Who should be afraid now?

When Stew and I visit the United States we can count on one tedious question to come up: “Aren’t you afraid to live in Mexico?” Over lunch, when we visited Chicago in October, a friend asked us that and it struck me as odd, considering I’d just read in the local newspaper there had been five murders in the city the night before, and Chicago and New Orleans were running neck and neck for the title of “Murder Capital of the U.S.”

In fact, following a string of mass murders—almost one a day this year according to some estimates—expats from Mexico should be the ones asking that question when we visit the U.S.

This morning’s New York Times reports that Americans, stunned not only by the frequency but the senselessness of the mass murders—the lack of any rhyme or reason that would allow you to protect yourself—are now the ones looking over their shoulders in fear. Over five thousand readers reacted to the article, mentioning among other things, their personal escape plans or owning guns in case a shootout erupted around them.

Look out for “transgendered leftist activists” with guns. 

Fears for one’s safety are fueled by both facts and perceptions. Several weeks ago, factual reports of a string of murders in San Miguel, enhanced by gossip and extrapolation, set the local expat community on edge. As I wrote in a previous posting, Stew and I are not immune from such vacillation. Someone gets bumped off on the other side of town? Don’t worry about it. A stiff turns up close to home? Oh, shit.

But in general we’ve somehow learned to manage and localize our fears in Mexico. When we drive to the U.S., we stay away from narcomeccas like Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa and head for border crossings as far from them as possible. We don’t drive at night or on back roads, no matter how picturesque. One of the considerations in the design of our home was security; someone might still get in—no place is impregnable—but they are going to have to work at it.

What’s most scary about the violence gripping the U.S., though, is the randomness. One might get killed at a movie house, while attending church, near a family planning clinic or at an employee Christmas party at a center for disabled people. The shooter could be a Muslim radical, an anti-abortion zealot, a racist dimwit or, most often, just some nut with a gun.

As they say, there’s no figurin’, though some Americans try to. When we visited San Antonio a month ago, Stew and I were struck by the number of billboards for gun shows, gun stores, firing ranges and other gun-related paraphernalia. I’m sure gun-toting locals will argue that guns make them feel safe.

But to Stew and me, the apparent surfeit of guns in San Antonio made us feel distinctly unsafe. When you walk into a grocery store, how many customers are packing and ready to start shooting over whatever—that they just got fired, thrown out of their house by their wife, or are just intoxicated? Would bringing my own gun make my produce shopping experience safer and more pleasant?

In fact, the growing number of legal and illegal firearms in the U.S.—by some estimates enough for every man woman and child—has made the guns-for-safety argument tragically circular. The more threatened people feel, the more guns they buy, which only heightens the fear of getting shot by someone, anyone, with a gun, either by accident or on purpose, and that fuels the next cycle of demand for more weapons. And so on.

There is usually an uptick in gun sales after a mass shooting incident, sometimes triggered by some local government genius who argues that the only way to make, for example, moviegoing safer is to bring a Glock with you in case the mayhem on the screen spills into the theater.

Governmental authority should be responsible for maintaining public safety but it fails at that on both sides of the border. In Mexico, the entire law enforcement apparatus is riddled with ineptitude and corruption. Army trucks, loaded with soldiers clutching machine guns, periodically cruise through San Miguel, but they seem more like toy soldiers than credible security agents.

In the U.S. the same paralysis obtains. Pres. Obama pleads for Congressional action to control the availability of guns but you can tell by the sad tone in his words and eyes that he’s pretty much given up. In Congress, Republicans call for prayers and the intervention of the Almighty but won’t even contemplate the most timid gun-control measures. To make matters worse, there have been numerous incidents recently of police shooting people first—usually black people—and asking questions later.

Occasionally, some public official will come up with an original theory. After the shooting of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz suggested that the shooter might have been a “transgendered leftist activist,” as if that would clarify things a bit or soothe people’s nerves. It doesn’t for me.

Hmm. For the time being, my friends, Stew and I are staying in Mexico, which suddenly looks pretty safe. And that’s that. For now.


13 thoughts on “Who should be afraid now?

  1. Anonymous

    Alas, here in America, guns are a matter of religious fervor, not any rational thought. No gun enthusiast that I know can give a good answer to the following problem. Say you're in a theatre and some nutcase starts shooting. But (“fortunately”) there are “good guys” with guns who shoot back. You too are a “good guy” with a gun, but weren't particularly paying attention to the rest of the audience until the shooting started, so you don't know who shot first. What prevents you from shooting another “good guy?” What prevents another “good guy” from shooting you as you attempt to vanquish the “bad guy?” What prevents a total shootout where everyone kills everyone?The fact of the matter is that there is NO good answer to this question, except the obvious: ban guns, or at least make them VERY, VERY difficult to own. Why this isn't obvious to everyone, I don't know. And yes, I'm starting to think it's safer in Mexico. At least there, the shooters have a specific agenda that's easily understood, and fairly easily avoided. Here in the USA? You're at the mercy of every armed nutcase. Saludos,Kim GBoston, MAWhich fortunately has some of the stricter gun control measures possible.


  2. Excellent post. I too used to get the frequent question, “Isn't it dangerous to go to Mexico?” But I have noticed in the last couple years that I am asked that less often. Perhaps people are starting to realize that the United States is not necessarily a haven of safety.By the way, I just added your excellent blog to the blog list on my own site.¡Saludos!


  3. The gun industry needs to step back from the plate and think about its future. I can see a bean ball in its near future if it keeps with its strident rhetoric. We do not need a gun that can drop a person at 600 yards and have thirty more shots behind it in the magazine for home protection. As far as the mass killers: I can still buy urea at 50% nitrogen at any farm store and high speed gun powder is sold by the 8 lb can in any shooting store. The mass killers have access to some powerful boom boom material, high speed guns or not. The solution is not simple. We need to keep a better eye on people who feel the need to own military type weapons. A person wants that kind of firepower, the rest of us need to know what they are up to. Put those type of weapons in the same basket we keep Tommy guns in. People can own full auto ordnance but they have to jump through a good number of hoops. Owning military ordnance should be as hard to do as opening up a bar. We should keep the high speed stuff legal but keep a much better eye on whoever wants to own the kill thirty people at a clip type guns. The urea and gun powder bomb materials are a different egg. The government puts markers in both materials today but that is useful only after the fact. If the nut jobs are going to kill, they are going to kill, we just need to make it a little harder. High speed guns are just too easy. To address the Mexico or US safety issue; it depends on where you're at in ether bailiwick. They both have their danger zones.


  4. I wondered about exactly that when, after the shooting at a movie house in Louisianna, some pol (it may have been former presidential candidate Bobby Jindal) suggested that people ought to be allowed to bring guns into a theater. Whaaat? Are these people stupid or are they so busy pandering to the lowest common denominator they have no time to think?


  5. Some folks have said that you still have terrorists in Paris, despite strict gun controls. Except that the frequency of mass killings, and gun deaths—for whatever reasons—is alarmingly higher in the U.S. There is something wrong in America. Wasn't urea that the Oklahoma City bomber used?


  6. Yes, urea was used in Oklahoma. Supposedly they put markers in iit today but that is not much help in stopping the nut job before he/she sets off the model rocket engine or M-80 used to start the reaction. I figure the crazy guy down the hill from me is far more likely to take me out than a terrorist so in the words of Alfred E Newman, ” What me worry?”


  7. We have always answered that question with”We lived 4 miles from the border of Detroit. San Miguel de Allende Mexico seems far safer”As for real worry I look at it as a math problem. Your chance of being murdered by someone unknown to you is .0047 per 100'000 (FBI 2012). Your chance of tripping and breaking a bone on a cobble here are about 1 in 3'000. So I will just be cautious and watch my step.


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