When not wrangling copy for the MoJo crew, Ian writes about immigration, sports, and Latin America. His work has appeared in ESPN the Magazine, Wired, and Slate. Got a comment or a tip? Email him: igordon [at] motherjones [dot] com.
If Black Friday shopping trends are any indication, the gift of cold, hard steel will be more popular than ever this holiday season. According to USA Today, on that day dealers called the FBI with a total of 154,873 background check requests for shoppers seeking to buy firearms. That's 20 percent more than last year's record of 129,166 calls in one day. Sixty-two percent of the Black Friday requests were for long guns like shotguns or rifles, such as the Bushmaster .223 reportedly used by the suspect in today's shooting in Newtown, Connecticut (a state where you don't need a permit to carry a rifle).
The FBI doesn't keep track of guns sold—only the background requests it fields—but that number is almost certainly higher than the number of calls received, given that consumers can buy more than one firearm per request. Overall, background requests have jumped 32 percent since 2008 (PDF). As Bloomberg Businessweek pointed out, gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson reported a record number of sales for their last quarter, up nearly 50 percent from the year before. The rise in gun sales doesn't necessarily mean that there are more first-time gun owners, though: A CNN investigation in July showed that fewer people own more and more weapons.
Gun purchases always rise as the holidays approach. This year, though, the Christmas rush might not be the only thing prompting people to buy firearms. In the weeks after President Obama won a second term, background checks spiked, just as they had after he was elected back in 2008. In a New York Times op-edabout this, columnist Charles M. Blow quoted a National Rifle Association spokesperson who said that "gun sales are undoubtedly going up because gun owners know that at best President Obama wants to make guns and ammunition more expensive through increased taxes and regulation, and at worst he wants to make them totally illegal."
Since the election, some Republicans have begun backing away from the self-deportation rhetoric of folks like Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and are getting on board with comprehensive immigration reform. Others in the party are sticking with the hard line. Enter former President George W. Bush with a dose of good ol' compassionate conservative advice for his fellow Republicans: "Not only do immigrants help build our economy, they invigorate our soul," he said, reprising his role as immigration reformer at a Dallas conference on Tuesday. "America can be a lawful society—and a welcoming society—at the same time. As our nation debates the proper course of action relating to immigration, I hope we do so with a benevolent spirit and keep in mind the contribution of immigrants."
On Saturday morning, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot 22-year-old Kasandra Perkins—his girlfriend and the mother of his three-month-old daughter, Zoe—before killing himself at Arrowhead Stadium in front of his coach and general manager. Despite calls for the NFL to cancel the Chiefs' Sunday afternoon game against the Carolina Panthers, Chiefs players voted to play; before Kansas City's 27-21 win, the team held a moment of silence for victims of domestic violence but notably did not publicly mourn Belcher.
While CBS dropped the ball in its coverage of the shooting during Sunday's edition of The NFL Today, NBC's Bob Costas went out of his way during Sunday's prime-time game to make a case for tougher gun laws. Quoting a column written by Fox Sports columnist Jason Whitlock, Costas said in the above video:
"Our current gun culture," Whitlock wrote, "ensures that more and more domestic disputes will end in the ultimate tragedy and that more convenience-store confrontations over loud music coming from a car will leave more teenage boys bloodied and dead."
"Handguns do not enhance our safety. They exacerbate our flaws, tempt us to escalate arguments, and bait us into embracing confrontation rather than avoiding it. In the coming days, Jovan Belcher's actions, and their possible connection to football will be analyzed. Who knows?"
"But here," wrote Jason Whitlock, "is what I believe. If Jovan Belcher didn't possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today."
The Belcher murder-suicide is just the latest example of guns mixing poorly with NFL players. According to the San DiegoUnion-Tribune's NFL Arrests Database, which includes every incident more serious than a speeding ticket since 2000, there were three gun-related arrests last offseason alone: Denver Broncos defensive end Elvis Dumervil flashed a gun in a July road rage incident; Cleveland Browns defensive lineman Kiante Tripp and two others allegedly had guns with them during a July burglary; and former Detroit Lions cornerback Aaron Berry was accused, also in July, of threatening three people with a firearm.
Here are a few other notable gun-related incidents involving past or present NFL players:
Junior Seau: The former San Diego Chargers linebacker was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his Oceanside, California, house in May. The 43-year-old's death was ruled a suicide by the San Diego County coroner.
Plaxico Burress: In the fall of 2008, the then-New York Giants receiveraccidentally shot himself in the leg at a Manhattan club with a gun that wasn't registered in New York state.
Marvin Harrison: The former Indianapolis Colts wide receiver was interviewed by Philadelphia police but never charged in an April 2008 shooting. Nearly two years later, GQ's Jason Fagone wrote a story that cast doubt on Harrison's story.
Tank Johnson:Police raided the house of the former Chicago Bears defensive lineman in December 2006, seizing a .44 magnum Smith & Wesson revolver, a .50 caliber Desert Eagle handgun, a .45 caliber handgun, a .308 caliber Winchester rifle, and two assault-style rifles, including a Colt AR-15 and a .223 caliber.
Rae Carruth: The former Carolina Panthers wideout became the first active NFL player to face murder charges when, in 1999, he and three friends conspired to kill his pregnant girlfriend, Cherica Adams, and the baby she was carrying.
Polk County Detention Facility, in eastern TexasCourtesy Detention Watch Network
Rotten food, limited access to sunlight, and even arbitrary solitary confinement: For undocumented immigrants in US Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, detention could mean all that and more.
According to the Detention Watch Network, a national coalition pushing for changes in immigration detention, ICE holds more than 400,000 immigrants in 33,400 jail beds across the United States. On Thursday, DWN released a report highlighting what it calls the nation's 10 worst immigration detention centers and calling for their immediate closure. Among the abuses at these jails and prisons—most run by county prison systems, but some by private firms like Corrections Corporation of America—the report claims:
At all ten of the facilities, people reported waiting weeks or months for medical care; inadequate, and in some cases a total absence, of any outdoor recreation time or access to sunlight or fresh air; minimal and inedible food; the use of solitary confinement as punishment; and the extreme remoteness of many of the facilities from any urban area which makes access to legal services nearly impossible.
This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who has seen Frontline's excellent "Lost in Detention," which focused on the fallout from Obama's deportation-heavy first term. Still, the 2009 death of 39-year-old Roberto Medina Martínez at Georgia's Stewart Detention Center—one of the facilities called out by DWN—is a graphic reminder of what can happen when more and more immigrants are rounded up for deportation and sent to overwhelmed and inadequate facilities, where they're often treated like prisoners even though they're not serving criminal sentences. (Rather, they're undergoing administrative immigration proceedings that usually result in deportation.)
Immigration reform may be a post-election topic du jour—with everyone from President Obama to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio pledging to push legislation posthaste—but hardly anyone is talking about fixing our broken detention system. As Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) said in a Thursday press call, "Taxpayers shouldn't be asked to continue to support this waste of money and resources."
Click on our map below to learn more about each of DWN's worst offenders:
While Alarcón aims to air his show on radio stations throughout the Americas, his iTunes-savvy home audience is key. "There are 50 million Latinos here and more Spanish speakers than in Peru," he told me when we met in an Oakland café just as his podcastwas picking up steam. "That's why I can't believe no one did Radio Ambulante before."
Mother Jones: After the publication of Lost City Radio, the BBC sent you to Peru for your first radio assignment. What was that like?
Daniel Alarcón: Amazing. I'd been on tour for eight months. You read the same section of the novel every night. You answer pretty much the same questions. You do interviews that are all basically the same. At the end of a year of this rote performance, this was the antidote. And it was beautiful. I remember calling up a friend of mine and just telling him how—this sounds really cheesy—I feel so alive. [Laughs.] And we did all kinds of interviews. We did interviews in Lima. We did interviews in little towns. We interviewed, like, the mayor. We interviewed, like, musicians. We interviewed singers and laborers and all kinds of people.