Thursday, February 14, 2013

On Guns, Prohibitions, and Blood Money

UPDATED February 21, 2013. This essay concerns the unseemly relationships that link drug prohibition, for-profit prisons, the"tough on crime" movement, anti-immigration sentiment, and the NRA. The United States is subject to an epidemic of gun violence. We know from our nation's failed experiment with the prohibition of alcohol, that gun violence is a predictable consequence of prohibition. Although it is now legal to sell alcoholic beverages, it is not legal to purchase marijuana (with some exceptions). Marijuana is not as addictive as alcohol and does not impair drivers as much as alcohol but it is prohibited all the same. Because marijuana producers and distributors operate outside of the law, they have to settle business disputes their own way. This sometimes involves assault weapons (source).

On the subject of assault weapons, there was an assault weapons ban in the United States that expired in 2004. When it was in effect, it reduced the number of homicides in the United States.

Mass Shootings and Assault Weapons, U.S. (source)
The assault weapons ban also reduced the homicide rate in Mexico. Mexican cartels export marijuana to the U.S. and import illegal assault weapons from the U.S. When the assault weapons ban expired in 2004, the flow of assault weapons across the border increased and the homicide rate increased as well. 
Homicides in Mexico

When people argue against instituting a new assault weapons ban in the U.S., they say that the earlier ban didn’t have a large effect on the homicide rate in this country. But they ignore the situation in Mexico. Perhaps assault weapons enthusiasts believe that Mexico’s problems are not our problems, but we’re certainly spending a lot of money fortifying the border between the U.S. and Mexico.
It also bears noting that the taxpayer bears the burden for incarcerating people who are arrested for sales or possession of marijuana. And after these people leave prison, it’s harder for them to find legitimate jobs, they’ve learned how to be better criminals and they might even be excused for having a bad attitude. 

My reason for discussing guns, prisons, and prohibition is to make the point that there are some very fancy money-making schemes behind all of this. The National Rifle Association almost certainly has a financial stake in the for-profit prison industry (source – also, see below). So, on one hand, the NRA tries to block assault weapons bans because it makes their patrons in the weapons manufacturing industry happy. On the other hand, through intermediaries such as the (now defunct) Law Enforcement Alliance of America (LEAA, source), the NRA lobbies state and federal law-makers to pass “tough on crime” measures to make sure that the prison population continues to climb. LEAA was also involved in defending owners of gun stores who sell weapons to “straw purchasers” who re-sell the weapons to criminals. 

To elaborate on the view that NRA profits from the for-profit prison industry and stands to gain financially from laws that swell the prison population, I must acquaint you with additional players. The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is one of the largest for-profits in corrections, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a sort of clearing house for industries that stand to gain financially from the devastation of civil liberties (go here for more information). As reported by PRWatch:   

NRA conceived the so-called Stand Your Ground law in Florida, promoted its passage, then brought it to … ALEC in 2005, where the legislators and corporate lobbyists on the Criminal Justice Task Force voted unanimously to adopt it as a ‘model bill.’ At the time, Wal-Mart was the Task Force co-chair, and the NRA led the Task Force in subsequent years. [after ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws were adopted in other states] the number of homicides classified as ‘justifiable’ has dramatically increased in many states (and jumped 300 percent in Florida).

… Members of the Task Force have included for-profit prison providers like Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which has also served as the co-chair. The ALEC Criminal Justice / Public Safety & Elections Task Force has created model bills that lengthen sentences, which have dramatically increased incarceration rates, and bills that privatize prisons, putting more of those inmates under the control of for-profit corporations, as well as many other policies (source).
A chair that can electronically probe your orifices.

What I am talking about is a fairly complicated game of avoiding public exposure for destructive, self-serving behavior on the part of corporations. The reader may benefit from this interactive chart (here). Looking at the membership of the (now defunct) Criminal Justice Task Force, we see Wal-Mart, which profits from the sales of guns, and CCA, which profits from laws that increase the prison population (including immigration laws). There are other companies that profit from prisons, ranging from pharmaceutical companies to makers of surveillance equipment to security firms such as Wackenhut, and play a role in boosting ‘tough on crime’ legislation (go here for more info). And the ALEC’s new Public Safety and Elections task force (the names change regularly) has, as one of its members, “Laurie Shanblum who is the Senior Director of Business Development for the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which is also a member of ALEC, along with the American Bail Coalition, which is dedicated to the long-term growth and longevity of the bail bond industry (source).” If you consider who else might benefit from prison expansion, there is of course the gun manufacturing industry, which we know provides NRA with much of its revenue.


  1. I don't see where the NRA "has a financial stake in the for-profit prison industry." The cited MoJo article shows that the NRA pushed hard for three strikes laws, prison construction and so forth, but that's it.

    Although the MoJo article sets up the expectation that it will show some NRA financial gains ("by the early 1990s, it was strapped for cash...needed a shot in the arm") it never delivers.

    A financial stake in crime hysteria through increased donations and membership, sure. But where is the NRA collecting revenue from the prison industry?

    1. Hello, Dear Reader;
      I have revised the blog post to make the connection clearer. I hope I've been successful.