Guns In, Guns Out

Last night while sitting on my couch and facing an uninteresting football match up, I decided to call an audible and grabbed the remote and went channel surfing. I landed on CURRENT TV, and spent the next 3 hours watching 3 episodes of their Vanguard documentary program. The programs I watched were: Arming The Mexican Cartels, City of God Guns and Gangs, and Guns In America. As I watched all three I couldn’t help but wonder about the sense of entitlement that I has seen as one of the common threads running through the documentaries.

Arming The Mexican Cartels focused on the flow of guns between US border towns and Juarez,Mexico, a town with one of the highest global homicide rates. The crew filmed various homicide scenes, saw how easy it was to obtain high powered assault rifles at guns shows in nearby US border towns,  and even interviewed a contract cartel hitman in Juarez. The documentary took on an even more somber tone as we saw one of the local guide’s cousins became a victim of the drug related homicides.

City of God, Guns, and Gangs takes a look at Rio de Janeiro, a place I would definitely love to go visit. With Brazil the host of the FIFA 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, the government has decided to make some drastic steps to beef up security and tackle crime in some of Rio’s poorest neighborhoods, the favelas (www.macalester.edu/courses/geog61/chad/thefavel.htm). Slated as Pacification, the government’s security forces aim to take back control of 40 of the city’s most crime ridden favelas in time for the World Cup and Olympics to add an increased sense of security to Rio. How successful with this be? Only time will tell.

Guns in America takes an interesting look at gun culture in the US. The film crew went to Knob Creek KY at a gun range and show gun enthusiasts on display and the type of weapons that such a hobby allowed men, women and even kids (9 years old with supervision of course) had access to. Then another side of gun culture was examined with a stop in Camden NJ to see how law enforcement is battling taking guns off the street.

What struck me the most in all three episodes was how pervasive the level of entitlement that existed among the various groups of people involved. Now, one of the core elements of the founding of the US is the (in)famous 2nd Amendment – the “right to bear arms”. The National Rifle Association (NRA) is one of the biggest gun lobbyists here in the US. The amount of power that they wield is just tremendous and they have been a long standing bulwark against many of the much needed gun reforms in the US.

Many NRA members either forget or chose to be unaware of how different gun culture is in different areas. It’s one thing to be a hobbyist and own a collection of guns if all you’re doing is hunting, and sport shooting. Man, you should have seen the range of firepower (including a napalm flamethrower) on display at the Knob Creek gun range the film crew visited. All of the hobbyists were acutely aware of the paperwork needed to maintain their hobby. All other things constant, you basically had to meet 2 requirements: being privileged – I saw only one ethnic group on display there – and a clean criminal record.

Still, it is a different animal when one feels compelled to own a gun when their survival is threatened in the form of limited economic resources and constant violence around them.

And therein lies the type of disconnect that such entitlement breeds. Just because it’s not in your neck of the woods – and couldn’t be because you’d shoot it out there – doesn’t mean that it does happen. I was stunned, but no surprised at how brazen the circular logic was used by various people interviewed in the “Guns in American” and “Arming the Mexican Cartels” documentaries. One person said that the government needs to do a better job of policing themselves. Someone else said that the government should focus more on securing the borders and not attacking individual 2nd Amendment rights. There were conspiracy theorists stating that the government was directly supplying the cartels. WTF?

Even those involved in the criminal activities showed a level of entitlement too. From the drug traffickers in Rio’s favelas to the hit men inJuarez, the prevailing sense was because they were in a position of relative power from being arm, they were entitled to have a say as to how a life was handled. Now I’m not here trying to defend them, but you get the sense that after seeing people die either at your own hands or by others, a level of desensitization to life itself has really morphed their outlook. The socioeconomic issues behind Rio’s favelas and some ofJuarez’s toughest neighborhoods have put some young men in the position to be armed and trade the lives of others for their own survival. Some even seem to relish the position of power of being god with a gun in hand, and that is the most troubling thought.

Looking at the favelas and certain shots of the cities of Juarez and Camden remind me of my own sights of similar places – both back home in Jamaica and in spots of Newark and NYC. Yes, even in NYC there as certain places one can walk through as visually be transported to a seemingly very dingy and decadent place by virtue of the building’s exteriors. It just reminded me that more often than not that one is likely to see more places like these than the prestige to be found in Midtown Manhattan, downtown Rio and Miami’s South Beach.

Still, aren’t people’s basic rights the same, no matter where they live or how their environment looks?

Many people in law enforcement actually support the rights of law abiding citizens to bear arms in the US, and other places as well. The problem is always managing people’s intent. It is a complex issue. Especially in the US, regulations for gun dealers and individual private sellers are markedly different. While gun dealers suffer with (relatively speaking) more bureaucracy for their guns sales, an individual private seller has the right to sell his guns to whomever he chooses that supplies the cash. Many dealers and private sellers have a strong disdain for gun control. But, I am sure that if a gun dealer or gun seller got in a shoot out or lost a loved one to an illegal gun their outlook would be markedly different.

I guess it comes back to “us survive any how we have to” (from Dispear – Nas and Damian Marley) viewpoint. Many of those underlying socioeconomic issues profiled in all three documentaries are highly chronic with long term solutions slow in coming. Still, I cannot be help but be of the belief that if organizations like the NRA were more proactive in being partners in solving some of these problems, change might come sooner. But it may not be in some people’s interest – maybe the dealers, and mid to low level folks engaged in criminal activities – to not offer a replacement income stream. It always does boil down to the way of the capitalist at the end of the day it seems.

Still, I am reminded of a sobering truth by a comment made by the gun dealer interviewed in the Guns In America piece: “it’s not guns that kill people, it’s people that kill people.”

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