Gangs behind up to 80% of U.S. crime, yet gun ban lobby focuses on the law-abiding

By Chad D. Baus

Recently, USA Today reported that a gang threat assessment compiled by federal officials estimates that criminal gangs in the United States have swelled to an estimated 1 million members responsible for up to 80% of crimes in communities across the nation.

Meanwhile, the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence has released its 2008 State Scorecards, which grade states on how they are regulating law-abiding citizens' Second Amendment rights, rather than criminals'.

The FBI's gang population estimate is up 200,000 since 2005. But Bruce Ferrell, chairman of the Midwest Gang Investigators Association, whose group monitors gang activity in 10 states, tells USA Today the number of gang members may be even higher than the report's estimate.

"We've seen an expansion for the last 10 years," says Ferrell, who has reviewed the report. "Each year, the numbers are moving forward."

From the story:

The report says about 900,000 gang members live "within local communities across the country," and about 147,000 are in U.S. prisons or jails.

"Most regions in the United States will experience increased gang membership … and increased gang-related criminal activity," the report concludes, citing a recent rise in gangs on the campuses of suburban and rural schools.

Among the report's other findings:

•Last year, 58% of state and local law enforcement agencies reported that criminal gangs were active in their jurisdictions, up from 45% in 2004.

•More gangs use the Internet, including encrypted e-mail, to recruit and to communicate with associates throughout the U.S. and other countries.

•Gangs, including outlaw motorcycle groups, "pose a growing threat" to law enforcement authorities along the U.S.-Canadian border. The U.S. groups are cooperating with Canadian gangs in various criminal enterprises, including drug smuggling.

Assistant FBI Director Kenneth Kaiser, the bureau's criminal division chief, told USA Today gangs have largely followed the migration paths of immigrant laborers.

He says the groups are moving to avoid the scrutiny of larger metropolitan police agencies in places such as Los Angeles. "These groups were hit hard in L.A." by law enforcement crackdowns, "but they are learning from it," Kaiser is quoted as saying.

The story goes on to say that one group that continues to spread despite law enforcement efforts is the violent Salvadoran gang known as MS-13.

Michael Sullivan, the departing director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told USA Today the gang's dependence on shocking violence to advance extortion, prostitution and other criminal enterprises has frustrated attempts to infiltrate and disrupt the insular group's activities.

"MS-13's foothold in the U.S. is expanding," Sullivan says.

MS-13 is the abbreviation for the gang also known as Mara Salvatrucha. The group gained national prominence in the 1980s in Los Angeles, where members were linked to incidents involving unusual brutality.

Since then, it has formed cells or "cliques" across the U.S., says Aaron Escorza, chief of the FBI's MS-13 National Gang Task Force.

The task force was launched in 2004 amid concerns about the gang's rapid spread.

Escorza told USA Today a "revolving door" on the border has kept the gang's numbers steady — about 10,000 in the U.S. — even as many illegal immigrant members are deported.

Escorza went on to say that the FBI, which has two agents in El Salvador to help identify and track members in Central America and the United States, plans to dispatch four more agents to Guatemala and Honduras.

"They evolve and adapt," he says. "They know what law enforcement is doing. Word of mouth spreads quickly."

Within days of the release of this federal report, indicating that gangs are responsible for up to 80% of crimes in communities across the nation, the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence released its 2008 State Scorecards, which grade states on how they are regulating law-abiding citizens' Second Amendment rights, rather than criminals'.

According to the Brady bunch press release, the Brady Scorecards are designed so that states can score up to 100 points across five major categories of laws:

  • States can earn up to 35 points by taking all measures needed to "Curb Firearm Trafficking."
    "States can fully regulate the [law-abiding] gun dealers within their borders, limit bulk purchases of handguns [to law-abiding citizens], provide police certain technology to identify crime guns, and require lost or stolen guns to be reported to the police [by law-abiding citizens]."
  • States can earn up to 25 points by "Strengthening Brady Background Checks."
    "This involves requiring background checks on all gun sales [to law-abiding citizens] and requiring [law-abiding citizens to have] a permit in order to purchase firearms. Short of universal background checks [on law-abiding citizens], states can also close the gun show loophole, at least requiring background checks for all gun show sales [between law-abiding citizens]."
  • States can earn up to 20 points by "Protecting Child Safety" when it comes to guns.
    "States can require that only childproof handguns be sold [to law-abiding citizens] within their borders, require child safety locks to be sold [to law-abiding citizens] with each handgun, hold [law-abiding] adults accountable for keeping guns away from kids and teens, and require [law-abiding] handgun purchasers to be at least 21 years of age."
  • States can earn up to 10 points by "Banning Military-style Assault Weapons" [ownership by law-abiding citizens], as well as banning high-capacity ammunition magazines [ownership by law-abiding citizens].
  • States can earn up to 10 points by making it harder [for law-abiding citizens] to carry "Guns In Public Places" (except for trained law enforcement and security) and by allowing localities to "Preserve Local Control" over municipal gun laws [that restrict law-abiding citizens].
    "This includes keeping [law-abiding citizens'] guns out of workplaces and college campuses, not forcing law enforcement to issue concealed handgun permits [to law-abiding citizens] on demand, not permitting "shoot first" expansions in self-defense laws [that protect law-abiding citizens from unfair prosecution], and not preventing municipalities from passing their own gun laws" [that restrict law-abiding citizens].

(It is worth noting that it is currently impossible for any state to obtain a perfect score from the Brady bunch, since technology doesn't even currently exist to meet their demands.)

The Bradys fail to mention how these measures will stop gangs and other criminals, who almost universally do NOT obtain their firearms through gun dealers or gun shows, who do NOT obtain permits in localities where they are already required, who typically do NOT use tactical rifles in the commission of crimes, and who, by their very nature, do not comply with laws of any kind.

They also fail to explain why they support disarming law-abiding citizens in places where we know the vast majority of multiple-victim public shootings occur.

If the Brady bunch were truly about "creating an America free from gun violence, where all Americans are safe at home, at school, at work, and in our communities," as they claim on their website, they would be supporting legislation aimed at criminals like the murderous gangs responsible for 80% of crimes in this country, rather than laws aimed at law-abiding American citizens' right to bear arms for their own procection.

It is time for legislators to recognize that the gun ban lobby's real goals are not to reduce crime, but rather to make all gun ownership criminal.

Chad D. Baus is the Buckeye Firearms Association Vice Chairman.

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