Friday, June 27, 2008

The Gun Lobby and the Mexican Drug Wars

In a comment to yesterday's Heller post, Swanny argues:

    Instead of putting more restrictions on them, we need to work to keep guns from getting into the hands of the wrong element. That is actually easier than it sounds, and can be accomplished using existing laws. Take a look at the statistics on gun crime sometime and you will see that the majority of guns used in crimes come from a small percentage of firearms dealers. Focus on shutting these dealers down, and you will put a significant dent in the flow of illegal guns.
A happy thought for us, but not to the residents of Gunnutistan. Portfolio Magazine this month carries a long, heavily reported story about how the increasingly bloody drug wars in Mexico are fueled by guns smuggled from the United States. Drug cartels buy in the United States because they can readily buy high-tech killing machines either from know-nothing dealers whom the U.S. is slow to act against, or from private dealers or gun shows which have few of the restrictions that Swanny laments. Toward the end of the piece we learn why:
    It’s well-known in Washington that the efforts of groups representing gun owners and the gun industry have helped hobble the A.T.F. The agency’s ranks and budget have hardly expanded in years. N.R.A. director Wayne La­Pierre has said that the abolition of the A.T.F. is one of his goals, and he once compared its agents to Nazis. In the Senate, gun-control opponents led by Idaho senator Larry Craig have delayed the confirmation of Michael Sullivan, Bush’s chosen A.T.F. director, for more than a year because they say that he has made it too difficult for gun dealers to operate. Of the roughly 5,200 gun-dealer-license applications it received for inspection last year, the A.T.F. provisionally approved 4,400. It revoked 97 licenses, or less than one one-thousandth of the total. “We can only enforce the laws Congress passes,” one A.T.F. agent says. “We’re never going to be able to change the laws, because of the N.R.A.”

So first, we don't really have the laws we need. We have a bunch of laws that restrict individual owners that vary from state to state. But we have few Federal laws with any teeth that allow the government to move against high-volume dealers that fill the supply lines of the underground market that supplies criminals both here and across the border.

I'm not an anti-gun absolutist, though pro-gun absolutists won't make the distinction. But the gun lobby is interested in more than protecting individual rights of law-abiding citizens. They also are protecting a multi-billion dollar industry that deals death worldwide.

Finally, some commenters to the story are saying that the whole problem is Mexico's gun restrictions. Let's be real about this. The United States has more guns per capita than any industrialized nation. We also have a higher prison population per capita than any industrialized nation. And we have higher rates of violent crime than any industrialized nation. The "more guns" experiment has played out: we are doing far worse than the controls.