Ieva Jusionyte’s new book “Exit Wounds: How America’s Guns Fuel Violence Across the Border.”

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The crisis on the U.S. southern border continues to be a mainstay on the American political conscience and will likely be decisive to the November election as migrants from Mexico and other Latin American nations are consistently cast as the antagonists in a narrative of invasion. But refugee border crossers are primarily fleeing a tsunami of violence stoked by unregulated U.S. gun merchants. 

After 10 years of intrepid cross-border research, Brown University anthropology professor Ieva Jusionyte explains it all in her new book, “Exit Wounds: How America’s Guns Fuel Violence Across the Border.” Host Robert Scheer dissects the discrepancies in one of the biggest issues in U.S. politics on this episode of the Scheer Intelligence podcast.

In the U.S., according to Jusionyte, nearly 10,000 gun shops flourish along the border, whereas Mexico boasts a mere two nationwide. “There is no gun industry in Mexico, and the two gun stores are run by the military, because the Mexican military is the only one authorized to import and sell guns to Mexican civilians,” Jusionyte explained.

Jusionyte’s personal odyssey, transitioning from an EMT treating migrants on the border to a scholar studying gun violence firsthand in Mexico, exemplifies the profound misunderstanding surrounding violence south of the border and the perceived threat penetrating the U.S. While politicians like Donald Trump put all the blame on Mexicans and other Latin American populations, the reality of America’s gun industry paints a different picture.

As the rhetoric towards migrants and the border is sure to intensify, Jusionyte advocates for the anthropologists’ perspective on things: 

“I think it is important to turn that gaze onto our own society, in this case, the United States, and our attachment to guns and what kind of effect it has on the neighboring country and on our inability then to understand how to fix these perpetual crises on the border.”

Credits

Host:

Robert Scheer

Producer:

Joshua Scheer

Introduction:

Diego Ramos

Transcript

This transcript was produced by an automated transcription service. Please refer to the audio interview to ensure accuracy. 

Robert Scheer: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes from my guests, otherwise it’d be an egotistical activity. Ieva Jusionyte, I’ll butcher this, I’m sure, Ieva Jusionyte is originally from Lithuania, as was my own mother, so I should have some command of this pronunciation. And she is an associate professor at Brown University. She has written an incredible book: “Exit Wounds: How America’s Guns Fuel Violence Across the Border.” And I would say this is the indispensable counter narrative to the one that Donald Trump, former President Trump, has spread. Where immigrants, particularly from south of the border, bring violence, they bring chaos, they bring crime, and we don’t need them, leave out whether they’re needed for work and so forth.

But this is really the counter narrative and I’ll let our author talk about it but, I do want to first ask what is public anthropology? And I’m saying this because after reading this book, I want to celebrate it, whatever it is, because what you do in this book is what journalists fail to do. You really take a deep dive into the culture, the history, who are these people, and it’s textured. I mean, the opening scene of loading bullets in Mexico and the process, and you enter what is supposed to be a criminal element or is a criminal element, and you have to gain their confidence. You have to have the nuances of language and culture. And I just want to read this is a University of California series in public anthropology. The California series in public anthropology emphasizes the anthropologist’s role as an engaged intellectual, that in itself is wonderful, that we have intellectuals who are engaged.

It continues anthropology’s commitment to being an ethnographic witness to describing in human terms how life is lived beyond the borders of many reasons, experience, a reader’s experience, but it also adds a commitment through ethnography to reframing the terms of public debate, transforming received accepted understandings of social issues with new insights, new framings. You are the editor of this series, so tell me about this, because it sounds a hell of a lot more interesting than journalism, and certainly suggests it might be a lot more profound. And mostly what we’ve had is the inadequacies of journalism in discussing the border. So please, just give us the whole framework, and then how did it produce this book, and how did you work in what was a very difficult, violent, threatening situation.

Ieva Jusionyte: It’s truly delightful to be here and to be talking to you. So anthropology is a discipline, it’s a science of humans, which means that there are various branches of it. And my specialty is in socio-cultural anthropology. So what we do is we try to understand various cultures based on this principle of cultural relativism, which means that you are trying to understand various practices and beliefs within that culture’s, within that society’s context, without putting your own ideas about what is legal or what is ethical, what is right or wrong, to judge another society. So that’s what anthropology is. Anthropology, the main methodology of anthropology is ethnography. And ethnography has a lot of familiarity with maybe investigative or long form journalism, because we are spending a lot of time doing something we refer to as deep hanging out. So not only doing interviews with people, but spending all day and sometimes the nights with them, just tagging along, accompanying them in whatever they are doing.

So in, in my case, in this project, I wanted to understand different gun cultures in the United States and in Mexico, and how our gun culture in the United States, and our gun laws, and very powerful gun industry, how that affects gun culture in Mexico and how that contributes to violence that, as you said, then people are fleeing and are coming towards the border. So to do that, I had to spend a lot of time, several years hanging out, doing this participant observation with various people who smuggle guns, and who use guns in Mexico. Some of them because they are members of organized crime groups and some of them because they cannot turn to the government for protection, the police is very weak and often works together with criminals, most crimes are never investigated.

So some people in Mexico smuggle guns from the United States in order to protect themselves and their families from kidnapping and extortion and all of that. I came on to this question because before I began this research, I was working on the U.S. Mexico border. I was both a paramedic and EMT, helping migrants who got injured crossing the border, or even just trying to reach the border, and an anthropologist. I was writing my previous book about militarization of the borderlands and how it affects safety of people who actually live in the border and by national cooperation of emergency responders. So being there, I talked to a lot of people who are fleeing violence in Mexico, who are trying to cross the border mostly without asking for asylum, because the types of violence they were fleeing from doesn’t qualify for asylum in the United States, so they tried to cross the border without authorization, and talking to them, yeah. 

Scheer: That was interesting point from your book because the whole narrative that has been spread is that somehow the violence comes to us because they want to rob us or attack us here… there’s very little evidence to support that view. Most people end up being quite productive and actually get exploited because they don’t have documentation and work hard and don’t even collect some of the benefits that they would otherwise be entitled to. But in your narrative, there were two things that stuck out in the beginning. First of all, I think I just learned something that I didn’t learn from reading the book, which I wondered, how did you become an emergency?

I think I just learned something that I didn’t learn from reading the book, which I wondered, how did you become an emergency medical person? Because you describe being in an ambulance, very close quarters, people are going to die if you don’t stem the bleeding. This is a reality that, of course, most of us never experience about violence. I wanted to ask you to read about that the line in the poem that a bullet without the person is seen without a song. But it, relates to what I’m just about to ask you, that you are really immersed in this, in a very dangerous situation. You are talking not to the average immigrant, you’re talking to people, many of whom have turned, actually, to crime, to smuggle guns. And the other thing is, your subtitle, How America’s Guns Fuel Violence Across the Border. You’re talking about North America and you have a very interesting setup here that both Mexico and North America have a long history of violence and guns and upheaval and so forth. But ironically, Mexico has much more effective gun control, as described in your book, than North America does.

We are the lawless people, so people go from Mexico, they come as far as Minnesota, to get guns and then bring them back to Mexico. They get them in Arizona, they get them everywhere, and they bring them back. So we really are exporting the violence, rather than this narrative that may inform our upcoming election, that somehow Mexico visits violence upon us. So I didn’t mean to interrupt, but you are the reality check. You have been in the ambulance. You’ve seen gunshot wounds. You’ve been with smugglers who want to get these guns. It’s amazing. You risk your life. You say in the book, you have to change the names. You can’t do normally what you would do in academic research. Why don’t you discuss that because you’re actually, you’re an incredibly brave person, really. Or foolhardy, I don’t know what it is, but you really have put your life at risk to do this academic work. 

Jusionyte: Thank you. there’s so much I want to now talk about. The quote that you referred to, “because a bullet without a body is a song without ears,” is from Ocean Vuong, who is a Vietnamese American poet and writer. And I thought this quote was… It speaks volumes because, yes, I was an EMT and paramedic way before I began this fieldwork. I worked and I volunteered in Jacksonville, Florida and in Cambridge, Massachusetts and later on the border. So I saw a lot of people wounded and, killed by guns before I began even asking questions about what our guns are doing to Mexico. And I think you’re right pointing out that in the title, it is not the United States, it’s America’s guns. And one of the things that was important for me is to, that we must think about this region as comprising of the United States and Mexico, we are in this together. The reason the people in Mexico, especially organized crime groups are seeking these very powerful weapons from the United States is because they are competing for these routes to traffic drugs to the United States.

But why do they do that? Because in the United States, there are a lot of people who pay for drugs because there is an addiction epidemic. So all of this is connected, our guns that are just easy to buy here and cheaper considering Mexican gun laws that are very strict and prices that are much higher. So these guns are related to the drugs and then we think that violence is, that Mexico is this violent country, and then people who are coming here across the border, that they would bring violence. And doing this research, I went to very, potentially violent settings and work was difficult, the same way as investigative journalists would find it difficult. I had to tell I didn’t write, sometimes, people’s names. I invented pseudonyms for them because I didn’t want anyone to confiscate my notebooks and to know who I was talking to because people were engaging in illegal practices. They could go to jail for many years in Mexico if they are caught, for example, reloading ammunition or using a gun they smuggled from the United States.

So I had to be very careful. I had to… a lot of it is just like common sense. You measure how far you can go in order to get the story and how far it might be too far and where it makes sense to draw the boundaries of what’s reasonable for a research project. I think what was most difficult in Mexico was those very well known, but very difficult to trace linkages between organized crime groups and government, various government, local police, for example, or state police, who have been implicated in various crimes, but you, don’t know who, who to trust. And the thing about ethnography or, and, as the main method for anthropology or what makes us perhaps more able to do this kind of research, although there are not that many ethnographers who study illicit practices, it is hard to do. But we have the luxury of time. I do not need to file the story.

For breaking news or even for like next month I can spend years building trust with these people. I can come back again I can say would you like to talk to me and they would say no and I ask them again next week and then next month and then next year and they see that I am persistent and I want to understand what our guns are doing in Mexico and eventually a lot of them never agree to talk to me. A lot of people never, but some of them began to trust me, although trust was always tentative on my part and on their part in this kind of research. 

Scheer: Talk more about it because what you are is a serious person. Okay. No, really, which is what one would want from an academic. And I point out, you are the senior editor of this series, as well as being a highly regarded professor at Brown University, but it’s not that you are thrilling to the chase or being bounced around in an ambulance as somebody’s, bleeding to death. And, when I read that, someone could make a very exciting movie about how you do your research because you are putting gunpowder into bullets with people who are giving bullets to criminals and everything. You are an incredible observer of all of this. And it’s quite scary, and frankly, I’ve been a journalist all my life and I’ve been in some war zones and everything, but I don’t think I’ve ever experienced danger quite of the kind that you routinely and over years experienced, talking to people who are, I don’t know if I can use the word objectified, but they’re in a category of nothing but dangerous, nothing but evil and they just mean us all harm and you are hanging out with them. And it seems to me that’s one of the strengths of having an anthropologist, rather than a journalist or a policeman or someone else. That you start, and correct me if I’m wrong, but I got this from reading about this whole program of research, you start from a non-judgmental view.

And, wow. And, and you see the damage. What is that you said about the bullet without the body is a song without ears? So you have the ears. You know this bullet that you’re putting gunpowder into a bullet. That bullet is going to end up causing great tragedy, possibly, for people, the whole family of the person killed and so forth. People are going to die. They’re going to bleed, if they’re lucky, in an ambulance, to the side of the road. And what you’re doing is actually the opposite of our journalism. We’re at the mercy of the demagogue. We’re at the mercy of, oh yes, the sensationalists that caused this damage or this happened. It is in every story. What is the headline? What is the lead? What, if it leads, it bleeds, and so forth. You come from the opposite. You have to examine whether you’re talking about people who are aborigines in Australia or you’re talking about people who are totally hip and yet conversant and yet living weird lives. You have to enter those lives and a kind of non-judgmental position. So why don’t you talk about that because this book of yours, I have to give the title again, “Exit Wounds,” really discusses the wounds and the damage and the nightmare, “How America’s Guns Fuel Violence Across the Border.” You are providing the essential corrective to political bias, to demagogues, to people who just go for the bleed, the bleeds that leads headline. Really, tell us, this is, first of all, it’s a very easy book to read, very well written. I don’t want to scare anyone off. It’s what, only a couple hundred pages, right? It’s not a commitment.

Some of these books I reviewed, they’re five times that length, and I resent it all the way through. But you, have an economy of size here. You communicate in a language layman can understand very easily. And yet, I’ll go out on a limb here. I don’t think anybody would be disappointed reading this book if they care the least bit about what is accurate about our border. And you really cannot understand the border if you don’t come at it from this point of view. Defend or explain the point of view and how the book, because you have different characters. We haven’t really talked about the book enough and we’re going to run out of time. Tell us about why you chose different characters through whom we could look at this thing. Give us the book, really. Not to discourage people from reading, but to encourage them. 

Jusionyte: The book I think if you walk into a bookstore and you see these 10,000 books you can choose from to read for your leisure, who would pick up a book about guns and gun trafficking and gun violence? So when I was writing this book, it was, yes, I did extensive research, but it was very important for me to write it in a style that’s engaging, that has this people you identify with, and you follow their stories through the braided narrative throughout the book, so you keep turning the pages, you keep reading. It is on a subject that is heavy and I’ve already heard from readers that reading it late at night, it’s not the best for everyone, but it is based on a story, right? We learn about gun laws, we learn about gun history, but we also learn about who are these people who live with guns in Mexico, who smuggle them? Some of them, there is a woman who was still a teenager who becomes a member of organized crime, and then there is somebody who could have been her neighbor, but he grew up in a much wealthier part of the same town in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, in Mexico, and he just likes guns and smuggles them because he is a gun aficionado.

And then there are, U.S. federal agents who pursue these gun traffickers. So there are, you can understand this issue from multiple perspectives. And I think that was very important for me coming in non-judgmental to this project, because when I began this work, I was, I didn’t know much about guns and I knew gun injuries. I treated people. I’ve lost people who died to gun injuries, but I was quite appalled and disgusted and just guns were not an attractive research subject for me, but I had to learn about them, learn how to be safe around them, learn how to use them, learn like how to talk about them in order for these people to talk to me. Because if I came and said, oh, I am anti-gun, they would not want to talk to me. And I think the book it offers some policy solutions in the end, but it is very open minded. I do not have an agenda. I present this as a corrective to how we see the border, but It shows like the essential role of what firearms do to society, but it’s not like an either/or book and, the people I hung out with, I think it’s very important what you mentioned about these people who are not good that I was hanging out with and as anthropologists, maybe as human beings in general, like people contain multitudes.

So some of these people who I talked to and they killed, they were killers and they were kidnappers and they were perpetrators of violence, but often before that they were also victims of violence. So I tell these stories of how people who initially were, for example, this teenage girl, she was, her parents left for the United States, they migrated. She was left to grow up with family that she didn’t really relate to. And then she was forcefully abducted and made into a killer. So she was a victim before she became a perpetrator. And I think we need to like think about these complex human stories when nobody is a saint and nobody is a villain.

The same way when I was loading the bullets or learning to load the bullets, those were the people I was with, they were primarily hunters and people who had these powerful weapons for self defense. So I hope I was not an accessory to any crime because those guns would not be used against other human beings, but then you never know. 

Scheer: Yeah, but let me just say, this whole question of victims and violence. The people you are describing actually are quite skilled at crossing the border, bringing back guns and so forth. They do this professionally. They have generally a pretty good support network of people who tell them what’s the best routes and the best ways and so forth. Somehow in the mind of Donald Trump, and he’s not alone, we’ve baited people. Politicians have used the border, Democratic and Republican, continuously. And the fact of the matter is, I don’t know how far we want to go with numbers, but the people in your book, most of the immigrants are fleeing the violence that we helped spawn.

We being the United States, this is, to my mind, the big political takeaway of the book, whether you intended it or not. People crossing the border, first of all, not just getting away from a weaker economy, because actually the Mexican economy is improving, in a lot of ways, but they’re afraid of violence. And we offer no route for immigrants fleeing the violence from there. We do, if they’re fleeing, for instance, the Ukraine now or something, we consider it. But a lot of the people that you are describing, they’re fleeing the violence that we helped create. I don’t want to lose that point, because for me, first of all, I had no trouble reading it and staying with it, I don’t know.

Because it’s really dealing with what may be the most pressing issue of the election, what to do about this border. And you have been on the border before the wall, after the wall. You put in the time to really understand this. And if we don’t understand that the people that Trump describes as criminal are in fact fleeing criminals. That’s why they’re trying, they don’t have the support mechanism that the criminals do. So they’re going to get shot or robbed in the desert or raped or something much more. They’re much more vulnerable. So maybe we only have, because I know your time is busy today, but maybe we could take the next just five minutes before we wrap this up, maybe you could give us the real texture of the book. 

Jusionyte: I do have more than five minutes, so it’s totally okay, but on your point about how totally wrong directed our border policies are like we can take an example of Texas. So Texas has very, almost non existent gun laws. Almost anyone can buy any kind of, weapon, and 43 percent of all guns recovered in crime scenes around Mexico come from Texas alone. At the same time, we see Texas building these concertina wire on the river and putting these buoys and deploying National Guard troops on the border, not making the connection that people who are trying to enter Texas, there wouldn’t be so many of them if Texas had somewhat stricter gun laws and they were not fueling this violence people are fleeing from. So that’s a very important point. And I think when we watch the news, sometimes we see people fleeing other parts of the world and it is true more people are coming from Venezuela and Haiti. Haiti is actually a very good point, most of the guns in Haiti also come from the United States via Florida. But we don’t make these connections that these people who appear here. The violence is really materially produced in the factories in the United States. So I think it is an important and vicious circle of violence, we need to understand it, especially in, in, in, political election season.

And so the texture of the book, it has these the human stories or characters, main protagonists, we’re following both on the Mexican side of the border and on the U.S. side of the border. Some of them cross the border back and forth, and some of them cross the boundary between law and crime, or legal and illegal. But there is also more, discussion of how U.S. and Mexico historically, they were both colonial countries, got independence, and in the constitution they both have the right of, people have the right to, to own arms, but somehow we have reached this very different moment in history where It is very, hard to get the legal firearm in Mexico and very easy in the United States. And yet it doesn’t matter because that’s how illicit economies work. As long as there is demand on one side of the border, there will be supply. Most of these guns, they cross the border through ports of entry. So like through vehicles, the same way that drugs are getting into the United States and you like building border walls would not have any effect on neither drugs nor guns. 

Scheer: Could you elaborate on that? Because this is the deliberate misconception, that somehow it’s this young kid trying to cross the river and somehow, and if you put the wall and make it. I covered, when I worked at the L.A. Times, I covered this for a long time on the border. It was a joke because the real crime of… first of all, the supply and demand is a very important point you made. And so the supply for drugs and you talk about this industry of… the guns that are produced by our own arms industry. I didn’t make a copy of it, but there’s a chart in your book of statistics. Maybe you could repeat some of those statistics. It’s very powerful. 

Jusionyte: Yes. So, although with numbers it’s sometimes hard to know with illicit economies, but the contrast is just really stark. So number of gun stores in the United States bordering Mexico: 9,940. These are gun dealerships that actually have a storefront, almost 10,000. Number of gun stores in Mexico: two. There was one when I began research now they have two percentage of firearms recovered at crime scenes in Mexico originally purchased in the United States: 70, at least 70. People think maybe more 80 or 90 percent not all guns are traced correctly, because some don’t have serial numbers anymore. They have obliterated serial numbers. But clearly, all like around 80 percent probably of all guns in Mexico come from the United States. And according to various estimates… 

Scheer: Before we jump, let’s go back to number one and two, because as far as I’m not saying you could get the whole book just by these statistics, as the book is, as I say, wonderfully written. Puts human beings in. We see the tragedy. We see the human damage and what a bullet does when it pierces the body. But let’s go slowly through. I think there’s about six of them. Let’s start with one again. 

Jusionyte: One what? 

Scheer: The first one, the number of gun stores. It’s startling. 10,000 on our side of the border and two on the other just how do you wrap your head around that?

There are 10,000 places you can go in and buy these guns and then bring them back into Mexico but in Mexico, there’s only two because they have stricter gun control laws. The market is less lucrative there in that way or you can’t penetrate it, boom! 

Jusionyte: There is no gun industry in Mexico, and the two gun stores are run by the military, because the Mexican military is the only one authorized to import and sell guns to Mexican civilians. In the United States, 10,000 stores only in border states, people buy guns in other states, in Illinois and in Wyoming and Arkansas, and those guns are going across the border as well. So even more than 10,000. 

Scheer: Okay, so then we get to statistic number two of the guns in Mexico causing all this terrible violence, which is what’s driving people to risk their lives to come away from Mexico, is they’re afraid. There’s 70 or 80 percent produced in the United States? 

Jusionyte: Yes, becauseand even the types of weapons, used in crimes in Mexico, semi-automatic rifles, AR-15s, AK-47s, they are not allowed in Mexico for civilian ownership at all. They are only military style weapons. They’re reserved for the military. But on the U.S. side of the border, nobody cares. You can buy as many AR-15s or AK-47s as you want, at least in, in Texas and Arizona. And the crimes they commit, it’s not only murder or gunshot injuries, there are indirect crimes. So a lot of people from Mexico who are fleeing now, they’re fleeing threats and extortion. Somebody comes to your little business, to your avocado farm and says, you will pay this much to us as a criminal group, or we will kidnap somebody from your family, or we’ll kill someone. So people pack up and leave even before they can experience that direct gun violence. But that’s like the extortion and kidnapping is a huge business now for criminal groups in Mexico because it is getting easier than smuggling drugs in the United States.

Scheer: So these people who are fleeing to the United States, okay, are not fleeing because there’s an opportunity to commit crime here. They’re giving up, no, this is compelling, as I say, I did cover this 20, 30 years ago. I won’t spend a lot of time on this, but somebody’s got an avocado farm. The Mexican economy is getting better. You can sell avocados and even export them because the new NAFTA allows you to do this, and they’re going to kidnap your daughter or your somebody in, the family if you don’t pay them, and there goes the whole profit of the business, and they’re also frightened, so they become refugees. They are, we always think, oh, it’s got to be a political refugee. No. this is political and it’s economic, and they’re fleeing for their lives. And our immigration law has no understanding of this. I think some of your other statistics, let’s go through the chart more. So most of the violence is through guns manufactured in the United States.

Of course, in Mexico, you can’t manufacture these guns. And, they’re brought in from there. We don’t mind all the havoc we’re visiting upon Mexico, all we ever hear about is they’re causing problems here. We don’t ever, there’s never been any, I don’t see any really serious debate in a presidential election about how we cause this problem, whether from Democrats or Republicans, why isn’t Joe Biden saying, Hey, wait a minute, Mr. Trump or President Trump, I guess he’s got to have to say, but the fact of the matter is if we could control the arms industry in this country. We can go a long way to prevent people from fleeing Mexico or even wanting to come here to risk their lives. I don’t know. You’re the objective anthropologist. I don’t want to put ideas in your, make you make these statements. That’s what I got out of that chart I found compelling. 

Jusionyte: Yeah, the thing is that guns also last a long time. So we already flooded Mexico with so many guns that it will take some time, even if now we had very strict gun laws, it would take a while for results to show. But what we can do is also focus on ammunition. Because while a semi-automatic rifle might be in circulation for 20 or 30 years, then they don’t necessarily need one every year. Although there are new criminal groups and they fracture and they all need new arsenals. So yes, they do need guns, but they are completely dependent on U.S. for ammunition and we have no regulations, you can buy a truckload of ammunition and you don’t even need to pass a background check because ammunition is not regulated the same way as firearms.

Scheer: I’ve never heard, again, I’ve followed this issue. I’ve even reported on this issue. What you just said, I suspect most people listening to this will not have heard this. Ammunition is not regulated. And, of course, that’s the main thing that kills, is the ammunition. You can have a gun, and those guns last for a long time, yes. Even if you cut that down, do you have the figure on ammunition, or is that in the chart? 

Jusionyte: No, there is no I have some data from customs, but it’s so even for, so ammunition, you can think about millions because even when you think about firearms, according to various estimates, about at least 200,000 might be crossing the border to Mexico each year, 200,000. But only a few hundred, if that, it was only 189 when I last, the numbers I put in this chart, 189 were seized by customs on the border out of 200, 000. So it’s a drop, it’s a drop in the bucket. It’s almost impossible to stop this at the border. And it’s very clear that it’s only going in one direction. And the number, percentage of homicides in Mexico committed by firearms have really increased from 10 percent in 1990s to about 70 percent in 2018. 

Scheer: 70? And this is mostly attributed to ammunition from the United States? 

Jusionyte: Yeah, of course. 

Scheer: Okay. Anthropology sounds like some kind of arcane thing, people do and they’re examining what we used to call primitive societies, and so forth, and, all that sort of thing. But this is, what should be news up to the minute. How dare we, anybody, discuss the violence that comes from Mexico without talking about where the ammunition of violence, where the guns and the ammunition come from, it’s startling. 

Jusionyte: And anthropology is… one other thing that’s good about anthropology is that we don’t take anything for granted. So we question all kinds of assumptions about societies. And I think it is important to turn that gaze onto our own society, in this case, the United States, and our attachment to guns and what kind of effect it has on the neighboring country and on our inability then to understand how to fix these perpetual crises on the border.

Scheer: Can you go, are there any other items on that chart that we should know about? 

Jusionyte: I think there was only one that’s just comparison of a number of people killed in Mexico. This was in 2019, so 35,000 in the United States that year, about 16, 000. So less than half. However, very important to note that in the United States, there are more gun suicides than gun homicides. So more people in the United States die from gun suicide than they are killed. 

Scheer: So let me ask you this question. Again, you’re being generous with your time, but, it’s so fresh and I got to find information from an anthropologist that is so timely, so fresh. And that reveals so much, it’s, This is the best description of anthropology that I’ve ever heard. It’s exciting, but both of these cultures, as you describe it, North and South America, had a history of colonialism and rebellion against colonialism and identification of a militia. Okay, whatever we think about the Second Amendment, an identification of an armed population to one degree or another, whether it’s a well organized militia or a lot of people doing stuff on their own. The fact of the matter is, our background is not dissimilar. And they had their revolution, we had ours, they had their violence, we had theirs. How in the world can Mexico have this far more, far, it’s the whole difference of being able to control guns and we can’t. 

Jusionyte: Oh, this is an easy answer. I tell that in the book, there’s history that there would be no modern Mexico, like there would be no United States without guns. So guns play an important role in the nationhood of both countries. But what is different in Mexico that they have never developed a firearms industry. So in the United States, when we go back to the 19th century, Winchester and Colt and Remington, later Smith and Wesson, and all these companies that began producing firearms and later began marketing firearms. And then they had the interest, so there was a gun lobby. In Mexico, none of that exists. They did manufacture some rifles, Mendoza rifles, after the revolution, but it was just one company and they primarily manufactured like hunting rifles. So it was when Mexico passed a strict gun law in early 1970s.

So just a couple of years after we passed the Gun Control Act of 1968, in similar circumstances, fear of social unrest, but their law was way, like it’s established who can, how many guns, a maximum of 10 per person, only one handgun, and some rifles, if you are a hunter, only small calibers. And all of that was possible because there was no lobby that would argue against that. There was no gun industry that was crippled by this law. In the United States, it’s very hard because guns are a huge business. 

Scheer: Okay, I’m going to conclude this, you’ve been very generous with your time, and the book, it’s “Exit Wounds: How America’s Guns Fueled Violence Across the Border.” It’s a University of California Press book, part of a really interesting series, I gather. There’s also some connection with Penguin, so the book is widely available, not just as a text, right? I forget how it’s distributed, but it’s out there now. And I must say, it challenges our basic thinking, not just about gun control, but about democracy. Because after all, we think we have this great democracy and then a country like Mexico, they have their failures, they have their dominant party, they have corruption, they have this.

But the fact of the matter is, the gun lobby and this irrational view of the right to have a gun for hunting or whatever purpose or civilians to have a properly regulated militia, actually is done on a high civilized level in Mexico, and there’s a total chaos and madness in the United States. And to the degree that they have violence in Mexico, it’s basically authored by our gun industry. I know, that’s my editorial. Oh, I see you’re nodding your head. That’s fine. So it really goes against the conceit of the whole American exceptionalism. Somehow we are saving democracy and freedom and providing a model of democracy and freedom and order for the world. But the fact is, we are also, or not only also, maybe our main export is chaos, at least to Mexico. That we have visited this incredible mayhem upon our neighbors to the south. That’s my little comment on it. You have to read the book, however. I’m going to butcher your name. I’m not even going to try tell us. You have, 

Jusionyte: Ieva Jusionyte 

Scheer: Ieva Jusionyte and the book, as I say, “Exit Wounds,” readily available. And I must say, by the way, I’m not, I’m going to push e-books. But I must say, I tried reading it on a PDF and I didn’t have a comment, and, but the e-book, you should get a real book, but the e book version is extremely readable, and again, this is an extremely well written book, so with my hat so off to anthropologists as writers. I want to thank Christopher Ho and Laura Kondourajian at the wonderful NPR station in Santa Monica, KCRW, for hosting these shows. Joshua Scheer, our executive producer. Diego Ramos, who writes the intro. Max Jones, who does the video engineering. And the JKW Foundation, in memory of Jean Stein, a terrific independent writer, for helping fund these shows. See you next week with another edition of Scheer Intelligence.

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Robert Scheer

Robert Scheer, publisher of ScheerPost and award-winning journalist and author of a dozen books, has a reputation for strong social and political writing over his nearly 60 years as a journalist. His award-winning journalism has appeared in publications nationwide—he was Vietnam correspondent and editor of Ramparts magazine, national correspondent and columnist for the Los Angeles Times—and his in-depth interviews with Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Mikhail Gorbachev and others made headlines. He co-hosted KCRW’s political program Left, Right and Center and now hosts Scheer Intelligence, a KCRW podcast with people who discuss the day’s most important issues.

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