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I'm a Sociology Professor at the University of Toronto. I write about gun violence, health disparities, and Hip Hop culture. When I'm not doing research, I like pop-locking, swimming, and learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. This is my first blog. I hope you like it.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Buying AK-47s in Bulk

The National Rifle Association (NRA) is filing a lawsuit against the Burearu of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF).  In a nutshell, the NRA is protesting a federal law that would require gun vendors to report bulk sales of AK-47s, AR-15s, and other semiautomatic rifles.  Representatives from the NRA claim that semiautomatic rifles aren't explicitly covered under existing gun control laws (which require vendors to report bulk sales of handguns), and therefore, want vendors to retain ultimate discretion over reporting/not-reporting semiautomatic rifle sales.

The AK-47: The gun of choice for revolutionaries across the world
The ATF is arguing that these policies would curb the illicit flow of guns--particularly high-powered rifles--into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.  This law is one of many that reflects a growing awareness of how much criminal groups (and individuals) rely on "straw buying" to get their guns.  For those who aren't familiar, straw buying or straw purchasing is a process in which someone with a clean record legally buys guns and then sells them to an illicit gun dealer or someone whose criminal record prevents them from legally buying a gun.  Although there is some murkiness over how many straw purchased guns eventually get used in homicides, assaults, and other crimes, there is quite a bit of evidence showing that straw buying is one of the main ways that criminals get guns.  At first a big and contentious issue at the state level, these debates are increasingly gaining steam at the federal level, particularly as cartel-related gun violence has started trickling into many towns across the US-Mexico border.

On one level, I see the logic in these kinds of gun control laws.  It seems reasonable to assume that if vendors have to be more transparent in their reporting, it could be harder for criminal organizations to get their guns in bulk.  After all, at a local and state level, law enforcement are also arguing that stricter penalties for individuals caught making straw purchases has helped reduce the underground trafficking of guns.

victims of a Mexican drug cartel
However, another side of me believes that there could be some interesting hidden motivations underlying these "crackdown" campaigns.  Like other crackdown campaigns, the ATF seems especially motivated to play a strong hand for gun control in he wake of recent operations flubs.  For instance, in the fall of 2009, the Phoenix, AZ division of the ATF knowingly allowed 2,000+ illicit firearms to travel across the US-Mexico border.  The gameplan was simple:  Follow these guns up the drug cartel food chain.

The problem, however, is that this program, "Operation Fast and Furious," failed to deliver.  In fact, critics are arguing that this plan was more of a botched experiment than a  smart tactical move.  In addition to minimal intelligence gathered on higher-ups in cartels, the ATF also apparently lost tabs on many of these guns, and in a case that is equally tragic and embarrassing for the ATF, 2 of these firearms were eventually traced back to the murder of a border patrol agent.

Guns seized from a cartel: How many of these came from the US?
I'm not sure if the ATF actually believes that stricter reporting laws will actually do anything to curb gun violence along the US-Mexico border.  In my opinion, the jury is still out on this one.  Maybe I'm being overly skeptical, but I feel like cartels capable of trafficking tons of drugs via boat, plane, etc. can find alternative ways to get their guns.  To me, these laws seem to be as much about creating some positive PR for an institution that has recently dropped the ball...What do you all think?


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  2. It was the most scary post i have ever seen, please remove the other picture except Guns