By Jim Krieger
With the recent surge of illegal immigration from Mexico and Central America, on top of decades of inadequate border security and otherwise minimal and haphazard enforcement of America’s immigration laws, and the very real prospect that many of these people will obtain amnesty, this question arises: What effect might such an amnesty have on gun ownership here? Two things are almost certain; 1. Under an amnesty, gun ownership will rise, and 2. Firearms-related crime will continue to drive our deeply polarized national discourse on gun ownership.
As to the first issue –rates of gun ownership– three factors are likely to drive it upward if a broad-scale amnesty is granted: the socio-political history of the Latino immigrants, the ready availability of firearms in the US, and concern among US citizens about increased crime caused by immigrants who, after an amnesty, will have no fear of deportation for criminal conduct.
The first factor –the socio-political history of the Latino immigrants– sets the stage for two fundamental reasons that gun ownership will rise among them. The first is self-defense and protection of home and family. The people who continue to flood our Southwestern states come from countries where criminality, often accompanied by violence and murder, is high. In addition, such law enforcement as exists there is often insufficient, ineffective, corrupt and sometimes flat out-gunned. This fact, at least as to Mexico, is well-documented, and has led to the recent nationwide rise of the autodefensas –armed local self-defense groups– who have spontaneously organized for the community security that the Mexican state and federal governments are unable or unwilling to provide. These people, and those from countries further south, well understand the principle succinctly stated by the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Nonetheless, in their home countries often only the elite may own guns, or certain types of guns –the military and police, and the wealthy and well-connected– because of restrictive laws, and the cost and limited availability of firearms and ammunition.
The immigrants will, in time, find that law enforcement in the US is far more prevalent and effective than in the countries they have fled. But even so, the concern for effectively protecting home and family will likely drive up gun ownership if amnesty is granted. In addition to this general concern for security, recent immigrants in any country often find that they are targeted by criminals because they are easy prey. Cultural differences, language barriers and the fear of retribution by their criminal tormentors often make immigrants hesitant to call upon law enforcement to deal with criminal predation. This too will drive immigrants to own guns. These circumstances –the natural inclination to protect home and family, and the inevitable predation upon newly-arrived immigrants– will dovetail with the second factor, the ready availability of firearms in the US, to drive increased gun ownership under an amnesty. Gun prices, market supply and US laws are the aspects that most affect availability of firearms here. According to BATFE guidelines, federal laws allow firearms acquisition and ownership by permanent resident aliens, and aliens legally admitted to the US without a visa. If a broad-scale amnesty is granted, it is likely that those affected by the amnesty will fall into either or both of those two categories. In addition to legal protections, market supply and pricing will also drive an increase of gun ownership under an amnesty. Now especially, given the whopping increase in gun sales prompted by fear of restrictive regulation under the Obama administration, and the efforts by manufacturers to meet that demand, the availability of guns is at an all-time high. In addition, prospective buyers have an enormous variety of guns from which to choose, and in the case of working immigrants and immigrant families of modest means, even the tightest budget can accommodate an offering from companies like Standard Arms, Jimenez Arms, or Harrington & Richardson.
The third factor that is likely to drive gun ownership upward after an amnesty is the concern among US citizens of an increase in crime. It is an unfortunate but inescapable fact that when a population increases, crime increases as well. In the case of an amnesty, it is unquestionably the case that some of those who will be allowed to remain here legally will be criminals, and of those, some will be experienced, hardened and brutal. Mexico and Central America have increasingly become crucibles for criminal gangs and cartels, mostly drug-related, that have developed well-deserved reputations for effective organization and proliferation, and a willingness to use torture and mass murder to expand their power and reach. Undoubtedly, the criminal element among amnestied immigrants will, to some extent, use its newly-legal status to buy guns. Additionally, US citizens living in areas where there are significant communities of amnestied immigrants are likely to also buy guns to protect themselves from the inevitable increase in crime.
This last factor, increased crime, may also have a politically-driven impact on US gun ownership if an amnesty is granted. The very existence of the 2nd Amendment is proof that the issue of private gun ownership has been a topic of national debate since before the US came into being. Over the decades since, that debate has waxed and waned in intensity, but it has now come to a fever pitch. To the extent that an amnesty results in a significant increase in firearms-related crime, the result, depending upon political factors, could be more-restrictive firearms laws and regulations. We tend to believe that, come what may politically, the guns that we now own are sacrosanct, and will not be taken from us. Events in Britain, Australia, and more recently in Connecticut and New York prove that confiscatory regulation is a very real possibility. In that regard an amnesty, if accompanied by a significant increase in firearms-related crime, could eventually result in a net decrease in firearms ownership.