Our VoiceImmigration

Fears over border violence used to scapegoat immigrants, obscure real issues


Brian Schultz • Mar 10, 2011

Border violence, particularly that perpetrated by Mexican drug cartels, has become a major selling point for anti-immigrant groups. People have become genuinely afraid, and numerous organizations are reinforcing this fear by inundating their analysis with references to armed conflicts in the southwest.

Federation for American Immigration Reform, Center for Immigration Studies and NumbersUSA, among others, regularly bolster their xenophobic arguments with these cases.

Moreover, border violence has become a portal into the immigration debate for organizations that, by all rights, should have nothing to say about it. The NRA is quick to scapegoat immigrants whenever confronted with statistics on gun crime, and has produced fervent anti-immigrant rebuttals to the gun control legislation addressing cartel operations in the southwest.

Even against mounting evidence that violence on the border is, in large part, due to the United States’ role in international arms trade, the NRA responds with uncorroborated assertions to the contrary, and again blames inherent lawlessness and corruption in Mexico. For it, guns are integral to the identity of a “free citizen,” and the efforts to remove firearms from the public are the product of a power-hungry legislative coterie; instead of addressing the actual issue, the NRA claims, this legislation is simply aimed at separating firearms ownership from U.S. ideology.

There’s a lot at stake in these events. They are being used to fuel both anti-immigrant sentiment and anti-gun legislation. So what is the proper way to address border violence? What is its actual relationship to gun trade?

We don’t need a “theory of the gun,” we don’t need a patriotic flourish, to talk about guns. Any argument proposing that they have only a positive or negative utility is absurd. So let’s be realistic about them. Guns are inanimate objects; they do not care for what they are used, or for whom they fight. Like any tool, since their invention they have been used by a great range of persons with a great spectrum of intentions.

In principle, the same is true for the distributors of firearms. Since the advent of the gun, armed conflicts have proven themselves to be fantastic opportunities for their manufacturers; since the mass production of the gun, these conflicts have evolved into sophisticated webs of sale and shipment.

Firearms trade during both world wars evidences this, and has since grown into complicated licensing and manufacture agreements currently allowing gun makers to hock their products all over the world. Guns purchased by governments both active and defunct regularly emerge in unusual places, and in some cases these guns are fighting themselves. During the Falklands War, both belligerents used the “right arm of the Free World,” the FN FAL assault rifle—a fact that is more often hailed as matchless field testing than an abysmal contradiction.

Guns don’t care where they go. As long as someone is selling them, they operate for anyone buying them, whether or not the “Free World” tears off its own right arm. To be direct: it’s always in the best interest of a producer to sell their goods to whomever. Of course, most countries regulate gun manufacturers quite fiercely, but this doesn’t mean that oppositional efforts don’t exist, nor does it mean that these manufacturers wouldn’t sell to anyone if allowed. Guns, as material objects, are not ideologically connected; they are a commodity, and like all commodities are subject to trade agreements—nothing more.

Now, this is not a “gun control” argument, but simply the identification of a major contradiction. It’s not that manufacturers and retailers want guns to fall into “the wrong hands,” but that, structurally, they are not allowed to care about where their guns go. And despite the vehement disavowals of the NRA and other lobbying groups, in some capacity, guns do flow from the U.S. to Mexican cartels because the cartels find ways to pay for them.

How could something so ideologically embedded in the U.S. identity be so malleable, so fickle that it really only responds to the market? It’s nice to adopt a symbol, and—as screwed up as it might be—some have adopted the rifle; but is that really appropriate when the purveyors of rifles, even U.S. rifles, couldn’t care less about where they go?

And ultimately, it boils down to the blame placed on immigrants. As the Second Amendment lobby adopts an increasingly anti-immigrant stance, it absorbs this into its narrowing definition of an American identity, all the while overlooking the inherent farce of its project. Instead of protecting the Second Amendment, the recent efforts by groups like the NRA simply bolster those who would have our safety auctioned wholesale. Guns don’t kill people by themselves—that’s certain. But to misdirect an audience while allowing more people to kill people is disdainful.

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