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Cole writes: "The American obsession with guns and violence is not unique, but it is distinctive. The US ranks 12th in the world for rate of firearm-related deaths."

Juan Cole; public intellectual, prominent blogger, (photo: Informed Comment)
Juan Cole; public intellectual, prominent blogger, (photo: Informed Comment)

America Is Filling the World With Guns

By Juan Cole, Informed Comment

17 December 12


he American obsession with guns and violence is not unique, but it is distinctive. The US ranks 12th in the world for rate of firearm-related deaths. El Salvador, Colombia, Swaziland, Brazil, South Africa, the Philippines and some others are worse. But that is the company the US is in- not, say, relatively peaceful places like Japan, Singapore and the Netherlands.

It turns out that the Newtown shooter used a semi-automatic Bushmaster rifle and he had lots of thirty-round high-capacity clips for it. Authorities have revealed that each of the 20 children and six adults he killed was shot multiple times, but given the number of clips Lanza brought with him, the number of victims could have been much, much higher. The Federal ban on weapons such as the Bushmaster, in place 1994-2004, was allowed to lapse by the George W. Bush administration and his Republican Congress, all of whom received massive campaign donations from the gun lobby. There is a Connecticut ban, but the maker of the Bushmaster used a loophole in the poorly written state law to continue to sell the gun in the state. The Bushmaster is manufactured by a subsidiary of the Wall Street hedge fund, Cerberus Capital Management, called the "Freedom Group"- which also owns Remington and DPMS Firearms. It is the largest single maker of semi-automatic rifles in the US, and they are expected to be a major growing profit center in the coming years. The Freedom Group was sued over the Washington, DC, sniper attacks, and paid $500,000 without admitting culpability.

So, the hedge funds are doing us in every which way.

But the weird idea of letting people buy military weaponry at will, with less trouble than you would have to buy a car, is only one manifestation of America's cult of high-powered weaponry.

In 2011, US corporations sold 75% of all the arms sold in the international weapons market, some $66 billion of the $85 billion trade. Russia was the runner-up with only $4 billion in sales.

Saudi Arabia bought F-15s and Apache and Blackhawk helicopters. Oman bought F-16s. The UAE got a missile shield. And, of course, Israel gets very sophisticated weapons from the US, as well.

The US share of the arms trade to the Middle East has burgeoned so much in the past decade that it now dwarfs the other suppliers, as this chart [pdf] from a Congressional study makes clear.


The University of Michigan "Correlates of War" project, run by my late colleague David Singer, tried to crunch numbers on potential causes of the wars of the past two centuries. Getting a statistically valid correlation for a cause was almost impossible. But there was one promising lead, as it was explained to me. When countries made large arms purchases, they seemed more likely to go to war in the aftermath. It may be that if you have invested in state of the art weapons, you want to use them before they become antiquated or before your enemies get them too.

So the very worst thing the US could do for Middle East peace is to sell the region billions in new, sophisticated weapons.

Moreover if you give sophisticated conventional weapons to some countries but deny them to their rivals, the rivals will try to level the playing field with unconventional weapons. The US is creating an artificial and unnecessary impetus to nuclear proliferation by this policy.

I first went to Pakistan in 1981. At that time it was not a society with either drugs or guns. But President Ronald Reagan decided to use private Afghan militias to foment a guerrilla war against the Soviets, who sent troops into Afghanistan in late 1979. Reagan ended up sending billions of dollars worth of arms to the Mujahidin annually, and twisting Saudi Arabia's arm to match what the US sent. The Mujahidin were also encouraged by the US to grow poppies for heroin production so that they could buy even more weapons.

Over the decade of the 1980s, I saw the weapons begin to show up in the markets of Pakistan, and began hearing for the first time about drug addicts (there came to be a million of them by 1990). I had seen the arms market expand in Lebanon in the 1970s, and was alarmed that now it was happening in Pakistan, at that time a relatively peaceful and secure society. The US filled Pakistan up with guns to get at the Soviets, creating a gun culture where such a thing had been rare (with the exception of some Pashtuns who made home-made knock-offs of Western rifles). Ultimately the gun culture promoted by Reagan came back to bite the US on the ass (not to mention Afghanistan and Pakistan!) And not to mention the drugs.

Now the US views Pakistan as peculiarly violent, and pundits often blame it on Islamism. But no, it is just garden-variety Americanism. You're welcome. your social media marketing partner


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+7 # SMoonz 2012-12-17 17:46
Mexico is a victim of gun violence as well. Mexico is a country where there is a ban on guns which has left its citizens without the ability to protect itself. Meanwhile, Operation Wide Receiver (Bush) and Operation Fast and Furious (Obama) flooded the cartels with military grade weapons. The result has been 60 thousand dead.
+45 # moonrigger 2012-12-17 18:17
Arms control, gun control--the need is the same. For some reason, Americans have been encouraged to believe they are safer if they are armed to the teeth., and that to accept sensible restrictions on weaponry ownership, that they are dooming themselves to foreign domination. How did this lunacy begin? At what point do we finally recognize that we've been caught up in mass hysteria, and that this is now engrained in our psyche? How to excise this cancer?

Today I have heard nut cases like Huckabee blame the kids for not praying enough; others claiming that it's due to CT being a "gun free zone"; still others saying we should allow teachers and janitors (i.e. who are in danger of losing their jobs due to budget cuts) to be armed. Yeah, let's leave a hole in the protective barrier as wide as a barn. Honestly, folks. What next?

Once upon a time, a stupid senator named McCarthy managed to whip up an anti-communist frenzy that destroyed hundreds of lives, turning brother against brother, until finally the public had enough. What will it take for us to see the light and put an end to this insanity?
+18 # DPM 2012-12-17 23:59
If you read a lot of the comments RSN readers make in favor of more and more guns, you will see, first hand, why there should be stricter controls. There are a lot of seriously delusional people out there.
+38 # Eldon J. Bloedorn 2012-12-18 00:18
George Bernard Shaw: "The longer I live, the more I think this planet is used by other planets as a lunatic asylum."
+11 # Eldon J. Bloedorn 2012-12-18 00:22
Some years ago, a guest on the Johnny Carson show said, "I prayed and got an answer." Johnny:" what did God say?" Guest:" You run your store and I'll run mine. What the hell do you think I am, a Cosmic bellhop?" Huckabee is just another discarded lunatic from another planet.
+19 # hoodwinkednomore 2012-12-18 00:38
Great work, Juan Cole. Mr. President Obama needs to earn his Nobel and work for Peace already. Start a Peace Department in Washington and fund it, dollar for dollar with the military budget (or not--just defund the military budget completely and put it towards your (our) new Peace Dept. Stop all killing in wars--stop all wars. Fund health, wellness; and defund chemical/pharma ceutical/Big Oil, etc. Corporations NOW that pilage the health and vitality from our nation. Then, Mr. President, wipe your (our) tears away b/c then you know you will have begun to earn your Nobel. One more thing--institut e a moratorium on all gun sales immediately, including weapons to Israel, and other countries. Put those people to work installing solar panels; and working for anti-violence, anti-abuse organizations, for example.
+19 # 4yourinformation 2012-12-18 08:48
He could start by stopping his drone war and coming clean about what the USA is doing in places like the Congo and Somalia and Syria. We need single-payer, not Romneycare. We need Govt funded education from K through college, like Finland. We need a whole new energy policy and Ag policy that's sensible, not a profit center. We need debt-free money, not a Wall Street bailout. We need so much that's promised in speeches, but forgotten in practice.
+14 # Hasmenés fiú 2012-12-18 02:32
This is one contributing reason (among others) why I am planning to emmigrate out of the States. What a cesspool! America ALWAYS to one degree or another been a culture of violence, predjudice, bigotry, homophobia, genaphobia, and the like.

Sorry, but I have now no other alternative but to consider America (or Amerika) to be the 'dustbin of humanity'! For some reaosn maybe its the water, or the air pollution, or the high sodium and high sugar American diet, but Amerika seems ever since its inception to draw the worst of humanity (albeit there have been a few exceptions) to its shores.

Totally the opposite of a civilised society such as post war Japan! I am going to do my best to immigrate to Japan (as I am part Japanese anyway) to live in a positive mentality of cooperation harmony, peace, the recognition of the importance of society, and politeness, elements that all but DIED in Amerika!

Columbine, Tucson, Virginia, Oak Creak, Aurora, and now Newtown, et al, where is the next place in Amerika going to be for this sort of tragedy? So sad.
-4 # confoundedbridge 2012-12-18 07:25
Good bye
0 # Texas Aggie 2012-12-18 21:58
My Japanese friends tell me the Nissei aren't particularly welcome in Japan. Try Brazil or Peru.
+23 # WestWinds 2012-12-18 03:29
A more important question, Mr. Cole, is: Why is the world buying guns? What is motivating people's feelings that they need to be armed? Could it be that since Bill Clinton handed over the TV in the Telecommunicati ons Act of 1996, the Right-wing thugs, crooks and liars have been pumping out never ending fear? Or how about all of these G-Summit meetings coercing political leaders around the world to destroy their countries with "austerity" and other bright-light ideas. Could it be that America has been behaving like an imperialistic pig in the world, and this is encouraging sales? Let's put the blame where it belongs, and that's not on the guns. With this logic, we should blame the airplanes for 9/11 and pull all planes from the sky forever. We need to stop being war mongers for profit. Let's start there and see where that takes us.
+3 # 4yourinformation 2012-12-18 08:49
AMEN!!! You got it.
+12 # MidwestTom 2012-12-18 08:02
America has become one big weapons maker. That is why we cannot cut the defense budget. Weapons are about the only things that we make the best, and the world wants to buy them. We don't make televisions, computers, china, tools, clothes, but we make weapons. If we cut the defense budget it will trigger a depression. What a mess our bankers and the politicians that they own have made of this country.
+25 # fredboy 2012-12-18 08:21
Our top movies are about killing.
Our top TV shows are about killing.
Our top video games are about killing.
Our most popular sports are about killing.
Our foreign policy is all about killing.

That's why the chant "USA! USA!" always leave many of us with a bad feeling in our gut. We love what our country should be, not what it has become.
+1 # Smiley 2012-12-18 11:24
I was with you until you said "Our most popular sports are about killing." As someone who has enjoyed the beauty, the grace, the team work and the striving for perfection of sports both as a participant and as a viewer for some 60 years, I must respectfully disagree.
+7 # Charles3000 2012-12-18 08:21
Wars create government debt. Banks finance the debt giving them a way to tax all the public to pay interest on the debt they hold, producing an income stream from tax payers to banks.
-18 # Crystal P. 2012-12-18 08:31
As a gunless progressive, I invite you to think in a more visionary way about curtailing the right to bear arms. Juan Cole's perspective is important, and its implication: We worry about damage at home, while we are arming the world to the teeth. However, I am convinced that such domestic events are not flukes, but rather orquestrated as part of a very dark strategy to dissarm civilians. Check it out, even on Internet you can find evidence of how the perpetrators were drugged and brain washed before the events. Think long term, like the authors of the second ammendment did. This is just another right the dark control system wants to take away and the mass scare strategy is very effective. I do not like or own guns, but as West Winds suggests, there is a larger game at work and we need to broaden our vision and wake up.
+6 # balconesfalk 2012-12-18 10:04
Though you are right about elements in our government powerful enough and devious enough to create a Manchurian Candidate, I don't think the school shootings are orchestrated by the dark forces even if some other tragic national events were, like the assassination of JFK, RFK and 9-11.
The school shootings are mass copy-cat events carried out by desperate, discouraged and alienated young males taking out their frustration and aggression on helpless school children while making names for themselves. This mass murder epidemic makes it imperative that all rapid fire machine guns be made illegal. In the spirit of the War on Drugs it was possible for the feds to make harmless marijuana illegal nationwide. With real deaths at the hands of crazed killers the federal government should have an even more urgent authority to make mass killing machines illegal. People don't go hunting with a machine gun. Such legislation would be a logical beginning.
Bringing the bogus War on Drugs to the ignominious end it deserves, and expanding Medicare-for-Al l in place of Obamacare would guarantee President Obama a place in history, and not merely as a footnote first.
+2 # Smiley 2012-12-18 11:27
"Rapid fire machine guns" ARE illegal.
+1 # Eldon J. Bloedorn 2012-12-20 01:03
When "the amendment" as drafted, what was the weapon of choice? Who uses a musket today? The original law was not written by sleeping politicians. Our politicians and the Supreme Court have been sleeping since the "Musket Law" was drafted.
+6 # balconesfalk 2012-12-18 09:42
Is there any way to focus and shed some light on the business interests and manufacturers of guns. Who are they, how big are they? Who are their shareholders? Where is the product liability legislation to hold them responsible for the carnage their product makes possible?
+4 # reiverpacific 2012-12-18 12:48
Another lethal and blinkered aspect of widely perceived "American Exceptionalism" and my definition of it as a Death Culture".
But no Universal healthcare, including Mental care, which to me, increase the potential for grassroots anger.
It's a vicious circle.
+1 # tanis 2012-12-18 19:44
Perhaps a way to begin to act as citizens is to tell Sen. Feinstein that her bill that limits certain guns in the U.S. is completely inadequate and that compromises which seem to be the result of congressional behavior cannot be. The president has compromised thruout his time in the white house so far, expecting him to do otherwise concerning guns is rediculous. The people need to demand absolutes by congress.
0 # RICHARDKANEpa 2012-12-19 03:10
sadly we just began to get a handle on military extravaganza and foreign military sales and aid, and instead we are arguing about domestic gun control instead,
+1 # David Starr 2012-12-19 17:51
Quoting Cole: "But the weird idea of letting people buy military weaponry at will, with less trouble than you would have to buy a car, is only one manifestation of America's cult of high-powered weaponry."

What's the root cause? Taking a look at the U.S. founders' fondness for empire, and the subsequently-re lated gung ho fondness for weapons, therefore, this appears to be an ideological/fou ndational problem.
+1 # Anarchist 23 2012-12-20 13:17
Why do these people always pick such dark names- Cereberus Hedge fund which owns Bushmaster for example.Cerberu s was the three-headed dog of classical myth that guarded the entrance of Hades (Hell) Like 'Blackwater'-th at famous mercenary company, owned by Eric Prince (of what?, one asks) the word 'blackwater' in plumer-ese means the contents of the pipe that carries fecal matter-shit to be plain. 'Rectify the language' Confucius said. And be conscious of what it is saying. Good luck to all who live in these times.

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