We wear masks and keep our distance during the Coronavirus pandemic to protect ourselves, but more effectively, to protect others who might contract COVID-19 from aerosol droplets from our respiration. This is elementary socially responsible behavior.
Too bad we can’t mask up the heavy breathing from America’s firearms industry. Blocking international flows of American-made or redistributed handguns, rifles and more militarized weapons might save a lot of lives, particularly in Latin America, which lies in the deadly downstream of our spectacularly unregulated gun culture.
Here’s an example, noted by our guest today, Ioan Grillo, author of the new book Blood Gun Money: How America Arms Gangs and Cartels. The cartels of Mexico — as Grillo points out, they’ve diversified their criminal activities well beyond just the drug trade — upgraded their weaponry to AK-47s and AR-15s began shortly after the expiration of the American assault-weapons ban in 2004. The turn to semi- and fully-automatic weapons has been reflected not just in more civilian deaths, but in more mass murders of civilians, some targeted, some just bystanders in the expanded range of fire.
But the adjustment in the balance of firepower has affected more than just thousands of individuals, it’s affected the Mexican government whose national and local police, and sometimes even its pressed-into-service armed forces are outgunned by the bad guys.
Put that into your political equation and, Grillo says, you’re looking at “the beginning of the meltdown” of Mexico. And, it must be said, the meltdowns of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, where the same flow of high-powered firearms, most of them flowing from the same legal and illicit sources in the United States is killing people and destroying rule of law.
There are actually a brace of legal masks hiding the consequences of America’s gun carnival from the people most affected — us. The combined effect of too many guns in America — many of them with too much firepower for selective use — and too little regulation to control gun ownership and sales or even useful information about gun crimes, gun suicides, gun deaths is hurting America, which is still, overall a civil and rules-based society.
But the impact of American guns in countries where governance is weaker and the criminal justice system is near collapse … take those four countries south of our border — Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador might be best described by doubling up on the metaphor of a river. America’s “river of iron” has let loose a flood of weapons that has turned Central America into a “river of blood.”
Ioan Grillo has been reporting on and from Mexico for roughly 20 years now. His previous books, El Narco and Gangster Warlords were focused on the Mexican criminal cartels. His new book, Blood Gun Money looks at where the killing machines are coming from…the United States.