Yesterday, a column by George Will appeared in my local paper. It began like this:
Mexico's drug war has Arizona in cross hairs
By George Will
PHOENIX — X-Caliber, a gun store in a nondescript neighborhood in this city's northern section, has become embroiled in Mexico's turmoil. The chaos in Mexico is the result of its government's decision to wage war against rampant drug cartels that are fighting mostly against each other but also against the portions of Mexican law enforcement they have not corrupted. Operating in that nation's north, they are serving this nation's appetite for illegal narcotics and illegal immigrants.
The gun shop's proprietor, the name of whose shop might indicate familiarity with Arthurian legend, is on trial here, accused of selling at least 650 weapons, including AK-47 rifles, in small lots to "straw buyers" — persons who illegally pass on the weapons to the cartels, thereby fueling the violence that killed more than 6,000 Mexicans last year. That was more than 2,000 above the 2007 toll and fewer than will die if the rate of killing so far this year continues. (U.S. military fatalities in Iraq in six years number 4,249.) Fortunately, most of the dead are members of the warring cartels.
The prosecution of the proprietor is part of the U.S. attempt to stop the southward flow of weapons and bulk currency while Mexico combats the northward flow of drugs and of human beings brought by "coyotes." Although almost all the cartels' weapons come from the United States, the cartels are generating upward of $15 billion annually from drugs, human trafficking and extortion. So they will find ways to get guns — and grenades and other military weapons — for their internecine disputes about control over routes for smuggling drugs and people.
Ah, yes, the "American gun dealers/gun shows/nefarious private gun owners of ill repute are arming the Mexican cartels" meme. This has been trumpeted as the reason for all manner of new restrictions on honest folks such as you and me.
The principal advocate of this theme is Eric Holder, our new Attorney General whose appointment the NRA found it inconvenient to resist. That a nominal conservative like George Will bought into the lie is disconcerting but not startling.
One problem, though. (And I wonder if George will be issuing a retraction.) Something happened on the way to foregone conclusion. X-Caliber's owner was just set free by the federal judge in the case.
Reuters reports it this way.
Arizona judge dismisses charges in gunrunning case
By Tim Gaynor
PHOENIX (Reuters) - An Arizona judge threw out criminal charges Wednesday against a gun dealer accused of knowingly selling weapons to smugglers shopping for Mexican drug cartels, after he ruled the prosecutor's evidence was flawed.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Robert Gottsfield issued a directed verdict of not guilty in the trial of George Iknadosian, 47, the owner of X-Caliber guns in Phoenix.
Prosecutors alleged Iknadosian sold hundreds of AK-47 assault rifles and other guns to third-party buyers for the cartels in Mexico, where 6,000 people were killed in drug violence last year.
Curbing spiraling drug cartel violence is a top concern for authorities in the United States and Mexico, where nine out of 10 guns recovered from crime scenes are traced back to U.S. gun dealers.
The case was the most significant to date brought by U.S. prosecutors seeking to curb the illegal flow of arms south of the border.
Gottsfield dismissed the case on the grounds that the prosecutors had not proven the third-party buyers, or "straw purchasers," had misrepresented their identities when buying the guns.
"There is no proof whatsoever that any prohibited possessor ended up with the firearms," he said in a ruling.
Since 2006, Mexico has sent tens of thousands of troops to fight powerful cocaine cartels locked in a bloody war for control of lucrative cross-border smuggling routes to the United States.
U.S. Senate lawmakers are to hold hearings in coming weeks to assess the ability of U.S. security forces to handle the rise in crime on the U.S. side of the border related to Mexican traffickers.
Mexican authorities have ordered thousands of additional troops to restore order in Ciudad Juarez -- just south of El Paso, Texas -- where more than 2,000 people have been killed since the start of last year.
And here is David Hardy's take on it:
Charges against X-Caliber Guns dismissed
Posted by David Hardy · 19 March 2009 09:13 AM
This is a strange case. The Arizona Attorney General (not ATF) brought State charges against a Phoenix-area gun dealer, claiming he'd supplied over 700 guns to Mexican drug cartels.
And the AG loses on a directed verdict -- meaning the judge finds that the evidence is nonexistent: no rational juror could find for the prosecution.
And then the AG's office says it will appeal. ???? Ever hear of double jeopardy? He was on trial, jeopardy clearly attached by any standard (I forget the AZ rule, but jeopardy usually attaches when the jury is empanelled or when the first witness begins testimony, and a motion for DV is made when the prosecution finishes its case, much later), and he can't be retried.
UPDATE: here's the ruling, in pdf. The State charges were under the "scheme or artifice" statute, and the court says that materiality is a requirement there (in the typical case, that it was something where if the person knew the truth they'd not buy, or otherwise would act differently), and the court notes that the prosecution was unable to prove a single gun wound up in the hands of someone who couldn't legally possess it. Sounds like a pretty big gap between press reports and the evidence.
"Strange case" indeed. But maybe not so strange. Agencies need headlines, so members of an agency provide them. I suppose we should be grateful that they didn't burn down his house, church and family while they were about it.
This has been the principal case anti-gunners use as proof their narrative about Mexican drug violence is correct. Except now it is not.
So, when can we expect the retraction, Mr. Holder? George? Brady Bunch? VPC? Any of you blood dancers want to weigh in here?