James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Friday, April 24, 2009

Guns 2: The hidden business

When Hillary Clinton declared in March that weapons are flowing from the United States to Mexico's drug cartels, you'd have thought she'd revealed that madwoman Ann Coulter is a drag queen, rather than stated a fact well known to law enforcement people and many others on both sides of the border.

(About Coulter: You didn't know? Where did you think Bill O'Reilly goes when he's not in the Fox Propaganda studio?)

There was hardly a newspaper that didn't carry the Clinton story on the front page, and, for a day or two, no television faux news station that didn't use it at least twice an hour.

In fact, the simple admission of the gun trafficking was hardly more shocking than Clinton's acknowledgment that demand from the U.S. is what put the drug mobs in business and keeps them rich.

The coverage faded quickly in establishment news outlets, however, leaving only the occasional uninformed television “reporter” or Fox flunky to ask some minor Obama administration official whether the president wants to “confiscate the guns of private citizens.”

Clinton's statement should have been the kickoff of big-time investigations of the gun-peddling business by at least a couple of news organizations. But that wasn't going to happen. The quick fade to black was as predictable as a Rush Limbaugh tirade. The gun trade is a dung pile very carefully avoided by establishment news outfits.

Just in case, though, I waited for a couple of weeks after the Clinton pronouncement to see if, just maybe, some news outlet, some small, surviving group of real journalists. would seek answers to the painfully obvious questions: Where do the weapons come from and who's selling them to Mexican killers? (A longer but still incomplete list of other necessary questions is included below.)

Hasn't happened, of course.

American newspapers and broadcast news presenters have avoided crossing gun makers and sellers since before I got into the news trade, and that's about 50 years ago. They were afraid to take on the killing business even before the National Rifle Association became almost entirely a propaganda and lobbying agency for the murder business and before it gained genuine political power through what often is delicately described as “distribution of wealth.”

No, I can't explain it. Like anyone else out here, I can only guess.

Every so often during my 30-year tenure on what was, through most of those years, a very good metropolitan daily newspaper, I pitched the idea of probing the gun manufacturing and selling rackets. More often than not, my bosses acted as though I were soundless and invisible. I got no response at all, neither aye nor nay. Once or twice, I was told -– as happened on other possible subjects occasionally -– that such an investigation would take too much work, too much time; the newspaper couldn't afford to have me or any other reporter devote that much effort to one subject.

If I pointed out that we did occasionally devote much time and work to a single story (or series of stories), the response was that afore-mentioned silence and invisibility. Although I could hear myself and see myself in mirrors, and co-workers could see and hear me, the bosses didn't seem to be aware of my presence.

Most of the time, I think the excuses were exactly what I was told, when I was told anything, but after years of periodically making the pitch, the scenes began to have an unpleasantly eerie feel.

The thing is, nobody else in this country did the obvious gun stories either.

During my career I did a number of “big” stories that my bosses were reluctant to embark upon. The stories that met with initial reluctance almost always involved unpleasant facts about some business or group of businesses – often businesses that purchased substantial amounts of advertising.

The reluctance of editors to take on such subjects was understandable. If we produced information that made some business guys sweat, the editors took much heat.

Sometimes, inevitably, reporting turns up information to show that what you thought might be something illegal or exploitive of the public or otherwise rotten actually is at least acceptable, if not benign. The work you put in on the subject is therefore “wasted,” though I never saw it that way.

Yet far more often than not, if I or another reporter had solid grounds for wanting to dig into something, we got a green light.

Not on the gun racket, though.

You might wonder what made me think the gun business -– manufacture and large-lot sales -– needed examination. It's the same sort of thinking that has led to countless journalistic investigations:

There are far more guns in this country and elsewhere in the world than there are legitimate users. Hunters, skeet shooters, competitive target shooters, hobby shooters, have all the guns they can use, and street gangs, drug cartels, terrorists and all sorts of ugly and evil people have many, many more guns than are required by or could be used by all of the legitimate users in the world.

Production of guns exceeds legal or legitimate purchases by multiples, though we don't really know by how much.

We need numbers. How many of what types of guns are made, how many of those can be shown to have been sold to legitimate users? Where have the rest gone? Who has them? How did they get them?

The gun business and its apologists like to talk about “stolen” guns arming the gangs and such in this country. But how many guns actually are taken in known thefts, and how does that match up with the armories of drug gangs, street gangs and all the other brutal thugs? On the face of it, it is obvious that the criminals have many more guns than have shown up on lists of stolen property. Perhaps someone needs to explain to people in the gun trade that they should lock up their inventory.

Terrorists around the world, war lords and small strongman governments, the Italian Mafia and the Russian Mafia and lord knows how many other mafias are armed to the teeth, despite prohibitions of weapons sales to those people by almost all established governments. So who is making the hundreds of thousands of weapons those large-scale thugs acquire in such numbers, and who is selling them? Do gun makers “lose” 40, 50, 80 percent of their production out the back door? Really? They have no effective security? Or, alternatively, they just “don't know” who's buying half or more of what they produce?

Show me a legitimate business of any size that doesn't know what it produces, what it sells, what it has in inventory and who its buyers are. If you know one, and they do show up from time to time, it will not be in business long. And it won't have been profitable for long, let alone for centuries.

What use to private citizens are automatic weapons, assault rifles, rocket launchers, antiaircraft rockets, body armor, armored vehicles and other killing devices obviously designed solely for the killing of human beings? Who makes those, who sells them and who are the buyers? Really, who are the buyers -– age, background, income, and psychology. (Dangerous ground, but on the face of it there are some seriously disturbed people stockpiling extremely threatening weaponry. Right here in the U.S. of A. Read the gun blogs)

Oh, yes: Who gets how much profit from such things? And which politicians get how much in “campaign contributions” from the people who make the profits?

About the gun bloggers' claim that the bloodthirsty mobs are getting their guns from illegal manufacturers in, say, Pakistan or India: Really? A bunch of little tin-shed copyists, presumably without heavy manufacturing equipment, are turning out machine guns and assault rifles and other sophisticated weapons by the millions? And they can't be located and shut down?

Those are just some of the questions that have popped into my head at various times, making me believe that some capable journalists -– there are some left, though their numbers are dwindling rapidly -– really need to look hard look at the weapons business.

Wish I could say I expect that to happen.