By Matt Kovac
- A new SIPRI report found the U.S. is the largest arms exporter in the world
- America accounts for 34 percent of all guns traded worldwide
- Nearly half of these weapons were delivered to Middle Eastern states between 2013-17
- There is a demand for a national ban on the “weapons of war” that have become the trademark of mass shooters — without questioning the sale and use of U.S. weaponry overseas.
While hundreds of thousands of U.S. students marched against gun violence in Saturday’s “March for Our Lives,” another related milestone has gone virtually unremarked in the mainstream media: that the United States now controls fully one-third of the global arms trade. A new report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute found that the U.S. has cemented its position as the largest arms exporter in the world, now accounting for 34 percent of all guns traded worldwide, up from 30 percent five years ago.
LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 24: Demonstrators march towards Las Vegas City Hall in March for Our Lives rally on March 24, 2018 in Las Vegas. There are more than 800 March for Our Lives events organized by survivors of the Parkland, Florida school shooting on February 14 that left 17 dead. Ethan Miller/Getty Images/AFP
“These deals and further major contracts signed in 2017 will ensure that the USA remains the largest arms exporter in the coming years,” said Dr. Aude Fleurant, director of the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme, in a statement.
Nearly half of these weapons were delivered to Middle Eastern states between 2013-17, chiefly Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Last year, U.S. firms exported $42 billion worth of guns overall, according to Reuters.
Despite these lucrative overseas markets, U.S. gun control activists have yet to reckon with the gun industry’s extensive contracts in the Middle East, where such arms have been used to devastating effect by Saudi forces in Yemen.
Reform proposals thus far have not addressed global U.S. arms policy, focusing on domestic regulations like universal background checks and bans on military-style rifles.
Yet the connections are there. Last month, The Washington Post called for a national ban on the “weapons of war” that have become the trademark of mass shooters — without questioning the sale and use of U.S. weaponry overseas.
Others, like Harvard University history professor Walter Johnson, see critical links between U.S. military ventures abroad and pervasive gun violence at home.
“The rising generation of school shooters has come of age over almost two decades of continuous war,” Johnson wrote Friday for The Boston Review. “They are an imperial generation.”
Gun control advocates have argued that an assault weapons ban would bring the United States into closer alignment with European norms, including those of the UK, France, and Germany.
But even these examples of “successful” gun control are major international arms dealers in their own right. France and Germany ranked third and fourth on the SIPRI arms exporters list, respectively. The UK, ranked sixth, has also supplied arms to Saudi Arabia.
The human rights issues raised by U.S. arms sales have not benefited from the recent wave of sympathetic media coverage that has met gun control protesters. Just days ahead of the March for Our Lives, a Bernie Sanders-backed resolution was defeated last Tuesday that would have ended U.S. assistance to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
This failure to acknowledge — much less address — the military-industrial complex that underpins U.S. gun culture will have dire consequences, according to Johnson.
Even if some gun control measures are successfully implemented, the U.S. will join the ranks of some European arms exporters, which strictly regulate firearms within their borders while freely shipping arms to conflict zones overseas.
“Until we recognize that imperial violence and police violence and school violence are related aspects of the same problem,” he warns, “we are going to keep producing killers.”
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