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Who's Profiting from Oakland's Gun Violence?

As the city struggles with violent crime, major gun makers and their lobbyists are making a financial killing.

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Kao Saeturn liked to intimidate people with his Glock. Referring to himself as "the King of Oakland," Saeturn, along with his gang, kicked off a methamphetamine-fueled spree that wreaked havoc on the Bay Area. After holding up a San Rafael massage parlor at gunpoint, Saeturn's gang targeted another one in El Cerrito and then a Hayward karaoke club, threatening victims with their firearms. Then in a bizarre episode, Saeturn and an accomplice attempted to carjack a retired San Francisco Sheriff's deputy at gunpoint on Interstate 580. When police finally apprehended Saeturn's gang on February 7, 2008, officers recovered the Glock 17 pistol that the 25-year-old ringleader had used during the crime spree, along with other firearms. In 2010, the King of Oakland was sentenced to 272 months in prison.

Saeturn didn't kill anyone in his spree, but plenty of firearms-related crimes end in death in Oakland. Take the case of Evan Meisner. On March 31, 2011, the 22-year-old Meisner was found in his East Oakland apartment lying face down in a pool of blood from a gunshot wound below his left ear. Phone records led police to Gregory Gadlin, a parolee in custody on domestic violence charges. A wiretap of a phone conversation between Gadlin, then in Santa Rita jail, and a friend, led them to the murder weapon — a 9mm Taurus Luger pistol stashed in Gadlin's car.

These two cases are just the tip of the iceberg in California's most violent city. More than one hundred homicides and thousands of shootings and robberies involving firearms occur in Oakland every year. The roster of firearms used to menace, maim, and murder reads like a military armory's. Even though there isn't a single gun store in Oakland, the city is awash in guns and high-capacity magazines. Well-known firearm brands like Smith & Wesson, Glock, and Mossberg are as prevalent on the street as are the so-called "junk guns" — cheap, old pistols that were made by companies that are no longer in business.

Regardless of what one thinks of the Second Amendment and the gun-control debate, the consequences of the gun industry's yearly production of weapons for the American market translates annually into more than 32,000 firearms deaths, one-third of which are homicides. That's 2,000 more deaths than the entire American casualty count suffered during the eight years of the Revolutionary War. When the Second Amendment of the US Constitution — popularly interpreted as an individual right to own firearms — was adopted in 1791, it took twenty seconds for a skilled gunman to load and fire a single musket round. Today, a teenager can spray fifty rounds in twenty seconds from an automatic 9mm pistol with a high-capacity magazine drum.

Occasionally, law enforcement officials bust criminal networks that traffic firearms, slowing the flow of guns into Oakland before another deluge of legally purchased and illegally procured guns is trucked in. However, because of the sheer ubiquity of firearms in America, and especially due to hamstrung federal regulators and lax gun laws in other states, the flow of arms into Oakland has proven unstoppable.

After mass slayings and heinous crimes — like the Oikos University shooting last year, the killing of three-year-old Carlos Nava, and the Newtown, Connecticut school massacre — calls for more effective gun laws in Oakland and California ring out. Rarely, however, is the ultimate source of all this weaponry scrutinized — the major corporations and private companies assembling and selling millions of pistols, rifles, revolvers, and shotguns every year.

The firearms industry is a multi billion-dollar global business, and the United States is its single biggest profit center. Firearms makers, and the moneymen behind them, use their profits to buy political influence in the US, and gut sensible restrictions on the industry that would reduce the public health impact of gun violence.

And despite the gun lobby's claims to be protecting "liberty," the biggest gun companies and their owners include a strange mix of foreigners, state-owned enterprises, private equity investors, pension funds, and dynasties with feudal origins, many of whom could care less about the US Constitution's ideals. These deadly business interests have a stake not just in keeping America armed and "free," but also in saturating America's streets with millions of firearms.

The gun that the King of Oakland waved about during his rampage — a Glock 17 — was likely manufactured in Glock's factory in Smyrna, Georgia. That factory produces 23,000 semi-automatic pistols for sale each year in the United States. The model 17's numeric name refers to the number of 9mm bullets that can be packed into a single factory magazine, but aftermarket clips holding 33 rounds are readily available — even though California law prohibits magazines with a capacity of more than ten rounds.

Glock's brand name became ubiquitous on America's streets in the 1990s due to both police and consumer purchases. This made Gaston Glock — the company's Austrian owner who began his weapons empire in 1981 by converting his curtain rod factory into a pistol mill — doubly rich off the civilian and law enforcement markets. Thousands of Glock pistols legally sold to civilians have facilitated gruesome murders and assaults. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' only available gun crime trace report for Oakland reveals that Glock 9mm pistols were the fifth most common weapon used here in robberies and murders in the early part of the last decade.

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