Friday, February 27, 2009

The Warzone to the South, the 2nd Amendment and San Francisco

NEW YORK, New York -- It's not a particularly new thing for foreigners to criticize either the abundance of guns in the US or the ease with which Americans purchase them. And it's pretty much custom that most of us bristle up and mutter about "damn gay foreigners" when this happens, maybe not any more convinced in the sense of letting people own lots of guns but not about to back down before tax-loving Euroqueers who have no idea what they're talking about.

Except that maybe they do know what they're talking about sometimes.

One of the best-kept secrets of America's neighbors is that Mexico is descending into an uncontrolled vortex of violence as drug cartels fight back against state efforts to halt the narcotics trade that were stepped up in 2006. As a simple Google search turns up, the news bubbling up from South of the border is almost uniformly related to the drug violence that some say is on the verge of spiraling into civil war after 6,000 were killed in drug-related fighting last year and Mexican President Calderon prepares for further bloodshed. The city of Juarez, on the US border and Spanish for "Screwed," is set to receive 5,000 fresh Mexican soldiers for policing. If you thought fighting effete, aristocratic slave owners was bad, imagine what a mess a civil war against heavily armed narcobarons would be.

The US fits into this in more than the obvious way. Of course, as anyone who saw the crappy movie "Traffic" knows, America's rich prepsters and hipsters as well as inner-city drop-outs fuel demand for Colombian cocaine, transported north via Mexico. But the more interesting twist -- and this is where the Second Amendment comes into play -- is that much of the narco firepower is allegedly supplied by US gun dealers in border states like Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California.

The New York Times recently reported on the link between US gun shops and the Mexican warfare, and we won't repeat their statistics and revelations here. But while it's fairly safe to say that the Bush administration, if faced with the facts from the ground in Mexico, would grit its teeth and harden its opposition to any restrictions, whatsoever, on gun sales in the US, the Obama administration to its great credit seems to be bringing common sense to its approach toward guns. Reports suggest President Obama is working toward a ban on assault rifles like the one that existed until 2004, seemingly motivated (at least in part) by the Mexican violence.

As goes without saying, any attempt to curb the rights of gun owners would likely result in a vicious congressional and popular battle. Already, Utah's congressional delegation is apparently girding for a showdown, and the nefarious Nev. Senator John Ensign this week took it upon himself to rewrite city laws for Washington DC after it tried to enforce gun-ownership laws, meaning he'd likely be pretty mad about anything gun laws that may affect his own state. But it would be a fairly monumental and, for recent history, unprecedented moment if the US were to amend the rights of its own citizens out of recognition that those rights are causing harm to foreigners or due to foreign pressure. (That Americans' rights were violated post-9/11 to the likely delight of certain -- al-Qaida-affiliated -- foreigners isn't quite the precedent we have in mind here.) Time will show what happens with gun rights, which The Legionnaire knows have become a hot topic in the Rocky Mountain states. But if there is any movement to curb sales of, say, AK-47s or alien tractor beams, it will be itneresting to see whether the NRA and kindred spirits latch on to the fact that any change in gun rights may be presented as a response to Mexican pleas for help.

One other relevant area here, naturally, is American drug policies, i.e., the "war on drugs." (Our take on this asinine "war" can be found here.) There are new signals that President Obama may offer a more laissez-faire approach to enforcement of drug laws, even if he doesn't seem to intend to legalize any substances on a national level. This is important because drug policies are, of course, formulated not only on a national but also on the state and municipal levels. And on the municipal level, there have been some interesting recent developments.

Most significantly, California state legislator Tom Ammiano on Monday introduced a bill that would legalize marijuana for recreational use in the state. The bill's purpose has more to do with closing California's $42 billion budget deficit than averting civil war in Mexico, but it could have a salutary effect in places like Juarez if California can bring the trade of marijuana into legal channels. Granted, cocaine, not marijuana, is the bigger problem, but a start's a start. Here's wishing Ammiano & Co. luck.

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