooting, hunting, and other forms of lawful ownership and use recognized by the States Parties...

Not as strong as it could be--and certainly not in line with the full purpose of the Second Amendment. However, the line in bold--Recognizing that states have developed differnet cultural and historical uses for firearms--is a meaningful inclusion....
  • RECALLING that States Parties have their respective domestic laws and regulations in the areas of firearms, ammunition, explosives, and other related materials, and recognizing that this Convention does not commit States Parties to enact legislation or regulations pertaining to firearms ownership, possession, or trade of a wholly domestic character, and recognizing that States Parties will apply their respective laws and regulations in a manner consistent with this Convention..."

That seems like a complete recognition of the pre-eminence of the 2nd Amendment to me. But questions of law--as we saw with the Bush administration "signing statements"--are questions of will and of intention as much of word. So, there is nothing in the language above that commits the U.S. to bans, licensing or a national "list."

So far so good . . . But I think the potentially problematic parts are in Article XI and XVIII:

Article XI
Recordkeeping

States Parties shall assure the maintenance for a reasonable time of the information necessary to trace and identify illicitly manufactured and illicitly trafficked firearms to enable them to comply with their obligations under Articles XIII and XVII.


Article XVIII
Controlled Delivery

1. Should their domestic legal systems so permit, States Parties shall take the necessary measures, within their possibilities, to allow for the appropriate use of controlled delivery at the international level, on the basis of agreements or arrangements mutually consented to, with a view to identifying persons involved in the offenses referred to in Article IV and to taking legal action against them.


These articles could be interpreted either way. What is a "necessary measure" in "identifying persons involved in offenses"?

This convention/treaty is probably headed for the Senate. Our senators on both sides of the aisle need to ask these questions and make certain the language in the final treaty answers them in affirmation of the U.S. Constitution. Confidence in this outcome would be greatly enhanced if the statistical manipulations about where firearms are coming from and what types they really are were immediately made part of the discussion, i.e. drop the "90%" canard.

Note this excerpt from a recent L.A. Times article about the ongoing Mexican drug war:

The enhanced weaponry represents a wide sampling from the international arms bazaar, with grenades and launchers produced by U.S., South Korean, Israeli, Spanish or former Soviet bloc manufacturers. Many had been sold legally to governments, including Mexico's, and then were diverted onto the black market. Some may be sold directly to the traffickers by corrupt elements of national armies, authorities and experts say.

Acknowledgment of these facts by both the Calderon and Obama administrations--and dropping the pretense that U.S. gun shows are destabilizing the Mexican government--would be a first good step in finding meaningful solutions to solve our mutual problems.

Portland Man Defends Home With Handgun Against Intruder: 911 Audio

In July 2007, Portland Oregon resident Leroy Hudson, 71, shot 26-year-old Brent Sweet in the head as Sweet "allegedly" tried to break into Hudson's home on Northeast Glisan Street. Mr. Hudson, his wife and his wife's even more elderly mother were all home at the time of the attempted home invasion.

The following audio of the incident was captured on the 911 call Mrs. Hudson made to the police while Sweet was breaking in to her home:



For those who don't hear the audio, things ended well for the Hudsons, but not so well for Mr. Sweet because Mr. Hudson shot him in the head with a .38 caliber handgun as Sweet was attempting to break in through the back door. Sensibly, the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office declined to file any charges against Mr. Hudson but (again, sensibly) did charge Mr. Sweet, who survived, with one count of first degree criminal trespassing.

Please note a couple of things. First, Mr. Hudson exercised extreme restraint and good marksmanship. He controlled his weapon and fired one round. He did NOT continue firing when it was clear he was no longer in danger. Second, the residents are a combination of elderly, African-Americans being victimized by a white hoodlum--so much for stereotypes! Mr. Sweet was 26 years old at the time and without their readily accessible firearm, the residents would have been at a considerable disadvantage against a young and determined home invader.

Note as well that even though Mrs. Hudson was on the phone to the police--and our city cops have a GREAT response time--this did nothing to get the young man off her back porch.

As the saying goes, "WHEN SECONDS COUNT, THE POLICE ARE ONLY MINUTES AWAY."

This is one reason why hand guns are legitimate tools for all law-abiding members of the public to own.

I wish the best of luck to Mr. and Mrs. Hudson after this ordeal, as well as the sincere hope that Mr. Sweet has an uncomplicated recovery and is able to take steps to turn his life around.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Taurus Judge Promoted as Anti-Carjacking Weapon: Help or Hype?

The link below shows an interesting promotional video of the Taurus Judge, a 5-shot .45 cal revolver also chambered to use .410 shotgun shells.

I've always liked .410. A long-barreled .410 shotgun loaded with 000 buckshot is actually much more lethal and useful for home defense than is generally appreciated by those favoring larger gauge shotguns. A .410 has practically no "kick," is easy to aim, and the shot is safer to use in many situations, such as home defense, where a bullet from a handgun or rifle is more likely to penetrate interior and exterior walls.

The .410 "000" buckshot shell fires shot pellets of about .36 caliber. The 2.5 inch shell holds 3 pellets, the 3 inch shell holds 5. Even in a pump-action model shotgun, this allows for an impressive rate of fire, with each pellet striking (at close range) with power comparable to a .44 Magnum, and with minimal spread at short distances, e.g. across the living room.

However, in the past I have not been impressed with short-barreled weapons that fire shotgun shells. This is because the power is greatly diminished and the spread of the shot is so great that the number of pellets reaching the target can be pretty low. Derringers designed to fire .410 shells are especially poor because of their very short barrels and tiny grips that make it difficult to hold onto when firing without changing your grip, e.g. firing with the middle finger while laying the pointer over the top. With bird shot, I have had the experience of firing a .410 derringer at plywood from only 6 feet and finding that none of the pellets either hit or penetrated the target. Not a great recommendation for self defense.

The Judge seems a bit better--it has a longer barrel than most .45 derringers, a good grip and of course 3 more shots than an over/under 2-banger. But the problems with spread and penetration seem to persist according to the reviews I've seen. The video below tackles these objections head on and recommends the judge for a very specific purpose--putting down a carjacker at nearly point-blank range. For this purpose, the wide spread of the shot would seem to be an advantage, and the lack of penetrating power might not matter as much since you'd presumably be going for a shot to the face, neck and throat.

Here's the video demo:



If anyone has had the opportunity to fire the Judge or similar weapons, I'd love to know your impressions; doubly so if you've used it in a self-defense situation or know accounts of those who have. Thanks.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Fusion Firearms: A Fantastic 1911 at a Decent Price!

The 1911 is a wildly popular pistol platform for many good reasons. It is one of the most ergonomically friendly platforms and points very naturally. When one is considering the purchase of a 1911, there are dozens of choices. These choices range from about $450 all the way up to around $5000. Somewhere in between those extremes lies Fusion Firearms.

Fusion Firearms is a relatively new company that is run by Bob Serva. Bob is the former President of Dan Wesson and has been building 1911's in one form or another for a long time. On top of top- notch quality guns, Bob provides some of the best customer service in the business!

Each Fusion 1911 is built by hand with all parts hand fit. The slide to frame fit is remarkable, as is the barrel fit. Upon visiting Fusion's website (http://www.fusionfirearms.com/), you will find that there are previously built models for sale with a wide variety of slides, frames, sights, calibers, etc. Or you can do what I did and email Bob with the specs that you want for a custom build. This was an awesome experience as I picked out the exact frame, slide, trigger, trigger pull weight, serrations, hammer, safeties, sights, etc. that I wanted. Fusion has all the parts for you to choose from, or you can opt to have other manufactures parts used. It is really all up to you

I had never had a gun custom made to my specs before, and I must say, that every gun lover should have at least one custom pistol. After doing much research to find the parts that I wanted I emailed Bob Serva for a quote on my custom build. The quote was much less than other custom builders had quoted me for similar builds. The price that I was quoted as well as the many excellent reviews of Fusion's products made my decision to go with Fusion a "no brainer."
Now, I want to clarify something here while I'm talking about price. These guns are not at all cheap (mine ended up being around $1600), but they are usually far less expensive than similar builds from other custom, or semi custom makers. Everyone else that I contacted about similar builds quoted me well over $2000.

After you get your order completed comes the hard part; the wait. My wait ended up being about 5 months. Bob is very busy, but still 5 months isn't a terribly long wait for a custom 1911. If you find a gun that you like that is already built, there is no wait at all.

When I finally took delivery of my gun, I was thrilled to see how nice it looked, and how solid it felt. Everything was fit very well and there was no rattles or play at all between slide and frame. After field stripping it, I found a couple negative aspects although they were purely cosmetic and do not hamper the function of the gun. There are some kind of rough tooling marks on the inside of the slide and frame. As I stated earlier, these marks in no way negatively affected the function of the pistol and they are not visible when the gun is put together. I did find them to be a little disappointing in a gun at this price though. Besides that one small gripe, all else was spectacular. The trigger is amazing with a crisp pull right between 3.5-3.75 lbs (right where I asked it to be), and the sights that I picked (Novak tritium front with a 10-8 rear) provided an excellent sight picture that is very easy to pick up quickly. The Ion-bond dlc finish on the slide looked great and was applied evenly.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to put many rounds down range through this gun. I am having a very hard time finding ammo (especially .45acp) recently. I did however get to put 75 rounds through it at the range. I was able to scrounge up 50 rounds of WWB fmj and 25 rounds of assorted 230 grn Hrnady TAP jhp and Corbon +p 165 grn jhp.

The shooting session was short but uneventful as there were no functional problems with the gun or any of the ammo. At first my accuracy was not as good as I had hoped, but towards the end it started getting much better as I was getting used to the new gun. Also, I was not really testing for accuracy, but more for reliability at this point. I would like to add that I am in no way a great shot, but have read many reviews that Fusion 1911's are often capable of 5 shot groups at 25 yards of under 1 inch with good ammo.

Overall, so far I am extremely pleased with my new 1911. If you are in the market for an upscale 1911, I would definitely recommend that you look into Fusion Firearms. Here are some pics for your enjoyment:




Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Myth of 90 Percent

There is a good news article, complete with attributions, regarding the pervasive talking point that "90 percent of illegal guns in Mexico" come from the United States. The true number seems closer to 17 percent.

Check out the article here: The Myth of 90 Percent

Here are a couple choice tidbits from the piece:
  • "In a remarkable claim, Auturo Sarukhan, the Mexican ambassador to the U.S., said Mexico seizes 2,000 guns a day from the United States -- 730,000 a year. That's a far cry from the official statistic from the Mexican attorney general's office, which says Mexico seized 29,000 weapons in all of 2007 and 2008."
  • "The Mexican government said it has seized 2,239 grenades in the last two years -- but those grenades and the rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) are unavailable in U.S. gun shops. The ones used in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Monterrey in October and a TV station in January were made in South Korea. Almost 70 similar grenades were seized in February in the bottom of a truck entering Mexico from Guatemala."
  • "Why would the Mexican drug cartels, which last year grossed between $17 billion and $38 billion, bother buying single-shot rifles, and force thousands of unknown 'straw' buyers in the U.S. through a government background check, when they can buy boatloads of fully automatic M-16s and assault rifles from China, Israel or South Africa?" (Indeed!)

So where are the Mexican drug cartels getting their guns? They're coming from the exact sources you would expect--if you've been reading the paper for the last decade: China, Korea, the Russian mafia, FARC, Guatemala, and the Mexican military itself. Surprise, surprise.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Gun Safety Apples and Oranges

This video is a public service announcement put together by a group called PAX, which bills itself as a non-political, non-partisan group looking for "real solutions to gun violence."



For those who think this video is nothing more than melodramatic scare tactics, rest assured these things happen. I have a good friend who's gone through life with a large dent in his forehead where one of his brothers shot him with a .22 pistol when they were playing "Cowboys and Indians" about 30 years ago. Studying this issue by itself, PAX's campaign of "Changing Culture AND Saving Lives" seems reasonable. Honestly, who can argue with the advice to "ask if there's a gun where you child plays"? Seems like common sense.

Unfortunately, PAX dilutes their sensible messages of "ask" and "tell" (if you overhear a plot at school, etc.) by mixing apples and oranges. Presumably this is done explicitly to create the political biases they claim to eschew (which is a shame). For instance, the famous statistic that "8 children in America die from violence every day" is a very different thing than saying 8 children are accidentally killed every day, but the latter is exactly what is implied. Using the Center for Disease Control's database (CDC), I found that in 2005 (last year with available records) the total number of accidental shooting deaths of ALL KINDS for children ages 1 to 17 was 127. That's 127 too many, but it's also 1 every 3 days, not 8 a day. Homicides with a firearm committed against children 1 to 17 in the same year totalled 921. (Suicides with a firearm in 2005 for the same population were 412, with the youngest victim being 10.)

So, we have the claim on PAX's website: 8 a day time 365 days = 2920. But the CDC says all shooting deaths of minors in 2005 were 921 (homicides) + 127 (accidents of all kinds) + 412 (suicides) = 1460. (The total firearms deaths from "all intents" returned for ages 1- 17 is 1490 using the database.) I would say 1460 is also a large number, but inflating statistics for your own means do not help your cause nor do they help in finding a solution. The use of the word "children" is also misleading, because, as we shall see, by "children" we aren't just talking about 7 and 8 year olds playing games, we're including teenagers actively involved in poor lifestyle choices, like gangs and drug dealing, that actively endanger them through their own actions.

The CDC plays this game, too. In their report on 2008 Report on Youth Violence, the CDC says that, "In 2005, 5,686 young people ages 10 to 24 were murdered—an average of 16 each day (CDC 2008a)." But using their own database, we see that only 921 of these murders were of actual "children" as defined as someone under 18. Counting 18 to 24 year olds as "youths" might be legitimate in some cultural contexts, but this language seems guaranteed--perhaps designed--to obscure the real risk of to "children" from accidental shootings, school massacres and other sources of violence. Bear in mind that in most jurisdictions 18-year-olds may legally own a rifle and the 21-to-24 year olds included here as "youths" can own handguns. In Portland, Oregon, where I live, these 21-year old "youths" are even eligible to join the police force! The earlier conflation of apples and oranges includes pears and kumquats at this point.

The problem is that when bad data is used to exaggerate a problem or obscure its real causes, it results in poor reactions to fight that problem. A policy designed to protect children from the dangers of playing in a neighbor's home with a gun is--presumably--not the same policy that would protect school age students from murders by loners or protect underage gang members from being murdered in the course of illegal trade. Statistics used to protect "youths" from handgun violence should not include gun ownership rates or homicide/accidental death rates among 21-to-24-year-olds who may legally possess guns. As the saying goes: garbage in, garbage out. This is a classic case.

A word to PAX, the Million Mom March, and others trying to stop gun violence in America: sloppy or intentional misuse of gun statistics is guaranteed to alienate the most important group--gun owners--from joining your cause. And without gun owners' advice and "buy-in" there will be no progress on gun policy or in addressing our all too high levels of gun deaths, both intentional and accidental, from which our country suffers.

The "Ask Campaign" is a good idea; but you should try to engage gun owners with the truth--which is scary enough--without resorting to exaggeration. There's a less polite word for that, and once you're accused of it you have no credibility with the very group you claim to want to reach.

And of course, gun owners, do lock up your damn guns where minors, burglars, and "youths" (whatever that means) can't get them. That is, if you haven't already.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Mexican Gun Control is the True Source of Violence

Much has been made lately of the supposedly sky-rocketing violence in Mexico associated with the drug trade. Mexican officials have been laying much of the blame for their domestic problems at the feet of the U.S. and the rights of Americans to purchase and own firearms. In today's online Christian Science Monitor (CSM) it was stated that "90% of guns recovered in Mexico are traced back to the U.S." American gun owners are rightly concerned that attempts to help Mexico fight criminal drug cartels may be used as a pretext for abridging our 2nd Amendment rights.

Mexico has a real problem with drug gangs and drug-related violence. It has bigger problems with social inequality. These same problems exist in the U.S. in places where poverty, gun prohibition and gun violence overlap. There is no reason to extend the size of these pockets of violence and failed public policy by increasing gun prohibition in any way either in the U.S. or abroad.

Behind the self-righteous indignation of Mexican officials and the earnest hand-wringing by anti-gun politicos in the U.S., reality is taking a beating. It's time to look at a few facts about what really causes violence and why so many guns in Mexico are traced back to the U.S.

Today's CSM article is a good place to start. Along with repetition of the talking points officials on both sides of the border keep regurgitating, the CSM had this to say:

It is no small task to access a gun in Mexico, at least legally. There are no commercial guns stores – those who want guns for self-protection or hunting must petition to the Mexican defense department. Intense background checks including psychological exams are carried out. Most of the guns in delinquents' hands in Mexico cross its borders illegally and circulate on the black market.
If you have ever traveled through Mexico--and no, spring break in Cancun doesn't count--you will have noticed a few things:

First, as noted above, Mexico has almost a complete ban on legal ownership of firearms because it doesn't trust its citizens. This is certainly the case since the 1968 student uprisings, though it has done little to prevent subsequent uprisings, such as the indigenous movement in Chiapas in the mid 1990s. At the same time, Mexicans--especially the poor--know that their police will not protect them and do little to address actual crime. Crime is rampant, especially in places like Mexico City and in rural areas in the south. Disarmed population + poverty + inept/corrupt police = crime wave. This is a true source of the strength of criminal gangs in Mexico, just as it is the true source of entrenched criminal cultures in many parts of the U.S. But law-abiding Mexicans can also take steps to protect themselves from these criminal cultures--and these steps include purchase and ownership of firearms, even if these are technically illegal. You might not see them on the streets, but you do see firearms in private hands in Mexico. Don't assume the "90%" of weapons mentioned above is exclusively weapons seized from drug gangs--lots of Mexicans own guns in spite of laws against it. Given the crime there, wouldn't you?

Second, the border crossings into Mexico are virtually unguarded. This includes going into Mexico on foot from the north, by boat from the south or any other way you care to enter the country, including driving in from the U.S. I used to drive down to Juarez on a regular basis and I can attest I was never seached going in either on foot or in my car. I once traveled by canoe from Tenosique, Mexico into Guatemala and the border patrols in the jungle along the river were non-existent--and this was during a period of open rebellion in Chiapas. If Mexico wants to stop illegal imports, they could start by patrolling their own border, but this isn't possible as long as it is a political and economic necessity for them to keep the borders as open as possible to allow the transit of economic migrants, e.g. undocumented workers.

Third, Mexico for the most part has two economic classes--ultra-rich and utterly poor. Mexican gun control is about keeping the poor and their sympathizers from taking economic reform into their own hands (Remember "Tierra y Liberdad"?) Mexican millionaires & billionaires are protected by a large state apparatus, including the military and police, that includes protectionist laws for monopolies on such things a telecommunications and natural resource extraction. Poverty and educational inequality facilitates the creation of a permanent criminal underclass. This is especially so when the poor are made doubly powerless via disarmament.

Fourth, the police forces (and many individual police officers) work largely to maintain the existing social order. In places like Oaxaca or farther south in Chiapas, the police more or less openly murder peasants trying to maintain access to land and even murder or otherwise repress more "middle class" labor leaders such as teachers working to achieve a more equitable society. For many people, the police simply are not an option or ally in fighting crime or in trying to protect yourself; disarming victims only makes it worse.)

Fifth, guns do not cause violence. I know this seems counter-intuitive to many people, but it's true. Mexico is a violent country, and from what we hear it is getting more violent. But in the last year for which murder statistics are available, the murder rate in Mexico was only half of what it is in Puerto Rico and less than a third of what it is in Belize. (Why is there no outcry to stop the violence on Puerto Rico, which the U.S. has much more direct responsibility for than Juarez?) By contrast, the murder rate in the U.S., where we are supposedly awash in guns, was only half that of Mexico.

My experience in traveling abroad is relevant on this point--I used to work in Yemen. Yemen is generally thought of as a dangerous place due to politically motivated kidnappings and occasional violence between the central government and local political or tribal groups asserting their traditional authority. EVERYONE in Yemen owns and carries a firearm, often fully automatic, as well as large daggers. Finding people with stashes of hand grenades isn't unusual. And yet, the murder rate in Yemen is lower than that in the U.S. and barely a third of that in Mexico, where gun prohibition has been the law for decades. How could this be so? The answer is that Yemen has a more stable social structure than Mexico, and, I would add, does not have gun control. Together these factors allow people to protect themselves--you just don't murder somebody in Yemen because their family--not the government--will get you for it. My point is not the relative cultural strength of the U.S., Mexico and Yemen, all three of which have their own strengths and weaknesses, but rather that the simplistic equation of guns = violence is exactly that.

If the U.S. wants to truly help stabilize Mexico--as well as our own economic and social structure--we should be a good neighbor and pressure them to enact a broader set of legal and economic reforms. What we should not do is to further enhance the ability of Mexican elites to monopolize the use of violence in maintaining an unjust social order through gun control.