Making Al Capone Look Like a Gentleman

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Writing in The San Diego Union Tribune, former Seattle police chief (and San Diego assistant police chief) Norm Stamper explains why "we are the source of Mexico's 'drug problem,' " which features severed heads, children thrown from bridges, and families roasted alive.

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  1. I’m all for legalizing drugs, and find Norm Stamper’s views admirable.

    I’ve wondered, however, what happens to the drug cartels in the unlikely event all drugs are decriminalized. Do they just dissolve? Do they go back to old fashioned protection rackets or just plain thuggery?

  2. If drugs are legalized, then it would make sense that the dealers would find ways to become legitimate businessmen. If they do not, then the buyers will deal with people less prone to violence.

    That strategy seemed to work for the Kennedy’s.

  3. I served on a Federal Grand Jury in San Diego for an 18 month term in 90’s. I heard firsthand from some scared witnesses about the kinds of things this guy describes – I am glad someone is finally waking up and admitting the problem!

  4. This talk of legalizing drugs is crazy. The ONLY thing stopping me from a herion addiction is fact that it’s against the law.

  5. I’m inclined to believe there would be residual problems for a while after legalization. It’s a lot like getting sloshed: there may be a hangover at the end of it, but if you just keep drinking to put that off you’ll end up even worse.

  6. shecky

    I would think that just as the racketeers who prospered from prohibition found new rackets the drug cartels will also find new ones.

    But at least one more avenue for criminal exploitation would be closed.

    Of course, a certain number would probably go legit.

  7. I’ve wondered, however, what happens to the drug cartels in the unlikely event all drugs are decriminalized.

    Whatever else is for sale on the black market won’t have the huge profits of illegal drugs.

    Drug criminals have an unlimited supply of high-powered weapons at their disposal. Kingpins pay mules, usually impoverished, always expendable, to travel to the states and pick up a firearm or two at a gun show. Using the Brady Bill ?loophole? (and congressional and presidential failure to extend the ban on assault rifles), all it takes is a phony stateside driver’s license and a handful of cash to walk out with semi-automatic Uzis, AR-15s, and AK-47s.

    Hogwash. Why on earth would they go to all that trouble for a handful of semi-autos when they can send a peon to China, Syria, or any of a dozen other places and pick up a thousand fully-automatic true assault rifles at half the price, including shipping. Or “borrow” them from the local Federales. Or have someone corrupt in the Mexican government order them.

    Every shooting I’ve seen reported on or across across the border has both sides using full autos, which are not available at U.S. gun shows.

  8. I wonder, is such barbarity purely a result of market forces? Does someone who’s capable of throwing kids off bridges or barbecueing families over burning tires become a regular chrch-going average guy when his business dissolves?

  9. Sorry, I couldn’t help but guffaw out loud when he wrote the following:

    Drug criminals have an unlimited supply of high-powered weapons at their disposal. Kingpins pay mules, usually impoverished, always expendable, to travel to the states and pick up a firearm or two at a gun show. Using the Brady Bill ?loophole? (and congressional and presidential failure to extend the ban on assault rifles), all it takes is a phony stateside driver’s license and a handful of cash to walk out with semi-automatic Uzis, AR-15s, and AK-47s.

    Sigh. Drug kingpins don’t have to go to the states to get guns; there are plenty of fully-auto AK-47’s and M-16s available in Mexico and Central America. Why bother going to the US?

    And I’d be willing to bet it was a full-auto M-16, not a semi-auto AR-15, that was responsible for Chief Dominguez’s murder.

    Besides, the AW ban was in effect up until a couple of years ago. It didn’t seem to do much good. Hell, Mexico has even stricter laws against gun possession. Look what good they do.

    That’s why I have trouble taking wankers like this guy so seriously. He recognizes the counterproductive nature of the War on Drugs, but despite his experience he still is a cheerleader for the War on Guns.

  10. I have never met any prosecutor who really believed in the war on drugs. The whole thing has gone past the point of rediculousness. I go back and forth on how many drugs to legalize but today I am leaning towards legalizing them all. If you as an employer don’t like drugs, then test your employees for drugs and don’t hire anyone who uses. Lets shoot anyone who sells drugs to kids and tell people they are responsible for thier actions, meaning no fucking help if you get yourself hooked and a huge prison term if you get hopped up and drive and hurt someone or steal to support your habbit. Otherwise, have fun and use all the cheap and available drugs you think you can handle.

    This guy lost me on the going to gun shows to buy guns. What a load of horseshit.

  11. “I’ve wondered, however, what happens to the drug cartels in the unlikely event all drugs are decriminalized. Do they just dissolve? Do they go back to old fashioned protection rackets or just plain thuggery?”

    They go into politics. Oh, wait, you alreay mentioned protection rackets and thuggery.

  12. “Does someone who’s capable of throwing kids off bridges or barbecueing families over burning tires become a regular church-going average guy when his business dissolves?”

    No, but he does suddenly have alot less money and alot less power, and thus is far more likely to end up either being done in by former business associates (or their relatives) or get busted by police for his many non-drug crimes. By way of historical analogy, the Mafia didn’t immediately disappear when Prohibition ended, but the most violent elements of it got run down pretty fast.

  13. Police recovered 35 to 40 casings from an AR-15 assault rifle.

    Sigh. What he had was 35-40 pieces of .223/5.56 brass. Which may have come from any number of rifles.

  14. “By way of historical analogy, the Mafia didn’t immediately disappear when Prohibition ended, but the most violent elements of it got run down pretty fast.”

    I don’t know about that SR. The mob still had prostitution, extortion, gambling, and later on drugs. The oldline Italian mafia was in pretty tall cotton in the 1950s. It wasn’t until the 1970s and 1980s that it really took its death blow. Of course it was replaced by much more violent drug gangs and foreign mafias like the Russians and the Mexicans.

    These organizations would not go away, they would just do what the mafia did; move into legitimate businesses and use their guns and killers to take over the market and extort money from people. I would hazard to guess that the old Mafia made just much or more money from crooked unions and construction kick backs and the like over the years than it did from bootlegging during prohibition.

  15. What does a AK-47 or M-16 go for on the black market in Mexico, anyway?

    Just curious.

  16. “By way of historical analogy, the Mafia didn’t immediately disappear when Prohibition ended, but the most violent elements of it got run down pretty fast.”

    I don’t know about that SR. The mob still had prostitution, extortion, gambling, and later on drugs. The oldline Italian mafia was in pretty tall cotton in the 1950s. It wasn’t until the 1970s and 1980s that it really took its death blow. Of course it was replaced by much more violent drug gangs and foreign mafias like the Russians and the Mexicans.

    These organizations would not go away, they would just do what the mafia did; move into legitimate businesses and use their guns and killers to take over the market and extort money from people. I would hazard to guess that the old Mafia made just much or more money from crooked unions and construction kick backs and the like over the years than it did from bootlegging during prohibition.

  17. I’ve wondered, however, what happens to the drug cartels in the unlikely event all drugs are decriminalized. Do they just dissolve? Do they go back to old fashioned protection rackets or just plain thuggery?

    Look at the American Mafia. After booze and gambling went away as cash cows they lost their juice. They are still around, but no where near as powerful and deadly as they once were.

  18. As the late great drummer Buddy Rich told Johnny Carson on the “Tonight Show” some years back, “The only drug problem in America these days is the high price of drugs.”

  19. As the late great drummer Buddy Rich told Johnny Carson on the “Tonight Show” some years back, “The only drug problem in America these days is the high price of drugs.”

  20. What does a AK-47 or M-16 go for on the black market in Mexico, anyway?

    Good question. I don’t know the answer, but based on the number used by the Drug Cartels, it’s certainly much cheaper than here.

    This legal American M-16 is only $15,000:
    http://www.impactguns.com/store/MGT-PJH7777.html

    (and for the curious, you can’t buy it at any gun show)

  21. The whole thing has gone past the point of rediculousness.

    Just an aside: Every time someone misspells “ridiculous,” a puppy bleeds to death. And right on top of your clean laundry.

  22. That last was just a warning from the spelling police, and issued without personal rancor.

  23. “What does a AK-47 or M-16 go for on the black market in Mexico, anyway?”

    Reports from 3rd world African nations and the Middle East have pegged the price of a fully-automatic AK47 rifles at $50-$150ish.

    I would presume that prices for the same sorts of weapons from Brazil or other South American nations to be comparable.

    Note that for comparison’s sake, a semi-auto AK47 clone will retail in the US for around $300-$700 depending on configuration.

  24. I wonder how in the hell you find an arms dealer in South America, Africa, etc. I mean, for drug runners and other n’er-do-wells, I doubt it’s that hard, but how could someone, hypothetically, go about it without getting killed?

  25. Stamper must have spent his teen years in Tijuana Arizona because any notion that drinking and whoring in TJ during the 1960’s was safe is pure fantasy brought on by the perceived invicibility of youth or the drugs he was taking. Tijuana is probably much safer today than it was when kids from the US hung out at Juicy Lucy’s.

    I know (personally) 7 different people who at one time or another ended up in Mexican jails between the mid 1960’s and the mid 1980’s. Rest assured, you really didn’t want that to happen. In three cases, the people I knew were victims and had asked for help from Mexican police only to end up in jail.

    Then there was that naked chick riding horseback with Bill Brough on the beach in Ensenada that was carried away by the federales. Don’t actually know what ever happened to her.

  26. Captain Holly, Larry A,

    The former Chief of Police in Seattle, who is also the former Chief of Police in San Diego, bravely goes public campaigning agains the drug. He’s telling me these purchases of weaponry at American gun shows are happening, and thinks they are a serious enough part of the problem to include a few lines about them in the op-ed he writes for the San Diego Union Tribune about the harm wrought by the drug war.

    Are you saying he doesn’t know what he is talking abour? Or that he is dishonest?

    And why should I take your almost certainly less informed perception over his reports of what he encountered during his career?

  27. “Why on earth would they go to all that trouble for a handful of semi-autos when they can send a peon to China, Syria, or any of a dozen other places and pick up a thousand fully-automatic true assault rifles at half the price, including shipping. Or “borrow” them from the local Federales. Or have someone corrupt in the Mexican government order them.”

    The only plausible reason is that sending mules to American gun shows is easier and cheaper, with less of chance of getting caught.

  28. Great proofing, joe.

    “…who is also the former Assistant Chief of Police in San Diego…”

    “…campaigning against the drug war…”

  29. Because joe, it does not pass the bullshit test;

    The volume of guns traded in gun shows in no way is sufficient to supply a tenth of the demand to supply drug-smugglers’ needs.

    With a long poorly defended coastline and a southern province that is outside of Mexican governmental control that borders on Guatemala, I think that the vast majority of their firearms is probably purchased far more safely from south of Mexico rather than in the U.S.

    I got the same creepy crawly feeling when he trotted out the gun-control rationale as when the neocons started quoting Clinton to justify the war in Iraq.

  30. There are plenty of guns floating around Latin America without the need to cross the border and seek weaponry from a bunch Ted Nugent wannabes. Think of the Nicaragua and El Salvador civil wars, the Guatemalan police state, and basically any underpaid Mexican federale or army guy who “loses” his gun.

    Besides, a basic rule of thumb: if you got the cash, the merchandise will find you.

  31. Yet today, marijuana is worth as much as gold

    Gold is at $645/troy ounce at the moment, which is about $588/avoirdupois ounce. Either Norm Stamper buys some really, really high-end bud or his dealer is totally ripping him off.

  32. I’m glad Stamper is on our side about the drugs; let’s not let the bit about the guns cause us to damn him completely. I was irked by this bit, though: “…including the ‘Zetas’ (elite military commandos assigned to fight drugs but who’ve gone over to the other side)” So the “elite military commandos” have no access to weaponry, but must have it smuggled in from the US? Plus, of course, it’s highly illegal to take guns into Mexico, so wouldn’t it be rather hard…unless of course, there were corrupt border guards too and gee what a surprise that would be.

    But heck, wasn’t there a drug cartel a while back that had their own submarine? Ah yes, here we go:
    http://www.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2002/6/30/65538.shtml
    So these cartels have multi-million dollar mainframe computers, submarines, hundred of tons of cocaine…but they have to get rifles by having mules buy them at US gun shows. Riiiiight.

  33. Good article (quibbling about gun shows aside) but he refuses to admit that the U.S. government LOVES prohibition because it means more money for Wackenhut. If you’re going to privatize prisons and make slave labour camps, you need criminals to put in there. Because only old people and soccer moms vote, prohibition will be with us for a while.

  34. Hey! Some of us ‘old people’ that vote support the Drug Policy Alliance, too. We’re all for ending the Drug War. Can’t speak for soccer mom’s, though.

  35. Hey, rm2, no offense, but I think the point is valid. The hardcore anti-drug position of the U.S. government is largely a result of polling and drugs like marijuana scare old people and soccer moms. The gov’t likes it that way because then, hey, we need more money to fight the war on drugs. You don’t want your kids on drugs, do you?!?! Sadly, it will some time before our drug policy is based on, ahem, Reason.

  36. The former Chief of Police in Seattle, who is also the former Chief of Police in San Diego, bravely goes public campaigning against the drug war.

    Bravo. (Seriously.)

    He`s telling me these purchases of weaponry at American gun shows are happening, and thinks they are a serious enough part of the problem to include a few lines about them in the op-ed he writes for the San Diego Union Tribune about the harm wrought by the drug war. Are you saying he doesn`t know what he is talking about? Or that he is dishonest?

    I`m saying he`s a pro gun control person writing for a pro gun control newspaper in a very pro gun control city, and therefore including “a few lines” to further the cause.

    One quote, from minutes of a meeting of Mount Baker Community Club. (http://www.mountbaker.org/minutes/1990s/199406m.htm) In response to a question the minutes say Chief Stamper responded: “An inquiry about what gun control organization might be joined to further limits on weapons. The Chief recommended Handgun Control, Inc. in WA D.C. He does not endorse all of HCI`s positions but feels it is a good group with national clout. He noted that he favors gun control and would like to see the recently enacted ban on guns for those under 18 increased to ban gun possession or ownership by those under 21.”

    Why he thinks a ban on guns will work when the ban on drugs is so disasterous is a question I`d like to ask him. I`d also wonder how the fully-automatic firearms used by Mexican drug organizations come from U.S. gun shows where it`s completely illegal to transfer such firearms.

    And why should I take your almost certainly less informed perception over his reports of what he encountered during his career?

    I`ve been following the gun control issue since 1968. I`ve been a certified civilian firearms instructor since 1982, including NRA basic courses, Texas Hunter Education courses, and Texas Concealed Handgun courses, having trained thousands of law-abiding people to shoot. Most of the courses I teach are offered in conjunction with local and state law enforcement officers. I`ve published numerous articles on firearm subjects including gun control, reviewed dozens of books from both sides, spent the last half-century as a legal gun owner, regularly participate in shooting competitions, and succeeded in getting my pro-gun novel published.

    You can call me biased, but I don`t think you can say I`m less informed.

    The only plausible reason is that sending mules to American gun shows is easier and cheaper, with less of chance of getting caught.

    Right. The only good reason is because it`s easier, cheaper, and safer. Except none of these is true. Therefore I doubt it`s happening often enough to worry about.

  37. “And why should I take your almost certainly less informed perception over his reports of what he encountered during his career?”

    The only first hand exposition I read was some creepy stuff about sneaking across the border for the donkey shows. And I don’t see why he should have any first hand experience regarding Mexican drug gang weapon procurement. The job of an executive assistant police chief sounds achingly administrative. I’ll listen a bit more closely when he starts talking about police staffing problems and equipment budgets.

  38. LARRY A, fwiw, Stamper did not write this piece for the Union Tribune. They picked it up after he first had it published at ALTERNET.

    PIGWIG, Stamper ran the Seattle police force and knows plenty about staffing and equipment budgets.

    Like another LEAP member – former San Jose CA and KC, MO police chief Joseph McNamara – Stamper came to learn that in the 21st century, most police agencies rely heavily on the federal money that is granted to them specifically for enforcing drug prohibition laws. Additionally, most major forces rely heavily on the seized assets made available to them anytime they make a drug bust; assets which are not attachable when the criminal offense is non drug related.

    In short, there’s big money in enforcing drug laws and far less money and assets available for the enforcement of laws which involve crimes against persons and/or property.

  39. two thirds of all prisoners in American prisons have drug related charges. Mexico has a drug problem?

  40. two thirds of all prisoners in American prisons have drug related charges. Mexico has a drug problem? Our legal system has the problem. We live in a country where you can buy online firearms, but marijuana is restricted.

  41. Even though these events may make Al Capone look like a gentleman, this is good evidence as to why comparisons can be very misleading. Even though he may seem nice in comparison, the actions of both these parties are incorrigible and the legalizing of drugs will not stop the cruelty that accompanies such actions.

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