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Monday links 2/23/09

February 23, 2009

• Adam Isacson at the Center for International Policy’s “Plan Colombia and Beyond” blog sheds light on the new generation of criminal groups that have risen in Colombia following the official demobilization of the paramilitaries, profiling several known leadership figures. Nevertheless, Isacson warns that,

According to Colombia’s “New Rainbow” think-tank, which has performed extensive research on Colombia’s new paramilitary generation, there are more than 100 new militias, many of whose members and leaders have past relations with old paramilitary groups. They use about 21 different names, are active in 246 of Colombia’s 1,100 municipalities (counties), and have a combined membership estimated at about 10,000. They are cultivating ties with regional economic and political leaders. They often work with the guerrillas on the drug business. They also threaten and kill human-rights defenders, labor leaders, indigenous and afro-Colombian leaders, and independent journalists.

The US State Department released a new travel advisory for Mexico, with some serious warnings about border violence:

Some recent Mexican army and police confrontations with drug cartels have resembled small-unit combat, with cartels employing automatic weapons and grenades. Large firefights have taken place in many towns and cities across Mexico but most recently in northern Mexico, including Tijuana, Chihuahua City and Ciudad Juarez… The situation in northern Mexico remains fluid; the location and timing of future armed engagements cannot be predicted.

• The FBI investigates whether billionaire Sir Allen Stanford was involved in money laundering schemes with Mexico’s ultra-violent Gulf cartel.

What are the effects of enhanced sentences in “drug-free school zones” in the US? In a recent article with the spectacular title “You’re Probably in a Drug-Free School Zone Right Now,” the Boston Phoenix highlights the negative consequences, including the disproportionate jailing of urban minorities. The Phoenix cites a 2001 study by William Brownsberger, former Co-Chair of the Harvard Interdisciplinary Working Group on Drugs and Addictions, which found that, “because of the high density of schools in high-poverty and high-crime areas (almost all of Boston falls into enhancement zones), about 80 percent of drug arrests occurred in school zones, though less than one percent of drug cases involved sales to minors.”

• More than 50 members of the US Congress have written a letter to President Obama asking his administration to enforce the ban on imported assault weapons. Regarding the need to enforce the already-existing ban, the letter states,

This ban – first established nearly 20 years ago – was authorized by provisions in the 1968 Gun Control Act allowing ATF to prohibit the importation of firearms and ammunition that are not “particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes.” The import restriction is independent of the Assault Weapons Ban of 1994, and was not affected by its “sunset” in 2004.

The ban on assault weapon imports was first enforced by the George H.W. Bush Administration in response to growing threats to law enforcement personnel from the increased use of assault weapons by drug traffickers and in mass shootings, like the Stockton schoolyard massacre in 1989. The import restrictions were later strengthened in 1998 by the Clinton Administration to address foreign manufacturers that were evading the ban by making minor cosmetic changes to their weapons. The definition was changed to include any assault rifle with the “ability to accept a detachable large capacity magazine originally designed and produced for a military assault weapon.”

Unfortunately, in recent years, ATF has quietly abandoned enforcement of the import ban. As a result, the civilian firearms market is flooded with imported, inexpensive military-style assault weapons from primarily former Eastern bloc countries including Romania, Bulgaria and the former Yugoslavia. Importers are also able to skirt the restrictions by bringing in assault weapons parts and reassembling them with a small number of US-made parts. Assault weapon “parts kits” for assembly by individuals are also being imported. ATF has further weakened the prohibition by placing certain extremely problematic assault rifles on the “curios or relics” list, making certain firearms automatically eligible for importation.

Congressman Elliot Engel (D-NY) — who wrote the letter along with Michael Castle (R-DE) and Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) — specifically cites the violence in Mexico as a reason to return to enforcement of this ban.

• A Canadian study finds no link between distribution of medical heroin and crime at the neighborhood level.

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