“NORTH OF THE BORDER”
By Fred Mittag
They think we’re under siege. My doctor in Houston suggested that with all the drug violence, I would be moving back to Texas. He must be forgiven, because he’s been exposed to a barrage of bad press. Even the State Department issued a warning to young people about coming to Mexico for spring break.
Drug violence is generally centered in certain border cities and erupts among drug cartels or between cartels and law enforcement. Those of us who are not in the drug business, or who are not enforcing the law, are not targets. But as one investigator said, “Drug wars should not be viewed as a ‘self-cleaning oven.’” It’s a drain on the police system, there is creeping corruption as rich drug barons influence authorities, and there are occasional innocent victims in the crossfire.
Even so, it’s disconcerting that American media should be so focused on Mexico. Since March 21 of this year, in less than a month, 57 people have lost their lives in mass shootings in the United States. This doesn’t include the usual killings with the “Saturday night special.” Several victims were children, and in the case of the Samson, Alabama shooting spree, a mother was buried holding her 19-month-old daughter in her arms. About 17,000 Americans are murdered each year, the great majority of them by guns. Instead of writing all those articles about Mexico, the American media should heed the metaphorical instruction “Physician, heal thyself.”
Guns are freely available in the U.S., especially through the gun show loophole. The Pittsburgh killer used an AK-47 assault rifle that had been illegal until George W. Bush (and Congress) let the ban expire in 2004 under pressure from the NRA. The killer feared that the “socialist” President Obama was coming to confiscate his guns. I think he was inflamed by Glenn Beck on Fox News, and three police officers died. The four Oakland officers were also killed by an assault rifle. Obviously, police departments across the country favor stronger gun control.
Most Mexican murders are drug related, while most U.S. murders are disparate, including insanity, robbery, anger, jealousy, and my favorite, “I didn’t know the gun was loaded.”
Guns are smuggled into Mexico and then used by drug dealers to carve out territory so they can export drugs into the United States. This is easy when the drug lord has the American customs agent on his payroll and can view the new border wall as an amusing impotence.
After more than 30 years of policy devoid of any rational discrimination, the situation is worse than ever, and we still spend our treasure on imprisonment for crimes without victims. Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Duh?
Pragmatism weeps in her loneliness. Or as I learned to say in East Texas, we’ve got this bass-ackwards —instead of regulating drugs, we should regulate guns. The Texas Legislature is actually debating whether to allow students to carry loaded firearms on campus. Professors!—Beware disgruntled students.
The Netherlands decriminalized marijuana in 1976 and placed public health ahead of criminal law. Drug treatment, in those few cases where it’s needed, is far cheaper than imprisonment. America is draconian in contrast to Europe and society pays a price, just as we did for the folly of Prohibition that spawned the Mafia.
President Clinton smoked marijuana. President “Dubyah” never admitted to chopping down a cherry tree, but reports out of Houston during his party days included marijuana and cocaine use. Newt Gingrich used marijuana, as did Howard Dean, John Kerry, and John Edwards. The de facto head of the Republican Party, Rush Limbaugh, was arrested for drug addiction, but escaped jail time.
Under the same Florida laws, Richard Paey was sentenced to 25 years under similar circumstances, except that Paey is a paraplegic in a wheelchair with chronic pain. Governor Crist signed a pardon for Paey after four years in prison and unfavorable publicity by 60 Minutes and the New York Times.
Most of the world considers guns to be a criminal matter and drug abuse to be a health matter. But in the U.S. the cowboys and the Puritans inspire madness in our laws and trouble for Mexico. The hypocrisy of Limbaugh preaching on his radio show to throw away the key for drug offenders, and his own escape from prison, while paraplegic Paey was sentenced to 25 years, is glaring, crass, egregious, preposterous, whacky, and actually—kind of noticeable.