Sue Russell

Too often we hear people express frustration over the seeming inability of elected officials in the U.S. Congress to enact further gun controls, e.g., require more and better background checks of gun buyers, enact a ban on military-style assault weapons, create stringent licensing of gun store owners and private gun sales, require stronger training standards in order to own guns, and raise the age of would-be gun buyers. These are but a few of the key issues circulating in our society surrounding the near-sacred Second Amendment, which many American gun owners cling to as a God-given right.

I am often asked by people from other countries why the U.S. cannot ‘do anything’ about the fact the we are awash with weapons and experience high rates of murder and fairly spectacular mass shootings. There are 3 things to keep in mind. First, the Second Amendment has been inscribed in our collective conscience as one of the key ways our founding ancestors felt would reduce the likelihood that our government would ever become too onerous or attempt a dictatorial, militaristic crackdown on opposition or social unrest. Second, most gun owners are law abiding citizens who have registered their firearms and use them for sport, hunting, or self-defense. These individuals refuse to accept broader restrictions on their guns since they view themselves as blameless ‘good guys’, not responsible for criminal acts. Third, it is worthwhile examining the actions of the NRA and their political donations to see where weapons profits underlie much of the political rhetoric and messaging on social media that fuel angst among gun owners related to the first two points, e.g., “they are trying to take your guns away”! Many gun owners donate to the NRA to protect their right to own firearms. In turn, gun rights groups have given nearly $13 million to congressional campaigns over the course of current lawmakers’ careers, while gun control advocates have given just over $570,000.(1)

But the reality we also need to recognize and which is mostly lost in this discussion is that the US is the single largest producer of weapons globally. We manufacture, design, do research and export weapons to many countries, not all of which are our allies. The U.S. outpaces all other nations in military expenditures, accounting for 37% of a total $1.6 trillion in 2015. U.S. military expenditures are about the size of the next seven largest military budgets around the world combined. (2) Finally, in 2016, global arms producers experienced $375 billion in profits, with the U.S. weapons industry claiming over half of global sales (about 58%, or $217 billion). (3)

Since the weaponization of the world is very much an economic trademark of U.S. industry, it should come as no surprise that the public and congressional opposition to gun ownership on a personal level has been relatively weak throughout our history. The ‘gun culture’ of the U.S. has deep economic and social roots.

(1) See https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/23/politics/nra-political-money-clout/index.html. Accessed on 3/19/2018.

(2) See http://www.nationalpriorities.org/campaigns/US-military-spending-US-world/. Accessed on 3/19/2018.

(3) See http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/US-Weapons-Industry-Lead-Way-As-Global-Arms-Sales-Surged-in-2016-Report-2071211-0024.html. Accessed on 3/19/2018.

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