MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
It's clear that the militarized culture of the United States' empire is one of the factors that paves the way for a violent culture at home. We glorify violence in the maintenance of a global police force that largely is there to ensure US market share, political enforcement and access to raw materials. From drone attacks, to special operations, to military "trainers" advising pro-capitalist dictatorships and participating in low-intensity warfare, the US takes official pride in inflicting death and injury on its "opponents." This is one part of the puzzle that helps explain why we are a violent domestic culture. It's in our national DNA.
There is an additional important crossover between US gun violence and the military: The arms manufacturers for the Armed Forces and the civilian market are, in large part, the same. This leads to an interdependency that helps keep the gun makers in business, because many of them argue that without a robust commercial market, they would not be able to survive during times when the military is buying fewer small arms. This is particularly true when the increasing Pentagon budget leans more and more toward big ticket, high-tech items.
As a March 1 article in the Socialist Worker documented, the military and gun manufacturers are symbiotic. The need for firearms for soldiers creates factories that produce similar weapons for civilians, such as the AR-15 assault rifle used in the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting. In turn, civilian shooters want to emulate soldiers in the Armed Forces by purchasing and collecting military-style assault weapons and even military handguns.
The Socialist Worker points out:
The permanent celebration of guns in civilian culture has been a useful justification for permanent war-readiness industrially....
High-volume consumer sales helped to offset the weaker military demand in the industry after 2012. Similarly, when funding for police increases, gun and ammunition purchases also go up, even while weapons produced for the military are transferred directly to the police....
The militarization of the police in this country is justified largely by racism, and the weapons industry has been built on this racist foundation. Demilitarizing the police should be a key demand of any gun control movement.
So, there is a line of violence and gun abundance that goes through the military, the police and the civilian market. Meanwhile, the gun manufacturers benefit from selling to all three groups. Police forces' use of guns, as I noted in a recent BuzzFlash commentary, benefits from the legacy of the slave patrols and massacres of the Indigenous population. Understanding the full militarization of the police is to see them as racist combatants who keep those persons who would be a potential threat to the beneficiaries of the prevailing capitalist system.
The Socialist Worker article comes to a sweeping conclusion:
Americans are drowning in an ocean of guns. To ensure gun control is not constrained to a cosmetic fix or a legislative change, it will be necessary to build a movement against the state-sanctioned militarism that necessitates the gargantuan weapons industry – and an economic system that pushes it to create a market for their deadly products, no matter the human cost.
The gun violence and commerce issue is very complicated one, involving many different facets. A 2014 article in The Atlantic, for example, noticed how the competition for a new military firearm would create a bloody impact domestically:
This week, the U.S. Army will brief arms manufacturers on the design requirements for a new standard-issue handgun. Several gun makers will compete for the lucrative contract, developing weapons that are more reliable and more powerful than those currently in service. Officials say the upgrade is overdue—it’s been nearly 30 years since the Army adopted the Beretta M9. But the last time the military challenged the industry to make a better handgun, all the innovations intended for the battlefield also ended up in the consumer market, and the severity of civilian shootings soared.
Studying gunshot injuries in the D.C. area in the 1980s, Daniel Webster of Johns Hopkins University noticed an alarming trend—as time went on, more and more patients were arriving at the emergency room with multiple bullet wounds. In 1983, at the beginning of the study period, only about a quarter of gunshot patients had multiple injuries, but in the last two years of the study, that proportion had risen to 43 percent. Over the same period, semiautomatic pistols with a capacity of 15-rounds (or more) were replacing six-shot revolvers as the most popular firearms in the country.
The Atlantic article goes on to detail how the competition for an army firearm results in "consumer" design spinoffs even among the gun manufacturers that lose the bid. Although gun zealots, including the NRA and other pro-gun organizations, like to say that firearms are needed for self-defense, the militarized guns generally far exceed so-called civilian self-defense "need." Ultimately, one tragic result of the military and gun manufacturer relationship is the increased lethality of domestic firearms.
Furthermore, as Pat Elder points out in a commentary today, the US military actually has a section, the Civilian Marksmanship Program, that sells surplus rifles -- and now handguns -- back to the public.
The military and gun manufacturers: It is a relationship that is written in blood.