Tribes Need To Use Gun Rights To Fight The Cartels

by Vern Evans

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In theory, the American West (away from the coast, at least) is a pretty good place to carry a gun. Constitutional carry has spread across most states, and the remaining ones (Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado) are fairly good about recognizing permits from other states. But, what many people might not know is that the west can still be a bit of a minefield.

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Many people say that tribes are “sovereign nations,” but that’s not entirely true. They’re definitely part of the United States, and they’re subject to federal law. What they’re not subject to are state laws. So, the easiest way to understand them (at least for the purposes of gun laws) is to just pretend that they’re a state. So, they can have their own gun laws.

Like states, some tribes are really cool and either explicitly adopt state weapons laws or recognize permits from states. In other cases, they’ll leave you alone if you have a loaded gun in your car. But, in most cases, they’re like California and you can’t do anything but have an unloaded gun in the trunk (and only because the federal FOPA law makes them).

So, you’ve got to figure out ahead of time what the tribe’s current laws are on guns before passing through, or take your chances and hope you don’t get caught. NYSRPA v. Bruen may eventually lead to changes on this, but that’s what we’re stuck with right now.

While the average otherwise law-abiding gun owner isn’t a danger to people living on reservations if they illegally drive through, there’s a group of people who both don’t follow the law and have proven to be quite a problem: Mexican drug cartels.

Like everywhere else in the United States, reservations are struggling with fentanyl and those who smuggle the stuff in. But, the cartels are finding that tribes are particularly vulnerable. Outside of the reservations, a web of local, county, state and federal law enforcement often have populated areas covered in law enforcement attention several times over. But, reservations have limited resources and nearly no law enforcement presence.

At night, the cartels basically take whole reservations over. The flow of drugs itself is obviously a problem, but crime associated with smuggling the stuff into them and sometimes on to Canada has a lot of crime involved. Addicts often get roped into other crime to pay for the drugs, making the problem spread into all areas of criminality.

Northern reservations are being hit particularly hard because they’re so far from the southern border. The price of drugs like fentanyl in places like Texas, Arizona and New Mexico is relatively low, largely because it’s in easy reach of the cartels. But, the further north you go, the higher the dangers and losses of smuggling operations, and the price per pill reflects those additional costs. Pills go for over $100 on some Montana reservations while they’re well under a buck in El Paso or San Diego.

This leads to not only addicts stealing things to pay for their pills, but also all sorts of other crimes. Child abuse, sex trafficking, assaults and murders are all up as cartels come in and gain control of reservations.

Little Mexicos

In some ways, this problem is predictable. The cartels have a presence in not only all 50 states, but also around the planet. But, we don’t see them corrupting the government, abusing the population and destroying freedom in the United States like they do in Mexico. The reasons for this are complex, but one big factor is that people in the United States will shoot back or go on the war path if threatened.

I know this personally. In my neighborhood, it required the effort of several armed people in the neighborhood to drive the gangs out. This only came after they tried to intimidate everyone and found that this only resulted in the rifles coming out instead of handguns.

But, in Mexico and on the reservations, the victims of cartel violence are kept disarmed by their governments. Unable to fight back and unable to call on law enforcement to help, the results are largely the same.

The solution is the same, too. Future court cases are likely to result in more gun rights on reservations, and this will enable the people living there to put a stop to their own victimization. So, it would make heaps of sense for tribes to get ahead of the curve, save on court costs and go ahead and skip to the end on this. Even something as simple as shall-issue concealed carry and recognizing permits from the states would be a big improvement. Going all-in on gun rights would be even better.

Until then, be extra wary of tribal lands. They have good people on them and some of the most beautiful scenery North America has to offer, but the unchecked cartel violence isn’t something you want to face unarmed or at risk of prosecution.

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