Friday, December 14, 2012

Lawyers, guns, and money

By Capt. Fogg

This is the title of the song, and as the song goes, the shit has hit the fan, at least for John Hammar, an ex-Marine from Ft. Pierce, Florida, a town just a few miles north of me. I'm sure you've heard that he's been jailed under one of Mexico's tough and comically ineffective gun control laws. Of course, your sense of comedy may differ on this point.

Seems Hammer and his friend had planned to drive across the Mexican border near Matamoros in a Winnebago filled with surfboards and camping gear -- and an old shotgun he'd inherited from his great grandfather which, as purchased from Sears, has a 24" barrel -- an inch too short for Mexico, although just fine in Florida. U.S. officials told him that all he had to do was to file some papers with the Mexican authorities and it would be legal, but they were wrong and Mr. Hammar now sits chained to a cot in a Mexican jail cell hoping at least for lawyers and money. No more guns please.

Fox News of course is running around screaming and yelling about "trumped up charges," which seems strange, U.S. laws about barrel length being just as arbitrary as Mexico's and carrying punishments at least as severe. In fact, U.S. laws require gun owners to know more than you'd expect the average lawyer knows and are just as arbitrary as concerns lengths and dates of manufacture and type of stock. It's possible in fact for a gun to be quite legal to send through the mail and an identical one with a one digit serial number difference to be felonious. It's possible to own a handgun to which fitting a folding stock can put you in jail for being below a certain arbitrary barrel length. Mexican law, unbeknownst to Hammar and his advisors, classifies a nearly antique relic from Sears Roebuck as a military weapon, a practice quite akin to the U.S. classification of an ordinary rifle as being an assault rifle because of the shape of the stock or the country of manufacture. 

But I digress. Our Republican friends and faithful defenders of chaotic reasoning are hinting that this is all Obama's doing and that were he a real 100% American President like John Wayne, he'd be down in Matamoros waving a pair of six guns and displaying a pair of something even less attractive. Life being somewhat less of a vintage cowboy movie than Fox would like us to think, he isn't. He's in Washington being the president; a task that requires him to deal with more serious things like North Korea playing with ICBMs and trying to prevent the Middle East from once again dragging us into a war. Traducing Obama --  that's what Fox does. That's what Fox is for.

I'm sure that if we still carry enough clout with Mexico, we might, or rather the Executive Branch might be able to get the man released, even though pleas from Mexico to have mercy on their citizens have been rudely and routinely snubbed. We are, as you know, God's own chosen "leaders of the Free World," and fuck you very much. I do hope we can because it looks like the man never intended to break any laws, just as so many Americans run afoul of so many counter-intuitive legal niceties of our crazy quilt of emotionally-driven crime bills, bans, and statutes.

Mexico, as I said, is a nice example of the failure to prevent people from causing problems by controlling and banning objects or substances. That low-tax, business-friendly country with a weak government has become a slaughterhouse despite its tough, restrictive gun laws, and the even tougher gun laws in China have produced a flood of mass school stabbings and that country is now considering registering kitchen knives and cleavers. Meanwhile, despite stringent gun control measures, and because of its drug laws, the drug cartels have made Matamoros one of the most dangerous places in the hemisphere. The jail in question recently lost 20 inmates in a single gang-related fight despite the illegality of weapons in a prison.

Is there a lesson we even need to consider thinking about? Is tough talk and tough law the best solution to systemic failures of a society, or are such policies the result of parsimony and a distaste for looking for the roots of problems? Is the prohibition of marijuana and "get tough" drug laws the root failure here? Oh, but we're Americans so why consider what happens abroad as being a lesson? We're unique!

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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