Book Review: ‘Blood Gun Money’ | Community
“Gun Money: How America Arms Gangs and Cartels” by Ioan Grillo. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021. 400 pages, $ 28 (hardcover).
“From 2007 to 2019, there were over 277,000 murders in Mexico, according to the official tally,” Ioan Grillo explains in “Blood Gun Money: How America Arms Gangs and Cartels,” his in-depth investigation into a mostly reality. ‘between us. have seen only on television and in movie theaters. “Two-thirds of these murders were committed with guns. This period coincides with Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s launch of a US-backed crackdown on cartels with helicopters and wiretapping equipment – and gun sales. American factories supply both sides of the Mexican drug war.
“And these are just the weapons they captured and traced,” he continues. “There are still many more doctored firearms on the market and used in the terror of the cartels. We will never be able to know the true extent of this traffic. But one study estimates that more than 200,000 firearms are smuggled across the border each year. This led Mexican law enforcement in 2020 to estimate that 2.5 million firearms had been smuggled across the border in a decade. “
The gun debate has been a constant in American conversation since the country’s founding nearly 250 years ago. The dialogue has intensified in recent years with the significant increase in mass shootings that we have seen. But, as Grillo points out, the high-profile events that pervade our media with increasing regularity are only a tiny fraction of the whole story. Behind the calls for a ban on assault rifles and the inevitable backsliding of Second Amendment supporters lies a much more complicated and sinister tale.
“Blood Gun Money” is one of the most researched manuscripts I’ve read in a while, with 17 pages of source notes at the end of the 12 chapters that make up the main text. Grillo also includes a 16-page photo album at the center of the book that helps bring some of the content (and some of the characters featured) to life in ways that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. Fair warning: some of the images are quite graphic and are definitely not intended for a younger audience.
I especially appreciated the inclusion of a brief appendix explaining “The Ten Rules of Gun-onomics Crime”. For example, did you know that when a gun is “burned” or used in a murder, it is significantly devalued and will sell for much less? Or that if a buyer “eats”, that is, someone wants to hurt him, he is called a “buyer in distress” and the price goes up dramatically? I did not do it.
By the way, if you knew any of these little bits of information, maybe we need to keep an eye on you …
Grillo based much of this heart-wrenching but inherently captivating briefing on interviews with gunmakers, gun owners, and those who frequent gun shows – along with information that he gleaned from chatting with FBI agents who have infiltrated motorcycle gangs, ATF agents who work at the gun research center in West Virginia and gang members who hang out around the streets of Baltimore and D ‘other places known to be involved in arms trafficking. What emerges is a detailed portrait of a strongly entrenched and self-sustaining shadow industry that specializes in bringing legal weapons to the black market and ultimately into the hands of hardened criminals who use them to inflict violence both nationally and south of the border.
Indeed, it is the first-hand narrative and the author’s perspective that gives much of the book an aura of unprecedented credibility. The following anecdote from “Fast and the Furious,” Chapter Eight, gives an idea of your front row seat available to you for the topic at hand:
“In August 2009, a few months before the start of Fast and Furious, I visited the ATF offices in Phoenix and examined their stash of seized weapons. Agent Peter Forceli took me in the elevator to the safe. … Forceli would not be part of the Fast and Furious team, and his testimony was critical of him. But he gave me good basic information. He explained that there were fewer than 20 officers guarding thousands of firearms and many had gone uninspected for years. Their usual tactic was to get sellers like (Mike) Detty (a gun salesman in Arizona) to report suspicious buyers. They were following these buyers and trying to stop them and the people they were delivering to. This added a lot of weaponry to the domed vault piles. But Forceli conceded that they were only stopping a fraction of the guns going into Mexico. Faced with this challenge, the agents came up with Fast and Furious.
A contributing New York Times writer Grillo has also featured his work in Time, Esquire, Reuters, CNN, and the History Channel. His previous books include “El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency”, which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and “Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and the New Politics of Latin America”, a New York Times Editor’s Choice Book Reviewer and Guardian Book of the Year. He is based in Mexico City.
Oh, if you want a vision of a potential future, consider the following passage from “Ghosts,” Chapter 11, and one that I found particularly disturbing:
“A man in his living room squats on a 3D printer, feeding on plastics encoded by funny arrangements of letters: PLA, ABS, PETG. He zaps a drawing into the printer from his computer. And boom. A pistol comes out. A verifiable killing machine. He’s ready to kill people. It’s finish. Everything we talked about. Cartels, corner teams, mass shooters – anyone can print all the firepower they want at home. The ATF may as well shut down. And the gun companies. And the arms traffickers went bankrupt. Weapons will be everywhere. The dreams of a fully armed society will come true. For many, this is a terrifying idea. For others, it is liberating. But it’s a fantasy. At least now. Where is it?”
Think about it for a moment.
In the final analysis, Grillo achieves his goal: to educate the public about how the illegal firearms trade works and how difficult it is to properly address the myriad challenges that lie ahead. Honestly, I found this one to be fascinating read, and I have no doubts it will appeal to anyone – on either side of the gun debate. Highly recommended.
– Reviewed by Aaron W. Hughey, University Professor Emeritus, Department of Counseling and Student Affairs, Western Kentucky University.