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
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