"Blood Gun Money," | Reviewed by Bill Schwab
Each time there is a mass shooting, the gun control debate is revisited. However, more U.S. citizens die by gunfire in inner-city America and across-the-border in Mexico each year, because of cartels fighting to control drug trafficking, than in all the mass shootings.
Ioan Grillo's newest investigative work focuses on the connection between guns and drugs by following the ways they are marketed in North and Central America and showing the reader how these practices have made the North American Continent the deadliest region on Earth.
The number of guns in the United States is incomprehensible. While the current U.S. population is approximately 331 million, roughly 393 million guns are owned by the general public.
Grillo reports that U.S. civilians own more guns per 100 people (120.5) than the next 25 gun owning countries combined. And while the majority of gun owners claim they own them “for protection”, gun death category specific totals reported in one recent year included more than 23,000 suicides, some 14,000 murders, and approximately 500 accidental gun deaths, but only 353 deaths from guns used “justifiably” by U.S. citizens to kill people caught in criminal activity.
In “Blood Gun Money”, journalist Grillo discusses the proliferation of firearms and drugs from a multitude of angles. He interviews gun makers and back street goons, hitmen, drug traffickers, agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, gun buyers and sellers, initiators and victims of drug sales, and Central American refugees fleeing gun violence. The genius of his book is the global perspective he provides of the wide-ranging problems emanating from the illegal trade of guns and drugs.
His succinct history of arms regulations chronicles an extensive list of gun control statutes and rollbacks. Particularly illuminating are chapters that address 1.) the history of the National Rifle Association which supported various gun control measures from 1934 to 1968 but then changed directions ; 2.) his tracking of assault rifles seized in a raid on a Mexican drug cartel to their production in a weapons factory in Romania and 3.) his interview with “Chain”, a Baltimore black market gun dealer, who explains the linkage between the sale of guns and the sale of drugs.
The reporter also analyzes the cultural divide in the U.S. over gun control. Each piece of this thorough investigation points to the central paradox of his thesis that “The United states churns out millions of guns” but has “relatively strong law enforcement that keeps organized crime in check” meanwhile, “Latin America receives the flow of guns…and drowns in blood.” With authority, he makes the cost of America’s thirst for guns clear.
For 20 years Grillo lived and worked in Mexico as a correspondent. His primary assignment was to report on the impact of the “iron river” of firearms that flows from the United States to Mexico and Central America. He looks at almost every aspect of the guns that comprise the “iron river” and how they secretly pass unrecorded from legal owners to drug czars, coyotes, and other gangsters.
The author discusses in depth the symbiotic relationship between guns and drugs. Illegal flights take drugs from Mexico to the United States and return with guns. A few packages of heroin exchanged for a $500 handgun in Chicago can be sold to a Mexican drug dealer for $2,500.
Grillo reveals that these statistics are kept quiet by the United States because the trafficking of illegal guns from the U.S. kills more Latin Americans than the number of U.S. citizens killed by drugs. The United States does little to nothing to stop this activity, he notes .
The Latin American expert points out the easy access to guns in the United States compared to the difficulty of legally procuring guns in Mexico. The U.S.’ southern neighbor has only one gun shop for its 100 million population. This weapons shop is located in a defense department building in Mexico City and is operated by the army. The arms store sells about 900 guns a year to civilians.
A few more thousand weapons confiscated by army and police officers are probably sold on the black market, but this inventory is minuscule compared to the 200,000 arms smuggled into Mexico from the United States. The U.S., in contrast, is home to 23,000 gun shops in just four states: Texas, California, Florida, and Virginia. These shops are the chief sources of the illegal guns supplied to Mexico and Latin America. Another way of thinking about this is to realize that the U.S. has ten gun shops to every McDonald's Restaurant within our borders.
Grillo concludes this work with a few suggested solutions for ending the gun-drug trade while not infringing on the Second Amendment's right to bear arms. His remedies would limit the ability of criminals and terrorists to get guns and reverse the sale of illegal drugs around the globe.
Grillo is British and has lived in Mexico City over the past two decades. His book provides a balanced and well-referenced account of gun and drug trafficking. The author’s firsthand observations of police and military operations, cartel killings, severed heads and bodies, and mass graves in the region are disturbing.
About the author: Grillo is a contributing writer at the “New York Times,” specializing in crime and drugs. Based in Mexico City he also has worked for “Time” magazine, The History Channel, CNN, Reuters, The Associated Press, and “Esquire.” He is the author of two other books, “Narco” and “Gangster Warlords”.