Ioan Grillo (@ioangrillo) is a contributing writer at The New York Times specializing in crime and drugs. He is the author of El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency; Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and the New Politics of Latin America; and Blood Gun Money: How America Arms Gangs and Cartels. [This is part two of a two-part episode. Make sure to check out part one here!]
What We Discuss with Ioan Grillo:
- The Iron River may sound like something you’d find on a map of Westeros, but it’s just a quaint term for the 200,000 guns manufactured or sold in the US moving across the border to Mexico every year.
- The private-sale loophole that allows “collectors” in the US to sell guns without requiring identification, background checks, or paperwork — often to criminals and cartels at a tidy profit.
- How “straw buyers” — that is, people with clean records — are paid by gun traffickers to pass background checks and buy firearms en masse without raising any red flags. If they are arrested in the act, however, their punishment rarely exceeds probation.
- There are 130,000 licensed firearms dealers in the US from which ill-intentioned gun traffickers can make their shady purchases. If that doesn’t sound like that many, consider that there are only 14,000 McDonald’s restaurants.
- Thanks to a Reagan-era law enacted ostensibly to protect the privacy of gun owners, the ATF finds its ability to efficiently trace guns hobbled because it can’t use searchable, digital databases of sales.
- And much more…
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Mexican cartels are infamous for their ruthlessness in carving out whatever piece of the $300 billion annual illicit drug trade they can. This means waging war against one another, as well as terrorizing the populace unlucky enough to call a contested town home. The police can’t be trusted to serve and protect them because, if they’re not on the take from the cartels, they’re certainly outgunned by them. Thousands of innocent people disappear every year as pawns in whatever games the cartels decide to play — children often recruited to carry out the bloodiest, most gruesome work while their parents and relatives wind up in mass graves. But in a country that highly regulates firearms and only has one well-guarded store from which they can be purchased, who do these cartels depend on for the 200,000 guns that wind up in Mexico every year? The United States.
For 20 years, journalist Ioan Grillo has been immersed in this world of nonstop cruelty and chaos, resulting in two books: El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency and Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and the New Politics of Latin America. His third and most recent, Blood Gun Money: How America Arms Gangs and Cartels, covers the origin of the tools that make the cartels’ dark and violent trades possible, how they’re so easily acquired en masse, and why the governments on both sides of the border find controlling the flow of weapons so challenging. [This is part two of a two-part episode. Make sure to check out part one here!]
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Thanks, Ioan Grillo!
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Resources from This Episode:
- Blood Gun Money: How America Arms Gangs and Cartels by Ioan Grillo | Amazon
- Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and the New Politics of Latin America by Ioan Grillo | Amazon
- El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency by Ioan Grillo | Amazon
- CrimeWar Podcast
- Ioan Grillo | Website
- Ioan Grillo | Twitter
- Ioan Grillo | Facebook
- Ioan Grillo | YouTube
- Slow the Iron River of Guns to Mexico | The New York Times
- Why Operation Fast and Furious Failed | NPR
- Interpretation: The Second Amendment | The National Constitution Center
- What School Shootings Do to the Kids Who Survive Them, from Sandy Hook to Uvalde | The Washington Post
- How Smugglers Flood Mexico with Cheap US Guns | Vice
- Ed Calderon | Survival Secrets of a Drug War Veteran Part One | Jordan Harbinger
- Ed Calderon | Survival Secrets of a Drug War Veteran Part Two | Jordan Harbinger
- Mexicans Have the Right to Own Guns, but Few Do | CBS News
- Who Killed Tupac Shakur? | Britannica
- Automatic vs. Semi-Automatic vs. Fully Automatic Firearms: What’s the Difference? | The Writer’s Guide to Weapons
- 20 Men Convicted in November 2015 Paris Terrorist Attack | The New York Times
- Orlando Shooting: What Happened at The Pulse Nightclub Attack | NPR
- Could the US Exchange Brittney Griner for the Russian Arms Dealer Known as the ‘Merchant of Death’? | NBC News
- The ATF’s Nonsensical Non-Searchable Gun Databases, Explained | The Trace
- The NRA’s Surprising History | Vox
- The Man Responsible for the Modern NRA Killed a Hispanic Teenager Before Becoming a Border Agent | Timeline
- The Vast Majority of Americans Support Universal Background Checks. Why Doesn’t Congress? | The Institute of Politics at Harvard University
- US Mass Shootings, 1982–2022: Data From Mother Jones’ Investigation | Mother Jones
- After Soldiers Surrender El Chapo’s Son, a Shocked Mexican City Sighs With Relief | The New York Times
- Chapitos | InsightCrime
- 2015 San Bernardino Attack | Wikipedia
- El Chapo Bin Laden? Why Drug Cartels Are Not Terrorist Organisations | ICCT
- Central America Refugee Crisis: Aid, Statistics, and News | USA for UNHCR
- AK-47s, Now Made in America: Russia’s Perfect Killing Machine Comes Stateside | The Daily Beast
- Two Cartel Members Sentenced to Life Prison Terms in Slaying of ICE Special Agent Jaime Zapata and Attempted Murder of ICE Special Agent Victor Avila | ICE
- Armslist: Inside the Crime-Friendly Craigslist of Guns | The Verge
- What Are 3D-Printed Guns, and Are They Legal? | The Trace
- What Makes a Gun a Ghost Gun? | The Trace
701: Ioan Grillo | How America Arms Gangs and Cartels Part Two
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: Coming up next on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:03] Ioan Grillo: So these guys surround a car and suddenly one of these Zetas finds out, oh my god, the door opens. So there's like a struggle. They slammed a door shut, looked for like presser, I think, to lock it. And when they do that, the window winds down a few centimeters. So this guy sticks a gun through the window and sprays.
[00:00:30] Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people. We have in-depth conversations with scientists, entrepreneurs, spies, and psychologists, even the occasional four-star general, Fortune 500 CEO, arms dealer, or underworld figure. And each episode turns our guest's wisdom into practical advice that you can use to build a deeper understanding of how the world works and become a better thinker.
[00:00:55] If you're new to the show, or you want to tell your friends about it, I suggest our episode starter packs. These are collections of our favorite episodes, organized by topic to help new listeners get a taste of everything that we do here on the show — topics like abnormal psychology, technology and futurism, investing in financial crimes, disinformation and cyber warfare, and more. Just visit jordanharbinger.com/start or search for us in your Spotify app to get started.
[00:01:20] Today, part two with Ioan Grillo, this episode is a continuation of our conversation about Mexican cartels. Again, it's pretty heavy. So if you've got kids in the car, you might want to switch to another episode of The Jordan Harbinger Show. We got plenty that's appropriate for all ages.
[00:01:33] All right. Let's dive back in. Here's part two with Ioan Grillo.
[00:01:39] So yeah, let's talk about gun trafficking, the Iron River as you called it in the book. And at first, I thought, oh, the Iron River, it sounds so Game of Thrones, right? Then you wrote, there was something like 200,000 guns going from the US to Mexico every year. I read that and then I rewound it and then I listened again and I rewound it and I thought, "Wait, every year, 200,000, that can't be right," because the number is so insane. It sounds like what you would need if you were fueling an insurgency in Iraq.
[00:02:09] Ioan Grillo: Yeah. The number's mind-boggling. That's estimates. So you've got estimates and there's this big start that was carried out. And it tried to look at like the sales in certain areas of gun shops, how they were very abnormal, particularly gun shops, right on the border with Mexico. But then you look at the hard numbers. So you look at the very solid numbers of guns that are being seized from cartels in Mexico, from gangsters in Mexico, and directly traced to US gun shops and gun factories. And you find over a 12-year period about 160,000 of those. So that's already a very, very big number. We can be totally sure about.
[00:02:47] But then you look at some of these things and like the Fast and Furious guns, and we can get into that particular juicy scandal, the Fast and Furious thing.
[00:02:55] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:02:55] Ioan Grillo: But in the Fast and Furious guns, then you had in some ways, a kind of controlled experiment where you had 2,000 guns and you saw only a pretty small percentage of those were recovered. So that gave you an indication of only a small percentage of guns that you are following, being trafficked are really out there now. Fast and Furious, obviously, was a huge botched operation by the government, which many people see as being one that they were deliberately doing this to try and show how bad the thing was.
[00:03:22] Either way, the numbers are huge. It's mind-boggling. You see this around. I mean, you see just the armaments that cartels have. You can see again and again, again, in a daily, day-to-day, these people, these killers, these paramilitary-style cartel groups, where they can have 50, a hundred people with AR-15s, AK-47s and see where they're coming from. Now, this is kind of mind-boggling scale of this thing.
[00:03:49] But for me personally, for a long time, I was hesitant to write a book specifically about this issue as we are discussing in the first episode of the podcast, I've been 20 years, 21 years in Mexico now covering this cartel violence. Pretty early on, I bumped to this issue of the firearms coming from the United States and had a story about this in this Houston Chronicle back in 2004, you know, looking at it right back then about these guns coming over, that was before the real increase. And they had other stories for the associated press and various people over the years. But I was hesitant to write a book about this because I was thinking, well, you have the Second Amendment in the United States. And this is such a powerful thing that. You know, what difference does it make? You know, people have got the right to bear arms. They're going to buy guns and bring them to Mexico.
[00:04:37] And also when I saw things like Sandy Hook happened in 2012 and it is like, well, you know, in the United States, there's no room to debate on this. Even when children are being shot in a school, there's no movement about this. Now, this changed in 2017, when in my own research, I came across for a radio documentary I was doing, a gun trafficker in prison in Ciudad Juárez and had a long interview with a guy arrested by the military for bringing a whole bunch of firearms. AR-15s, mostly from Texas, from Dallas, he was buying them, taking them down into Mexico, doing it every weekend. And I talked to him in a lot of detail about how he got into this, what he was doing, what his modus operandi was. And I realized, I say a lot to this, even beyond the Second Amendment.
[00:05:28] There's a lot into these details because actually there's a lot of kind of holes in these laws or law enforcement, which is not happening, even beyond the issue of right to bear arms or not. So for example, he was going and he was going to Dallas to gun shows and he was buying them and he said, "There's a black market at gun shows so I can buy them with no paperwork at all, no paper trail. I walk in there, I buy 12 to 15, mainly AR-15s every week, every weekend, and take them down to Mexico."
[00:06:02] So I went up there with a colleague and we took a recorder and we're recording in the gun show. And we're recording people and people talking to us and we realize what you have is you have this, you know, it's known as the private-sale loophole, but it's also this abusing even the private-sale loophole where some people will call the gun show loophole. But you have a case where supposedly a private sale is exempt from background checks and from paperwork. The same way that if you are just going to sell me an old microphone, you don't have to be a registered microphone seller. You're just going to, "Oh, I'll give you a hundred bucks for that microphone," no paperwork involved.
[00:06:40] But people were abusing that, and you had people with tables full of brand new AR-15s, selling them with no paperwork. So they were selling on a private collector, but you're not a private collector. You're in the business of selling guns.
[00:06:56] Jordan Harbinger: Right. You're reselling the weapons. Yeah.
[00:06:59] Ioan Grillo: You're buying and reselling without even using. So you're basically in the business of selling guns without a license, which is a crime and which the ATF do send undercover agents into try and look for. Now, there's cases, documented cases, and found one down in Florida of someone selling more than a thousand guns this way.
[00:07:16] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:07:16] Ioan Grillo: And selling them. And then that day, they went and got him on tape, and very aware selling to the cartels. And so the more I got into this, to be honest, there's quite a lot of meat there to get into. It's not as simple as the Second Amendment.
[00:07:28] Another case, one of the biggest ways that these cartels are acquiring the firearms is through what they call straw buyers, straw purchases. You got to cleaner record. I pay you some money. You go there and buy the guns for me. Now, they're only paying them often things like $100 to buy a rifle, $50 to buy a pistol. And the reason it's so low is because the recommended punishment is probation. And you see these people go in and they're buying — there's one case where a guy went in, bought 10 AK-47s, identical weapons. So he is buying like 10 of those. Obviously something suspicious, you're buying 10 Romanian-made AK-47s, buying them for a guy who was working for Mexican cartel, the Zetas, supplying the cartel. The cartel used them in the murder of an American agent.
[00:08:18] Jordan Harbinger: Oh wow.
[00:08:18] Ioan Grillo: So even an American agent being killed with these guns, the guy still only got probation.
[00:08:26] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. The people who are doing this go, "You're not going to get caught. Basically, this is an inconvenience at best for you and that's even if you get caught. So here's a hundred bucks, go get me a pistol and just don't ask any questions about what I'm going to do with it," or an AK-47 in this case.
[00:08:41] Ioan Grillo: Or it's a lot worse than that, "Go buy me a gun," I mean, this case is documented, if people have gone around spending half a million dollars in shops. So you know there's a lot more going on with this issue than simply, okay, the second amendment exists, it's going to happen. But there's a failure in the basic enforcement of this issue that even many gun owners, many pro-Second Amendment people can be like, "Well, actually, yeah, I want my guns. I want the Second Amendment, but I don't want this massive sale of guns to the cartels."
[00:09:12] Jordan Harbinger: I'm sympathetic to that. I'm not one of those people who's like ban — I know I'm going to get some flag for this. I don't think we should ban all firearms from the United States. I don't think that's going to work. I think we have gun culture. It's just it. You know, the toothpaste is out of the tube, but I'd wager — and this is the back of the napkin here, most gun owners probably want something akin to, hey, maybe we shouldn't let people go in and buy 10 AK-47s as a straw buyer for drug cartels. Like maybe there should be a little bit of fill out this form and come back tomorrow because we need to make sure that you are not a supplier of illegal weapons that are going to get people killed. I mean, you can even have the low bar to gun ownership, you just need a bar to gun ownership.
[00:09:52] And again, this is not a Second Amendment episode, and I'm unqualified to talk about that particular angle. But when we talk about the Iron River of guns flowing south at those numbers, that's hardly hyperbole, right? And so are those 200,000 guns that are being trafficked to Mexico each year, is it safe to say those are all for cartel warfare? Because it's nearly impossible. Ed Calderon told me it's almost impossible to buy a gun legally in Mexico. So this isn't people buying for home defense or sport, right?
[00:10:19] Ioan Grillo: Right. So you have to buy a gun legally in Mexico — it's another thing that people might find surprising. When I got into this issue and I realized, you know, after this first interview with this guy, actually there's a lot of meat on this issue, a lot of weird things happening. So I got spent four years just diving into this issue of gun trafficking. You know, I went all the way to Romania, to the factory that made these AK-47s which then get imported to the United States and then sold in Mexico. You know, I found people all over the industry, found gun, you know, some hard-line people in support of Second Amendment in high note, the president of the Alaska Machine Gun Association, and then as well as the victims and people campaign all those issues. So you'll find a lot there.
[00:10:59] I found many, many surprises. I mean, many are surprised about this. One of them was that you can't trace a gun digitally. If, literally, a smoking gun is found at a crime scene in the United States, so literally here's the smoking gun, the body's right there, phone up the gun trace center. And a lot of cops don't know this, there's a gun trace center. You phone up the gun trace center. "Here's the serial number. Give me a trace." We can't do that. We're not allowed to digitally trace. We're not allowed legally to have a digital record of firearms. You can't in the same way you can have car license plates.
[00:11:34] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. So there's no digital database for the ATF to say, "This gun was purchased in an Illinois gun shop. And then it moved to California with the owner, and then it got stolen in Nevada from a car. There's nothing like that."
[00:11:46] Ioan Grillo: Absolutely not. So what they have to do — it's quite an amazing place to go to is the ATF's trace center in West Virginia. They have to make phone calls. They make a phone call to the company which made the gun say, "Who did you sell it to? Or where did you distribute it?" "Over this shop here." Phone up the gun shop, "Who you sell it?" "To this person." Now, if they resold it in a private sale or it was stolen, I'll say anyway, if the shop goes out of business, they give the paper records to this ATF's trace center. However, the ATF's trace center is not allowed to digitize them. So they have these massive, massive mountains of paperwork. And they're trying to find these weird ways of getting around because they cannot have a searchable database.
[00:12:26] So these things like you get to these interesting things about gun law and even the Second Amendment, from a legal point of view is a lot more complicated. You get debate about the Second Amendment. You get these different federal laws, the 1934 law, the 1968 law, you get these different state laws. So it's actually very, very complicated. Gun law in the United States is not super simple.
[00:12:45] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:12:45] Ioan Grillo: In fact, It's actually very, very complicated. So we asked about buying a gun in Mexico. In Mexico, it might surprise people. There is a constitutional right to bear arms in Mexico.
[00:12:54] Jordan Harbinger: There is one?
[00:12:55] Ioan Grillo: There is one, yeah.
[00:12:56] Jordan Harbinger: Wow, okay.
[00:12:56] Ioan Grillo: In the Mexican Constitution of 1917. However, now that is in some ways clearer than the US Second Amendment into saying you can have guns, but only certain categories of firearms. You can't have guns superior to the military. You know, you can have certain firearms there. However, to actually practically get your firearm in Mexico, there's a lot of paperwork. There's only one shop in the whole country, which sells guns, legally new guns. It's controlled by the Mexican military.
[00:13:25] You know, you go in that shop, you have to hand in your cell phone, hand in all kinds of paperwork, go through metal detectors, like going into a prison. You go and look at these guns and then you have to give in seven pieces of paperwork, including a letter from your employer and a letter from the police saying, you have no criminal record. When you get all this stuff, you can get the firearm. You know, it takes several months and then it's going to be registered with them. But the cartels don't do that. The cartels buy in the US.
[00:13:53] Now, there are other people buying guns in Mexico as well. Now, I mean, one of the groups who bought a lot of guns illegally were these groups of vigilantes or self-defense squads who start an arms race where you do get people saying, "Well, look, we're going to fight the cartels. So we're going to bar a bunch of guns and get our relatives who are in the US to buy guns and bring them down to us as well. So I'm going to get them to send me an AR-15, AK-47, and I'm going to stand up and fight the cartel." So you do get other people there. You do get some private citizens, you know, they might have somebody living in the US. "And so I'm going to go home to Michoacán. I buy a gun and take it home and give it as Christmas present to my brother."
[00:14:30] So you do the other people bringing the guns south as well, but it's the cartels who are buying these vast amounts. Often, it's known as ant traffick that is these little amounts going down like these 12 to 15 guns. I talked to all kinds of people involved in the trafficking business. I talked to one guy who was working for the US or is working for a US company laying cable. He was an American citizen, had a US government ID to cross the border. And he was bringing down in his truck, a bunch of guns.
[00:14:59] Jordan Harbinger: This is like a side hustle for him. He's like, "Yeah, I'm here to fix some telecom phone lines. But every time I come down, I bring down 15 rifles and just sell them on the side of the road."
[00:15:07] Ioan Grillo: Even more in his case, he was bringing and he was bringing them in the boxes, the company boxes, the company trucks using the ID.
[00:15:14] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:15:14] Ioan Grillo: And he said he was into it — I mean, he started making some quite decent money by the end. And he also, in fact, got involved in spying on the Border Patrol and using this kind of equipment. He was kind of a tech nerd as well.
[00:15:25] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:15:25] Ioan Grillo: So kind of spying on different Border Patrol staff and reporting all of their locations to the cartel. He said he kind of did it for the adrenaline. It was one of the things that he said, and he said, it was kind of funny. So one of the things that he was pissed off about is going back to the '90s and he got involved and he was pissed off about Tupac being killed.
[00:15:42] Jordan Harbinger: That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard in my life.
[00:15:44] Ioan Grillo: Yeah, I know. You know, all this kind of stuff, I kind of relate to it at a human level, that kind of stuff. I mean, it kind of—
[00:15:49] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:15:50] Ioan Grillo: You could understand somebody thinking that.
[00:15:51] Jordan Harbinger: But how old was he? That's something a child would think like that's a 17-year-old tough guy of mindset.
[00:15:56] Ioan Grillo: In his 20s, he is like, "I'm pissed off about Tupac being killed. F*ck the world. I'm going to traffic guns to Mexico." Yeah, which is obviously, you know, not the best defensive court.
[00:16:06] Jordan Harbinger: No, I assumed you talk to this guy because he's in prison, regretting his actions or something like that.
[00:16:11] Ioan Grillo: No, no, that guy didn't get caught.
[00:16:12] Jordan Harbinger: Geez.
[00:16:12] Ioan Grillo: That guy didn't get caught, but it was a very interesting story and he gave a lot of details. So you get sometimes these ant-traffickers. There's all kinds of different people moving these guns. Sometimes these big amounts, there was one time there was a truck with 147 firearms, in 147 AK-47s. And that was actually caught by the ATF. They were watching this and their operations get very interesting as Fast and Furious shows that was heading into Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.
[00:16:44] Jordan Harbinger: You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Ioan Grillo. We'll be right back.
[00:16:49] This episode is sponsored in part by What Was That Like podcast. Here's a podcast you'll get hooked on. It's called What Was That Like each episode features the actual person who experienced the situation situations like Dan was molded by a grizzly bear. Aaron survived a tsunami. That sounds awful. Diana survived a plane crash. Whitney was shot 12 times. Or something more lighthearted, like a lady who once sent a text message to the wrong number and three years later ended up getting married to that person. Many of the stories include the actual 911 call audio that was made from the scene of what happened. And there's a very wide range of topics that are so interesting. I like that, Scott, the host friend of mine, full disclosure, he lets the guest tell the story. He actually gets transported into the situation, making you think. "Wow. What if that were me?" Hopefully, not the "plane crash, tsunami, grizzly bear, get shot 12 times" story, but maybe like the "text someone randomly, get married" story. Check out What Was That Like on any podcast app, including Spotify, or on their website, whatwasthatlike.com. Click on their list of episodes where you'll see tons of interesting stories.
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[00:19:44] Now back to Ioan Grillo.
[00:19:46] So your book did dispel some ideas for me. Like I originally I assumed some gun traffickers or most gun traffickers were these giant operations that we picture when we think about gun trafficking and arms trafficking, you know, something out of Die Hard, a dude on a yacht, delivering loads of thousands of weapons covered by a burlap blanket from former Soviet Republics or to former Soviet Republics but it's not. It's like, it sounds like it's a dude driving across the Rio Grande down to Mexico with a Toyota Camry or an AT & T truck and a trunk full of guns.
[00:20:18] Ioan Grillo: I think this gets some, it's the real big issues of understanding a lot of the violence around the world today. A lot of the wars and a lot of this kind of what we see in Mexico and other countries, this weird hybrid between crime and war.
[00:20:32] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:20:32] Ioan Grillo: So for a lot of people who are like in the kind of think tank complex about this, trying to look at this, they like to kind of divide this. Okay, we've got two boxes, two areas. We've got the traditional wars and the traditional gun traffickers, kind of gun runners to wars, which we can talk about. And we can look and try and, you know, stuff like North Korea, building guns and selling them to terrorist groups, whatever, Iran, this kind of things. And then we have domestic crime and these criminals moving guns. Somebody in a parking lot, selling some guns in Baltimore, Maryland.
[00:21:09] We actually find these things are linked and we've seen it kind of leveling out of this. Now, one thing is with the type of weapons and when you get into the AR-15s or the M16s, the AK-47s, and you see a lot of these same guns, basically the same guns sold domestically, as well as used in these war zones. Now, there's the issue, of course, that the AK-47 and the AR-15 domestic versions are semiautomatic, but then you realize that in Mexico, they can very easily convert them to fully automatic, but also that distinction really between semiautomatic and fully automatic, these days in war zones themselves, that they're not really using fully automatic fire because everyone's got the capacity for that. They're now like more trying to preserve and fighting in a different way anyway.
[00:21:57] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Well, we don't have trench warfare as much, right?
[00:21:59] Ioan Grillo: Yeah.
[00:21:59] Jordan Harbinger: So you don't need to lay down machine gun fire from Normandy.
[00:22:02] Ioan Grillo: Just like spread anymore. So nowadays, it's like things, like this kind of tight urban warfare, things like Fallujah or that kind of stuff. Or, you know, some of the fighting around these cities in Ukraine right now. And then, you know, you could look even at the mass shootings. You look at the mass shooting in Paris, in Bataclan, in Paris, the disco there, where they got some guns, which was asked of made—
[00:22:23] Jordan Harbinger: Yugoslavia.
[00:22:24] Ioan Grillo: Yugoslavia rifles, exactly. Sprayed on the people there and just firing automatic to a bunch of sitting darks, literally. But then you can see somebody firing with semiautomatic fire, like the attacker in the Florida disco some years ago where he was using semiautomatic and he was actually being more efficient in a way, you know, in terms of bullets and massacring people. But when we do see these similar weapons, so you have these rifles that can be used by an Islamic State group in Syria or by a cartel in Mexico or by a mass shooter in the United States, so kind of leveling out of these type of firearms across these situations of crime, terror, and war. And then you see these same networks involved.
[00:23:09] Now, let's say, this traffic from United States to Mexico is complicated, it would be easier if it was these big James Bond villains.
[00:23:18] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:23:19] Ioan Grillo: One of them being Viktor Bout, one of these alleged James Bond villains is the Russian Viktor Bout who was bringing a whole bunch of heavy guns to Africa following the fall of the Soviet Union. Interestingly, there's a side note there. They're looking at potentially he's imprisoned in the United States, trading him to get an American free from Russia.
[00:23:38] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:23:39] Ioan Grillo: In a trade right now, but it's a lot of these smaller criminals working as part of these big organized crime networks.
[00:23:46] Jordan Harbinger: Right. It would be easier to interdict this if it was one organization or even smaller numbers — hey, this is something state-sponsored. It's coming up from Nicaragua and the military is involved and we can see them on our satellites. No, it's 3000 different people transporting 25 or 50 or 100 guns at a time over and over and over again. It's just like you said, ant traffic. You know, you can't just squish the ant that's in the front of the line or you can't get them all, right? You can't get them all.
[00:24:15] You said earlier, the ATF can't use digitized databases for guns. That's because of political — it's in their charter or something like that or a regulation, right? That it's not that they can't. I'm trying to think of any good reason why that would be the case.
[00:24:29] Ioan Grillo: Yeah. Yeah. That was actually defined in the code following a law under Reagan, which was kind of protecting gun owners, protecting gun businesses, particularly. So one of the things that's part of the code of that law was to say, you can't have searchable databases. You've had this kind of fight back and forth about all these different things. And you realize all these things that happen with gun legislation. So a lot of what we have, like really the forming of the modern ATF, the background checks or the forms before they're actually made with the instant background check system, the actual forms themselves, this comes from like 1968, the gun control act then. And then, you have this kind of backlash to that. Another interesting thing out of this is, you know, you go back before and it's only quite recently, the guns have been this very politicized culture war issue in the United States.
[00:25:26] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:25:27] Ioan Grillo: So, you know, you go back to the origins of the National Rifle Association and they're originally formed in New York. They weren't formed — you know, you might think in Mississippi.
[00:25:38] Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
[00:25:39] Ioan Grillo: They were formed in New York. They were both civil war veterans, people who fought with the north. One of them had worked at the New York Times, one of the founders of the NRA.
[00:25:51] Jordan Harbinger: That's the irony. That's crazy.
[00:25:53] Ioan Grillo: Initially, they realized in the civil war, a lot of the Northern soldiers couldn't shoot., They couldn't shoot straight. So like, we need to have some rifle training. Americans can't shoot.
[00:26:01] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. We still have that problem.
[00:26:02] Ioan Grillo: Yeah. They can't shoot straight. And then, as they moved on, they were like into promoting things like Olympic shooting and that kind of thing. And they were totally in favor of gun regulation. 1934, you had this act then, which particularly was after you had the gangsters Al Capone-style massacres, and a lot of the tommy guns, you know, spraying the speakeasy with tommy guns. That was actually when you stopped being able to buy — or even then they made it a weird thing of limiting how people can buy machine guns, fully automatic guns. Even then they made it a weird thing that you could still buy them, you had to pay a machine gun tax and be fingerprinted and photographed. You could still buy these machine guns now and there's really, you know, weird things there, but right through, you had even the 1968 act, you still had the NRA own favor of it.
[00:26:49] And then in the '70s you started seeing a reaction and a reaction, particularly to the idea of rising crime in cities to these various things. And you start to see more militancy, these militant groups. And this guy called Harlon Carter took over the NRA with a very interesting story. This guy, he actually shot dead a Mexican teenager when he was 17 years old and later got away with it.
[00:27:12] Jordan Harbinger: Oh wow.
[00:27:12] Ioan Grillo: He has a much more militant side. And you'll see him since then, the kind of NRA development, the idea of kind of no compromise at all.
[00:27:20] Now, I will say that I do think now, what are difficulties now, and looking at the US climate right now, you'll be kind of getting to the bigger piece of American politics, but like, how is it that the US now is still incapable of kind of moving on this issue?
[00:27:36] Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:27:37] Ioan Grillo: And so you still have the issue of the NRA becoming extremely adept at stopping any kind of movement. So universal background checks, which would stop that idea of abusing the private-sale loophole — surveys show there's very, very big support for universal background checks, things like 89 percent, including among gun owners, including among conservatives. And they can't move on that because the NRA are very good at lobbying on that and stopping any movement on that issue.
[00:28:05] But I do think on the other side as well, that the Democrats — you know, I was wondering when I published my book last year, this issue had become quite hot of firearms and this issue of universal background checks, they would've already moved on those issues by the time my book was published, thinking this kind, they've got big supporters, hasn't happened. And it seems on many issues the Democrats, you know, when they won both houses, despite having a lot of power, cultural power, corporate power have been very bad at forging any real agenda to do things kind of pragmatic, practical things to finding that middle ground to agree on.
[00:28:49] Jordan Harbinger: For every American, this is frustrating. No matter which side of this you're on, you're frustrated with this right now, especially the result or the lack of results. It's really infuriating.
[00:28:59] I do want to talk a little bit about Fast and Furious—
[00:29:01] Ioan Grillo: Yeah.
[00:29:01] Jordan Harbinger: You know, just in very brief. You know, what happened? People have heard about this besides the movie franchise. What happened? What was the original idea here?
[00:29:09] Ioan Grillo: So, for people who don't know anything about this, the first, the kind of background, and then I could talk about some of my research and really what happened here. The story that broke out is you had the ATF in Arizona, out of Phoenix, Arizona, watching a group of these straw buyers, that I mentioned, working with gangsters in Mexico to supply various cartels with firearms. And they were sitting there watching this and doing nothing. They were not stopping these guns from going down to the cartels in Mexico. They were watching as this group bought 500 guns, then 1,000 guns, then 1,500 guns, and then 2,000 guns. Eventually, this blew up when one of these guns was used, or one of these guns was captured from a group of gangsters who were involved in the murder of an elite Border Patrol agent from the BORTAC unit in Arizona, Brian Terry.
[00:30:07] And after Brian Terry's death, there started to be some leaks and the story blew up. It blew up the very, very big political story. Immediately, there was a lot of conspiracy theories that came about this or people were thinking this had to be a bigger thing. The bigger conspiracy in the United States side was this had to be the Obama administration deliberately doing this to make the kind of gun owners look bad. On the Mexican side, people would say, well, look, look at the United States, they deliberately want to destabilize Mexico. They're deliberately selling these guns, pushing these guns down to Mexico. And other people kind of more involved in this start saying, "Well, wait a minute, these guns are going to the Sinaloa cartel, particularly, El Chapo Guzman. Is there some kind of deal between the American government and the Sinaloa cartel?
[00:30:52] Now, I went into this pretty deeply. I got a lot of the papers. I talked to the confidential informant. I talked to the Mexican president at the time, Felipe Calderón, about this. I got pretty deep into this, and I do believe it was a botched operation as opposed to something conspiratorial. Now, I do think there were certain conspiratorial actions afterwards to try and cover it up. So I do think later there, like everyone's kind of running away trying to cover up themselves and they start to behave in kind of more conspiratorial ways.
[00:31:25] And the basic operation itself, it was a botched operation that comes from two main reasons. One is that you see these federal operations, these federal agents, over a lot of years have got into these things. And you look at, you know, what are the ATF doing? They're doing these deep stings where they penetrate biker gangs and they pretend to be bikers. You know, what do DA agents do? They get in with drug traffickers. They pretend to be drug traffickers. You watch drug traffickers move packets of heroin. You know, you're watching that, which eventually goes and kills people or watching the federal trying to build a case. So it kind of reflects a bigger thing of what, how federal agents operate in this environment, which can be in various ways.
[00:32:08] Another thing is simply the level of trafficking that's happened or the NRA argument, this was deliberately done to make the gun industry look bad. I mean, it was done. It could happen because this trafficking was in such a large scale. They could simply sit there in Arizona, watch a bunch of these guys, and they could see 2,000 guns being trafficked because it's such a huge thing and the opposite effect happened than this making the gun industry look bad. This for a decade knocks the issue of American drugs being trafficked to Mexico off the agenda. For 10 years, it was off the agenda. Now, it's back on.
[00:32:42] Now, in fact, you've got the Mexican government filing a lawsuit against American gun companies. You've got this issue much more in the news now. They kind of conscious about it, but it had the opposite effect of actually clamping down on guns. It actually made, you know, everyone scared of touching the issue.
[00:32:57] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. It's interesting how this blew up. There was almost 2000 weapons, most of them are still missing. A lot of people thought it was some grand conspiracy like you said, but it turned out to just be sort of a bungled ATF operation. I saw that you wrote that guns in the United States outnumber the next 25 countries combined—
[00:33:13] Ioan Grillo: Yeah.
[00:33:14] Jordan Harbinger: —in terms of the number of guns, which, I mean, I knew we had a lot that is that's bonkers. What was interesting about this was since we have such effective law enforcement here in the United States on the whole — I know people are going to be like, "What about—?" you know, that aside, we keep some of this violence in check because we have responses. If you show up to a bank, to rob a bank and you got hostages in there, or you are robbing a bank with a rifle, I mean, the SWAT team is going to come and they're going to chase you and they're going to kick down your door and they're not going to stop till they find you. There's going to be helicopters. As evidenced by the news, there's some holes in this, but countries adjacent to us, such as Mexico, that don't have as effective law enforcement, they suffer the consequences of the number of guns. So they have the number of guns per capita minus the stability of law and order. So that was an interesting equation, right? Like it's not just the number of guns, it's the number of guns minus the police presence or minus law and order minus effective judges, trials, prisons, and things like that, plus corruption. Is that accurate?
[00:34:15] Ioan Grillo: Absolutely. I think it's a very central point when you look at this. I mean, America, United States of America, it's a country I love and a fascinating country with a lot of paradoxes. One of them is this in the United States — you know, there's discussion about this now following Uvalde shooting. Then people are also looking what there's a lot of mass shootings or shootings happening every weekend in Philadelphia and Chicago. Look at this issue of violence in the United States and it does have levels that are unlike, you know, very, very different from any European countries, homicide levels, shooting levels, number of guns, all of these things.
[00:34:50] However, I noticed just sitting here within the American continent, however, it's very, very different also from Mexico, from Jamaica, from Guatemala, El Salvador, Venezuela, that it has a very powerful law enforcement institutions. Now, there's a lot of issues with them, but they're very powerful. So you had this in the United States, where we say, okay, we've got a lot of guns, a lot of guns in the hands of criminals, and a lot of guns in the hands of regular citizens. You know, you have criminals, drug dealers in the United States who have a lot more guns than drug dealers in Europe. And there's a lot more shootings over, and they're selling drugs in the United States. By then, also have them this very, very hard law enforcement hitting down like a hammer on this. So then you have two million people in prison and this kind of very hard law enforcement.
[00:35:35] Now there is and there has been a selectivity to law enforcement in the United States. And I think you do need a selectivity, but an idea of going after violent criminals or particularly criminals who fight with law enforcement — I mean, if you fire at law enforcement, if you shoot cops in the United States, they're going to go after you and be in prison. In Mexico, you can kill, or, you know, in Central America you can get away with killing 30, 40, 50 people and they can start shooting the police left, right, center. And then you end up in this kind of crazy situation.
[00:36:06] So if you look at these things like if you can go in the United States, you can buy a .50-caliber rifle. You know, see these .50-caliber rifles and they fire these bullets, you know, the size of the small Coca-Cola bottles or size of small knives. And in the United States, they're not using those to fire up cop cars because criminals generally know if they did that, they'd end up in prison for life.
[00:36:27] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:36:27] Ioan Grillo: In Mexico, because they're overwhelming law enforcement, you know, they're just overwhelming it or they're working with them or whatever, they will use those. And there's a whole bunch of incidents where they'll sit on the side of a hill or on a street and they'll fire those, bang, bang, into cop cars and into military vehicles. There's a video when this bunch of gangsters took over city of Culiacán, Sinaloa where they literally blew the leg off the soldier. There's a video of this where his leg being blown off with one of these .50-cal bullets.
[00:36:55] Jordan Harbinger: Is that when El Chapo's son—
[00:36:57] Ioan Grillo: Yeah.
[00:36:57] Jordan Harbinger: —got arrested and they made — so can you, briefly, this is the craziest thing ever.
[00:37:02] Ioan Grillo: Yeah,
[00:37:03] Jordan Harbinger: I guess the police or the marina or whatever, military, and went in and they busted him and maybe they didn't even know he was there. I'm not sure if they knew back then there was some doubt like maybe they ran into him and went, "Holy crap, we got the big boss's kid here, this is crazy." They arrested him. And then somehow that kid and his people managed to call so much backup that they, what? Blocked off the whole city, surrounded the military barracks, had a standoff, set up roadblocks, checkpoints brought in so many fighters with so many guns that the government had to surrender. They'd let him go.
[00:37:33] Ioan Grillo: Yeah. So I've looked into a lot of that case since then, and looked at what I could understand about what happened with the operation. It began with the extradition order being asked coming from the United States, you know, to go after Ovidio Guzmán. Now, in the US, the law enforcement agents are pissed because these Chapitos, these sons of El Chapo, have taken over El Chapo's empire and are moving huge amounts, particularly of synthetic drugs of opioids, of fentanyl, which is causing a huge amount of death in the United States.
[00:38:03] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:38:04] Ioan Grillo: So they really want to go after these guys. And so they get the extradition order, comes down, and goes to Mexico. Now, you have in Mexico, these channels so that these orders can come through and not really be revealed because otherwise, there's so much corrupt law enforcement. They're just going to tell them, you know, someone's going to phone them up and say, "There's an arrest. They're coming for you. You go and hide in the hills for a few days." So they manage to get this kind of coming around. That a lot of, even the higher levels of law enforcement or the president and the secretary of public security, they don't know about this. And you have this special military unit, anti-narcotics unit, who's got this order, but then they get this backup.
[00:38:37] Now, I initially thought they went in there with way too few people, but it's not actually, as few as it first appeared. They actually went in there with over 100 military and police. And it seems like a reasonable operation. When you go into this house in Culiacán and you go in there and you kind of going to take him out, secure the area, and then take him to the airport. It seems like a reasonable operation.
[00:38:58] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:38:59] Ioan Grillo: But as they go in there immediately, the gunman of Ovidio Guzmán, the line of defense start breaking out and start engaging and fighting with the military and the police people. They get to the house, they can't get him out. You see this amazing video where they go in there and he comes out of there, and they say, "Look, call your government off." And he gets on the phone, but then his other brothers are there and they're like, "No, we're not backing down." So then you get this escalation. Now, you've got about a hundred military initially, and you've got various guys from the Chapitos, you know, probably the same number immediately in these areas around. And you see this, they've been filming in Culiacán and the number of these cartel guys on motorcycles around the city is quite amazing. I mean, they've got a lot of people there. So then they start escalating, they'll get more military out and they get more cartel gunmen out. And within a few hours, this escalated. So this is according to the military, you have about 350 soldiers and 700 to 800 cartel gunmen.
[00:39:57] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. So they're two to one, outnumbered two to one.
[00:40:00] Ioan Grillo: Right. Now not only that what's amazing is how — I mean, these are gangsters, these are ostentatious gangsters. You see them on videos and they're guys, who've got table dance clubs and take drugs but they're very effective. You know, that's a modern insurgency tactic. I mean, you know, that'd be the envy of guerilla groups around the world. You know, you get 700, 800 gunmen on the street within hours who are fighting the military, engaging the military.
[00:40:24] Now not only that, they also go to the, where the houses of the families of the military are. So they go in there and then these women and children are there, the wives, the kids. They're all pushing out. They're storming in there as well. And they kidnap various soldiers. Now you get to a certain point where then they get to the government level and they get to the sector of public security and ask the president himself. And they say, "We're going to back down."
[00:40:51] Now, there's a lot of questions about how corrupt the government is as well. Particularly, that guy who was the public security secretary, who's now the governor of Sonora. But either way, when you talk to some people in the city of Culiacán and there's people there who went to pick up their kids from school and they were sitting there hiding in the schools. A lot of them were like, "Yeah, it was good. The government backed down because otherwise, we could have all been massacred. Now, that situation, it shows obviously that there's a very irregular situation, but it is trafficking of firearms to effectively an armed conflict, a weird type of armed conflict that's happening in Mexico.
[00:41:28] There's some people from the right, coming out with this idea of, they say, we should call the cartels terrorists. Now, I do agree that some of their actions can be considered terroristic actions and acts of terror. But I just replied to somebody, these guys say, okay, if you want to do that, it's a double-edged sword. If you want to classify them as terrorist groups, then the people who are selling guns to these groups, it's not going to be probation.
[00:41:53] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:41:53] Ioan Grillo: They could do 25 years or more, you're supplying material to terrorist group. This happened following the shooting in San Bernardino. The guy was affiliated to the Islamic states. The guy who's buying the guns, saying, well, you could do 25 years. You're supplying a terrorist group. Also though, the people who are arriving at the US border and say, "I want to see asylum in the United because I'm fleeing cartel violence." Right now, a lot of these cases they'll say, "Wait. It's not our problem. We're sorry. There's a lot of criminals in Mexico and you have to feed the cartel, but that's a law enforcement issue." But if they're saying, "I'm fleeing a US classified terrorist group that wants to kill me," it can be harder for the judge to throw that court out.
[00:42:31] Jordan Harbinger: That's a good point. So it could cause a refugee crisis because then we have to let people in by law. I mean, it changes the equation, anyway.
[00:42:40] Ioan Grillo: I think there's already a refugee crisis. There's already a serious refugee situation on the Southern border. It's been big, particularly for the last 10 years, basically. It goes up and down. They stop it temporarily. It comes back up again. It's been big again this summer. And a lot of that's connected to this violence that's happening in Mexico, in El Salvador, and Honduras, but it would only add an extra if people want to try and classify them as terrorist groups.
[00:43:06] Jordan Harbinger: This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Ioan Grillo. We'll be right back.
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[00:46:07] Now, for the rest of my conversation with Ioan Grillo, take us on a journey with an illegal gun. I know this could take a while, but like the brief version design and manufacturing, and I don't know, Eastern Europe or whatever, and then it ends up being used in a crime in Mexico.
[00:46:25] Ioan Grillo: I talked to one, which I followed actually, you know, totally followed it in the book, you know, looking at the serial number. So we have this gun, we look at these AK-47s, now, it is interesting to know where does actually a gun begin because then you get to, okay, the gun is made on this certain date, but then you get to the design of the gun and the factory. So then, you get to the whole history of AK-47s, which is kind of fascinating, and why these factories in Eastern Europe are selling these guns around the world.
[00:46:51] We could talk about the AK-47. It was made in the cold war. The Soviets started to establish them in different places and they would actually move them to their allies around the world. The Americans built the AR-15, you know, the AR-15 strike M16, to combat their enemies and to give their own allies. So then you had both of these sides until you have these kind of rifles around the world.
[00:47:09] So you have this factory in Cugir, Romania, which has been making AK-47s. And then in 2011, it rolled off one of these AK-47 rifles made for the US market, which have been slightly adjusted. So they have certain rules to try and get to the US market. They adjusted them to classify them as sporting rifles and this being made in Cugir was then taken in and imported into Vermont, of all places. So like, you think of again, big gun states, you know, Vermont, suddenly has this company, big warehouses of a company there importing AK-47s. And then, Vermont, from there taken to Texas.
[00:47:58] In this particular case, it went to Texas to a pawnshop and it was sold along with nine other guns in this sale, which I mentioned earlier, a guy walks in and buys 10 AK-47s. He was in Iraq, a war veteran, hit hard times. And he has paid $600 to buy these 10 AK-47s, so 60 bucks a rifle in that particular one, from a guy he was buying weed off, buying marijuana off.
[00:48:25] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:48:25] Ioan Grillo: He'd given him 600 bucks, handed him the rifles. Now, this guy was buying weed off, was also buying marijuana and also other drugs from the Zetas who are a very heavy crime group from Mexico. So this guy supplies these guys, the Zetas. They bring them down, drive them over the border into Mexico, drive them to a place called San Luis Potosi, where they end up with a group of these Zeta guys in San Luis Potosi. We've gone through this whole history of being made in Romania through United States and being with a bunch of gangsters in San Luis Potosi.
[00:49:00] Now, they're there one day, when a car with diplomatic American plates, US plates is driving through their territory, and it has two US agents, Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila, who are driving down in this car with US plates, delivered some radio tap gear for an operation. Now, they suddenly get what's called a mobile roadblock where you have these two cars force them off the road, have all these guns. And they're in an armored vehicle, but when they stop the car, it has this malfunction that it unlocks when they stop the car.
[00:49:35] Jordan Harbinger: Oh God, the doors unlock when it stops. I heard about this actually.
[00:49:39] Ioan Grillo: So these guys surround a car and suddenly one of these Zetas finds out, oh my god, the door opens. So there's like a struggle. They slammed a door shut, looked for like the presser, I think, to lock it. And when they do that, the window winds down a few centimeters.
[00:49:56] Jordan Harbinger: Oh man.
[00:49:56] Ioan Grillo: So this guy sticks a gun through the window and sprays. The guy in the driver's seat takes five bullets. The guy in the next seat, next to him takes three. Now, there's still like, afterwards, come out, still drive around. One of the guys, he dies. This guy, Jaime Zapata dies. Victor Avila, he's still alive. He's still conscious at this point, but he's like playing dead or whatever.
[00:50:21] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:50:21] Ioan Grillo: The guys drive out of the front of the car, spray it some more, and eventually, they go. The helicopter comes. He manages to go on his phone and calls up the US embassy. The very chilling recording of this phone call, which is, "We are shot. We are shot." His wife happened to be at the embassy. She was also working there, so hearing her husband's voice.
[00:50:40] Jordan Harbinger: Oh gosh.
[00:50:40] Ioan Grillo: They send in the helicopters, get him out. He's taken to the US and survives this. And then he eventually will sue ICE over this. And there'll be a big, kind of court case. So just to finish that story and the journey of that gun, he survives it. But he has some pretty serious bullet wounds. One of the bullet wounds, they can't even remove the bullet completely. And he still has that and is how those shootings happened very, very fast but the effects can be a lifetime. You know, you can be injured, you can destroy your life, destroy your job if you survive.
[00:51:13] Jordan Harbinger: The problem with some of these guns, right? It's not like drugs where they're illegal from the start of the chain of the product. Drug trafficking is illegal at all points in the chain because the product is illegal. Gun trafficking is different because the product diverts from a legal industry, which makes it a hell of a lot harder to combat. And there's no specific law if I'm correct here, there's no specific law on international gun trafficking per se. There are definitely laws against distributing firearms, willy-nilly, except for the one that we just talked about. That's a loophole with drugs. It's like, hey, if you're caught with this, any amount of it, it's illegal. Large amounts of it, it's a stronger punishment. With guns, you got to prove the guns are illegal, that they're not able to be held by that person, that they're not able to be moved by that person, sold by that person. I mean, it makes it so much harder. I heard that there are online marketplacee — these are illegal, obviously. Online marketplaces where people show things like boats for sale, but the ads are all written in some kind of code. So the buyers know that it's a gun and what type it is. Have you heard about this?
[00:52:14] Ioan Grillo: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I think it's a very good point about the, you have. Heroin, you know, you grow the opium illegally in Mexico. It goes to a lab where is illegally processed into heroin. It's illegally transported into the United States. And it's illegally sold on the corner. So all parts of the chain is illegal, and you have very strong anti-drug trafficking laws that they've failed for. I think some of the reasons we talked about in the last episode. You can throw these guys in prison for a very long time, conspiracy to traffic drugs and federal offenses.
[00:52:45] With firearms, and because you are policing a legal industry, and then this kind of illegal firearms industry, this illegal selling on corners kind of thing. So, there's no federal firearms trafficking law. They haven't got that. So when we talked about straw buying, one of the reasons it's only probation, the actual law is not firearms trafficking, it's lying on a form. A lot of these guys who are selling guns to cartels in quite a big way, they're not done for firearms trafficking. They're done for selling firearms without a license.
[00:53:17] So, again, it's kind of weird thing there. Now you mentioned before you made it, so you jumped to an interesting point.
[00:53:23] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. The online marketplaces.
[00:53:24] Ioan Grillo: Yeah.
[00:53:24] Jordan Harbinger: I'm wondering how did they figure that out, right? Obviously, they busted some people and they said, "Where did you get this?" And he said, "Oh, I bought it on the Craigslist for guns." And they look on there and it's only boats. What is that? Does that still operate? What is this?
[00:53:35] Ioan Grillo: Right. So you have some dedicated websites which sell guns. You can still buy guns on those websites.
[00:53:40] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:53:40] Ioan Grillo: A lot of the time, with private sellers, you can avoid background checks, avoid paperwork. I talked to people who sell guns illegally. Like one guy sold guns illegally in Baltimore, Maryland. One guy sold guns illegally at the retail level here in Mexico City. And they say, one thing that they see is if somebody's really desperate for a gun, they put the price up. It's like really obvious. Somebody comes and goes, "I need a gun. Give me a gun now. I need a gun. Give me a gun." Like, they call every half hour if you've got a gun. And it's obviously because you know, if somebody wants to kill him, if somebody goes, "I'm going to kill you, you know, I'm going to kill you." And they're like, okay. I need a gun. So they're like desperate. So as soon as they do that. It's like the gun seller goes, "Oh great. Yeah, I've got a gun with $2,000." They're like, "Yeah, whatever."
[00:54:19] So if you talk about that in economic terms, it's a distressed buyer, a distressed buyer who does that. Now, you see some of that on these websites where you saw that one case was like, "I need a gun right now, need a gun, we'll pay—" And somebody sold this guy an Uzi. He took the gun, went in, and shot his ex-wife and a bunch of other women at a spa. You know, he was desperate for it to go and kill his ex-wife. You still have those websites out there, but also you used to have selling guns on like Facebook pages.
[00:54:50] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Like the marketplace, Facebook marketplace.
[00:54:52] Ioan Grillo: Yeah. So just write directly on Facebook. Now, Facebook eventually now to better set up, they said, we're not going to allow people to sell guns on our website anymore, but then there are people still use, they're like, "I got a nice gun case here. This gun case fits this gun exactly." And you know, what they're really doing is hinting I'm selling you the gun.
[00:55:10] Jordan Harbinger: Right. It's like 13 times the price of a gun case or 30 times the price of a gun case.
[00:55:14] Ioan Grillo: Yeah, exactly.
[00:55:14] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:55:14] Ioan Grillo: So, that way you can still find ways to buy guns through those pages.
[00:55:19] Jordan Harbinger: Geez. Before you go, I'm curious about the 3D-printed guns.
[00:55:23] Ioan Grillo: Yeah.
[00:55:23] Jordan Harbinger: Like, is this mostly hype? And then ghost guns, those are not the same thing, which I just learned. I thought those were the same thing, they're not.
[00:55:30] Ioan Grillo: Yeah. Yeah. Fascinating issue. We got two things here as you already point out. And I think a lot of the media journalists themselves didn't understand the story and so kind of played into the hands of some of these people. And I admit, you know, getting into guns, covering guns, I didn't grow up with guns. It was a hard learning curve, but I wanted to make sure when I wrote this, I got really into trying to learn and understand technically what we're talking about.
[00:55:53] You have ghost guns as being like, as the ATFs called them, unserialized firearms. This ATF guy said to me, "You know, we shouldn't call him ghost guns. We call them on serialized, unlicensed firearms." So, to be honest, I appreciate that but I'm a journalist, I want to have phrases that people — ghost gun has alliteration.
[00:56:14] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Yeah. Ghost gun sounds good, and people will go, oh my gosh, ghosts are scary and guns are scary.
[00:56:19] Ioan Grillo: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:56:20] Jordan Harbinger: So it's ghost guns now.
[00:56:21] Ioan Grillo: Yeah, no, no, unserialized, unlicensed firearms, you know, it's like in a bit of mouth, but anyway, you had these going for a long time of buying kits to buy guns. So you can buy these kits off the Internet. Beforehand, people were buying these like mail order kits, going back to the '80s, but like the Internet, these took off a lot more. So people selling these kits to buy guns. Now, sometimes as well there's issues where you're still like buying whole guns, but then you can buy sometimes guns got almost finished, but like 80 percent finished. So then you start getting into this discussion. "Okay, what is a gun?" "Oh, I'm only selling this part of the gun." "That's not a gun." "How much is this part?" Then it's like, there's only 80 percent. You take this and then you just drill a bit more of it and you could turn it. Now, those were a big issue.
[00:57:05] In Los Angeles now, in California, you are seeing, when I was there with the ATF there, I did some research in the book in 2019, it was about 30 to 40 percent of their guns. They were seizing from gangs and criminals were these ghost guns. It could be even higher now. And there's various cases of verified crimes murders, where they've been doing these. Again with the laws, it's kind of hard to actually prosecute these people. You know, these people could be making, buying these, making them selling them in the black market. It's quite hard to prosecute them and kind of find crimes on this. They've got like drugs as well or involved in kind of murders or felons or that kind of thing.
[00:57:45] Then you've got the 3D-printed guns.
[00:57:48] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Yeah. That's even scarier because it's like, then a high schooler can print this in their basement.
[00:57:53] Ioan Grillo: It sounds scary. Now, you had this one that came out some years ago and was this kind of plastic one, done by this guy who has also been in law school himself. He made this thing and, he was talking very much about the kind of libertarian cause and had this3D plastic gun. I think a lot of journalists kind of fell for it. Like this is changing everything. That's really scary. Actually, the gun didn't really work. The thing about 3D printing is the cheap 3D printers, they used quite soft kind of plastic. It's not like super hard. People say, well, like a Glock is plastic. Well, Glocks in fact not all plastic and also it's like, they got very, very hard factory methods.
[00:58:35] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. It's like a polymer. That's all one piece—
[00:58:38] Ioan Grillo: Yeah.
[00:58:38] Jordan Harbinger: —cast somehow. It's not drawn on with a freaking electronic crayon, like a 3D printer—
[00:58:42] Ioan Grillo: Yeah.
[00:58:42] Jordan Harbinger: —a cheap one, anyway.
[00:58:43] Ioan Grillo: So you had these cheap 3D printers. They made these guns. Actually, it is more of a threat to the guy firing it or the girl firing it—
[00:58:50] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:58:50] Ioan Grillo: —than to the person. So that was actually initially kind of a bit of a hype. I think the journalists kind of fell for it and the gun rights people, Second Amendment people, they understood it, but they were like quite happy. They're like, "Aha that will stop gun control." So they were like, "Really?" They kind of like playing, even though they then know it didn't work. The guy who did that, got a lot of hype, got a lot of fame. He was then selling a lot of actual ghost gun kits as well as other Internet ventures. Then he got kind of stung maybe even kind of set up, but he got stung for having relations with an underage girl.
[00:59:23] Jordan Harbinger: So he got honey trapped.
[00:59:25] Ioan Grillo: Yeah. So that whole story of a kind of modern thing that went down. Then other people came into this and started creating new 3D-printed guns, trying to solve this issue. And they're kind of a more like happening on a grass-root level. So you have these gun, people call it the f*ck gun control, FGC.
[00:59:42] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:59:42] Ioan Grillo: Yeah, f*ck gun control. Now, a lot of the time you realize, even though it's kind of hard to know. So you say, well, they're doing three 3D printing, we actually realize that they're 3d printing some parts, but they're still buying some other parts.
[00:59:54] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:59:54] Ioan Grillo: So they're not really fully 3D printed guns yet. We haven't got there yet. You still see them see some video, but you have to really be a bit suspicious about it or ask questions about it. Someone goes, "Oh, I've made 3D. It really works now." It's like, you can check. Does it really? Is it really like you say? That any 15-year-old is going to go to their dad's basement, where he is got his 3D printer and then go, "Oh, dad, this is an impressive thing. I print it, come out with a new gun." That's not quite happening yet by any means. Will it happen? We'll see. And that could be a game changer? Maybe, but it hasn't happened yet. We haven't seen it happen yet.
[01:00:27] Jordan Harbinger: How do we even have any hope of making this situation better? When cops in Mexico make like 200 to 500 bucks a month, they're widely corrupted and Narco makes that in a few minutes. It just seems like there's nothing standing in the way of cartels and their unchecked power. It really does seem impossible. Am I missing something?
[01:00:45] Ioan Grillo: Well, I'd say that nothing's impossible like of this nature. And I think if we put somebody on the moon and be able to transplant hearts, you know, heart surgery. You know, zap video from, you know, like right now we can talk about video from Mexico City to Northern California. I think we can reduce violence. There's got to be ways we can do it. So I would say the solutions that I would say that I see and these are bigger things and politics is going to broken. But I would say that there's three areas that need to be attacked or need to be confronted, need to be worked on with this.
[01:01:19] So one area is how do you reduce the money from the black market, which goes into these cartels? Drug policy reform, you know, we've legalized marijuana to an extent. That hasn't really damaged the business in a huge way because they moved to other drugs. We need to still move through marijuana treatment. I mean, how do you try and stop these drug addicts, giving all this money to cartels? You know, drug policy reform, it's not a simple button of legalization, but we have to have a discussion about all this money going to these organizations who also then do other really very bad stuff.
[01:01:54] A second thing, it's something we could agree on kind of, well, it's kind of takes a lot of kind of government or society to really move on this, but like creating environments that are better for the people who are being recruited to these organizations. So how do you change the motives of the kids? You know, right now, if you're in an area when the cartels are winning and the government's offering you nothing and you don't really see much, you know, legitimate opportunity, then you're going to join the cartel. But how can you reach out? How can you have real social work, real staff to transform these areas that deprived and where the cartels are so powerful and offer something to these young people, mostly young boys being recruited to these organizations?
[01:02:36] And the third is, how do you build law enforcement that works? It's very hard, but that cannot be impossible. You know, how can you build police force or justice systems, which can protect people, society from the most horrific anti-social crimes and reduce this kind of murder rate? And they're the things, the huge challenges, but they're the three areas I believe that have to be worked on to try and move forward this.
[01:03:05] Jordan Harbinger: I've got some thoughts on this one as usual, but before I get into that behavioral economist, Dan Ariely, shares the hidden logic that shapes our motivations and helps us understand what makes us tick. Here's a preview.
[01:03:19] Dan Ariely: I think that we used to think that the big mysteries of life is, you know, what's in the stars and maybe microbiology — and of course, these are big mysteries. But the human mystery is wonderful. And even though it's just in front of us, there's so much we don't know. We operate as if we know how the world works but because our model is wrong, we inflict more pain and increase suffering.
[01:03:44] I think it's true for lots of things. What is our understanding? Think about how we waste our time, think about how we waste our money, how we waste our health. My mission is to do kind of good social engineering, and I think there's just a ton of progress to make. And sadly, we're not doing it in the right way. I think we're actually going backwards and the process of social science in which we try different things and try to measure objectively what's going on and attributing and trying to improve things over time, I think is a wonderful process.
[01:04:18] So when people read or listen or think about those topics, I think that the real benefit is to say, what can I take for my life? What are the things about my life that I'm not observing? Can I be a bit better in observing my own life? Can I try to implement something? And then hopefully also, can I try to experiment with something? Is there something I would like to try out in a few different ways and see what leads to a better outcome?
[01:04:44] Jordan Harbinger: For more with Dan Ariely on one of the best productivity tools around, what will help you utilize the most productive hours of the day, and why even the best of us lie and cheat sometimes, check out episode 417 on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[01:05:00] This was heavy-duty, like I said. Guns in South America, they fuel crime and cartel violence, which creates refugees, which creates immigration crises at our Southern border, which whips up politics in the United States and helps create demand for — you guessed it. More guns at home and more security forces abroad. We end up with these migrant caravans. We end up with just fostering and fomenting disorder all through the whole system.
[01:05:23] It was amazing to me that in this book, Ioan's book, it's incredible how the ATF, the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms bureau, so the gun safety guys, the gun cops, they're actually scared of the NRA. The NRA has so much power, they can slash budgets, maybe even kill the agency entirely. It's a very sort of unhealthy dysfunctional relationship from the sound of it. Look, that's crazy any way you slice it.
[01:05:44] I really enjoy shooting. I think firearms are a lot of fun, but require a healthy dose of respect, of course. I don't understand why we would want to make it harder to trace guns used in crime. If you have an opinion on this, I'd love to hear from you. You know, again, I'm not one of those like, "Ban guns." I know that's not going to work. We've got a gun culture that's unstoppable here in the United States. I just think we need some safer regulations here, especially we certainly shouldn't be trafficking rifles and weapons to drug cartels. I think we can — even the craziest of gun nuts, right? Can agree on this. I would hope.
[01:06:17] I want to reiterate. This is not an anti-Second Amendment episode. It's about illegal gun trafficking. It's just so hard to separate the two and that's really the problem. So save your one-star review for something that really makes you mad like my takedown of Reiki healing. People lost their freaking minds when we slammed Reiki healing on our Skeptical Sunday episode. Bananas, I've never had so many — I thought the Carole Hooven episode about trans and people and hormones, I thought that was going to get me canceled. Nah, it turns out it's going to be something about freaking acupuncture or Reiki healing that's going to get me shot in the middle of the road somewhere. Unbelievable.
[01:06:50] Speaking of which I heard something like 90 percent of murders in Mexico are never solved. Can you imagine that? Horribly tragic, absolutely unbelievable. Gun deaths annually around the world, a quarter million. Small arms are the real weapons of mass destruction, not nukes. Forget it. Guns really do touch everyone here in the United States.
[01:07:08] Back in Detroit, I did some work with the police back when I was really young, especially gang squad. And we used to say guns with bodies on them were worth less money. I always figured it's because there's more risk if you get caught with it. I'm pretty sure that's the reason why. It seems like if you're just going to use it in another crime and then discard it, it wouldn't matter as much, but I suppose risk is risk.
[01:07:26] I know earlier in the show, like this may get clipped out, but Ioan mentioned the Saturday Night special. He's referring to cheaply made guns. And by the way, I learned that from 21 Jump Street, the TV show, not the movie. Shout out to my boy, Johnny Depp. Don't forget to wash your sheets. When it comes to gun trafficking, there's a balloon effect of illegal guns and drugs. You squeeze the balloon on one side and the air just goes to the other part of the balloon. They're referring to what might be called the iron pipeline. This is different from the Iron River that goes south into Mexico. The iron pipeline is, let's say you can't get guns in Chicago because it's the city and they want to ban guns or New York and they want to ban guns or somewhere in California, they want to ban guns. You can just go from one state where you can buy with reckless abandon, essentially get any kind of rifle at any place you want. And then you can traffic it anywhere in the United States because we have free flow of commerce. That's the iron pipeline. And that's what makes it impossible for us to ban guns in any particular area. Really, we have to take national action, but of course, we all differ on what that might mean and what is appropriate. And either way you slice it, outlaws are always going to have more guns. In fact, 32,000 guns were stolen over a period of just a few years right here in the United States. You can imagine how big of a problem that actually would be.
[01:08:38] Again, big thank you to Ioan Grillo for coming on the show today. Links to all things Ioan will be on the website in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com. Books are always at jordanharbinger.com/books. And please use our website links if you buy books from any guests on the show or anywhere else for that matter, take a look at our books page. It helps support the show. Transcripts are in the show notes. Videos are up on YouTube. Advertisers, deals, and discount codes are all at jordanharbinger.com/deals. Please consider supporting those who support this show. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram or connect with me on LinkedIn.
[01:09:11] Find our course on networking, using the same software, systems, and tiny habits that I use every single day. It takes a few minutes a day. Come on, people. I'm teaching you how to dig the well before you get thirsty over at jordanharbinger.com/course. And if you don't know, it's for you, well, I'll just tell you, most of the guests you hear on the show, they subscribe and contribute to that course. Come join us, you'll be in smart company where you belong.
[01:09:32] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Millie Ocampo, Ian Baird, Josh Ballard, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. If you know somebody who is studying or a student of gun trafficking, human trafficking, Mexican drug, cartels, and crime in the United States and Mexico, this is a great one to share with them. The greatest compliment you can give us is to share the show with those you care about. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
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