The July 20 movie theatre massacre in Aurora, Colorado ― in which 12 people were killed and 58 wounded ― is reckoned by some sources to be the 36th mass shooting to have occurred in the US in the past three decades.
On top of these crazed rampages, the annual attrition of gun-related deaths accounts for about 30,000 victims across the US.
It would be bad enough if the seemingly unchallengeable dogma of the US Constitution's 2nd Amendment’s “right to bear arms” contributed to the deaths of only US citizens. Yet US “gun culture” is a lethal problem for the rest of the world as well.
In fact, it is beyond US borders that you are far more likely to be killed by American guns. The problem is getting worse, thanks to current White House policies.
It is estimated that at least 1500 people die every day as a direct result of violence engendered by the global arms business.
The US plays by far the leading role in this vast yet barely-monitored trade, with more than half the market share. Its main competitors are the other four members of the UN Security Council (Britain, France, Russia and China).
Together, the big five account for about 90% of global arms sales.
Under the shadowy “Direct Commercial Sales” and “Foreign Military Sales” programs overseen by the Pentagon, billions of dollars’ worth of military grade weaponry is exported every year.
The US arms industry, nominally in private hands, is now so heavily subsidised by public money that it is essentially a state-run enterprise.
In a very real sense, the Aurora victims’ tax dollars helped to underwrite the manufacture of the weapons that killed them.
Last year alone, US$34 billion worth of arms were shipped from the US.
Mexico is a big recipient of this hardware. At least 50,000 people have died in Mexico since 2006 in a vicious internal conflict between US-backed government forces and competing narco-cartels. All parties have committed appalling human rights abuses.
One of the main drivers of this ultra-violence is the ready availability of US-made arms. In a Congressional report tabled last year, it was estimated that 70% of guns recovered from Mexican crime scenes could be directly traced back to the US.
Confidential diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks have confirmed that US officials are fully aware of the extent to which US government-supplied weapons are diverted to criminal groups via corrupt channels.
Cartels also source weapons from private US gun stores in border states such as Arizona and New Mexico.
Operation “Fast and Furious”, a US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) intelligence-gathering operation, created a furore last year. It was revealed US officials acting in a monitoring capacity had allowed 2000 firearms to be smuggled into Mexico after being legally bought in the US.
US weapons have also been pouring into conflict-ridden countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, a hotspot of resource extraction and a global epicentre of mass murder and human suffering.
Amnesty International said that “arms and military equipment from the United States, France, China, Russia and others are contributing to grave human rights abuses in the … Congo, including killings, rape, looting and abductions”.
Amnesty's investigations have revealed that US weapons are supplied to armed groups that have committed 田rimes under international law including unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, torture and sexual violence on a large scale [in a] conflict that has resulted in the suffering of millions of men, women and children�
Too often, these crimes are committed on behalf of multinational corporations seeking to extend their territorial control.
From inexpensive small arms to multimillion-dollar attack helicopters, fighter jets and missile defence systems, the US makes and exports them all on an increasingly prolific basis.
Since assuming office, US President Barack Obama has led an executive drive to ease already-lax restrictions on US arms exports.
If the administration gets its way, there will soon be no oversight at all for sales of assault rifles, combat shotguns and ammunition. Worldwide, 12 billion bullets are made every year, nearly two for every man, woman and child on the planet.
And that’s just the small stuff.
The real prize is the chance to supply newly powerful nations like India with high-tech military capability, a market that by some estimates will be worth $100 billion in the next decade.
Obama used his visit to India last year to close a $4 billion arms deal. He also personally led a sales push to supply Boeing-made attack helicopters to Saudi Arabia.
Recently, 193 member states of the UN tried to negotiate an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), the first concerted bid to regulate the flow of conventional weapons from rich countries to the global South.
Despite offering cautious rhetorical support for the ATT, the Obama administration did everything it could to undermine the New York negotiations with weasel-worded loopholes and exclusions. The conference broke up in failure when the US delegation pulled out on July 27.
The reasons for this US intransigence are easy to see. As well as being a source of huge profits for politically-connected corporations such as Boeing, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, the arms trade also oils the machinery of US foreign policy.
“There’s an Obama arms bazaar going on,” Jeff Abramson of the Arms Control Association said. “Obama is much more favourably disposed to arms exports than any of the previous Democratic administrations.”
By arming its allies, Washington hopes to increasingly devolve the burden of “policing” the world. Supplying the guns gives the US the whip hand in dealing with “friendly” regimes, ensuring that its client elites in resource-rich zones continue facilitating the process of capitalist globalisation.
The figure of 1500 victims a day is equivalent to 125 Aurora massacres. As the world’s leading purveyor of guns, the US bears most of the responsibility for this daily slaughter.
For the nameless, faceless victims of gun violence in the developing world, victims who number more than half a million each year, there are no goodwill visits from US presidents to grief-stricken communities.