There’s a Jimmy Carter quote floating around the Internet. At least, it purports to be a quote; I can’t find any source for it, but it’s fairly popular these days. It goes like this:
We cannot be both the world’s leading champion of peace and the world’s leading supplier of the weapons of war.
I agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment. And, since selling guns is the more profitable of the two options, I say we pick that one. Someone’s got to, after all, and we’re pretty darn good at it.
Of the 174-odd countries in the world, somewhere upwards of 40 regularly produce guns for export. Most are pretty crappy, mind; it’s easy to get guns, harder to get guns that won’t blow up in your hand. Having said that, the AK-47 has become ubiquitous due to its reliability. It’s estimated that one in five guns in the world are AKs or AK variants; of the 40 nations that export weapons, 31 produce AKs in quantity. (American AKs are generally considered to be too expensive for international sales — labor costs.)
Realistically speaking, then, it’s rather absurd to think that, if the United States were to stop manufacturing and exporting firearms, it would have any real impact on the world’s gun market.
Of course, rifles and pistols aren’t the only things being sold overseas; money-wise, they’re not even the major things. But tanks and fighters and anti-missile systems come with price tags that include a seat in the buyer’s government. So it’s not just peddling guns; it’s buying influence. Which, again, we’re very good at doing.
Yes, some of the guns we sell will be misused. It’s unlikely criminals or terrorists will get their hands on American-made battle tanks, but rifles and handguns? Certainly; it’s bound to happen. Inevitably, when you sell something, it’ll end up in the hands of the person willing to spend the most money on it whether or not you sell it directly to them. You either sell guns or you don’t; there’s no moral middle ground, no room for compromise.
I suppose if it worries you we could always affix a warning label:
SURGEON GENERAL: Use of this item could cause injury or death.
If you think I’m making light of a far too serious subject, you’re absolutely correct — but not because I don’t take the subject seriously. It’s the proposed solutions I find ludicrous.
Mexico has some of the harshest gun control laws imaginable. Only military and law enforcement personnel are permitted to carry guns outside their homes. Famously, there’s only one gun store in the country, and it can take months to get a permit to purchase those few calibers allowed for civilians. And yet Mexico has three times the gun homicide rate per capita as the United States, where gun ownership is only moderately restricted.
Most weapons in use in the Mexican Drug War are smuggled across the border with the United States. It’s been proposed that this be dealt with by sharply restricting firearm ownership near the border — as though the drugs shipped north across the same border were at all limited by their illegality. But more to the point: Mexico has two massive coastlines. If Mexican criminals want guns and can pay for them, you can be sure they’ll get them.
Is it then a good thing that we’re arming drug cartels? Of course not. But the only way to prevent them having guns is to deprive them either of the need to own them or the money required to purchase them — which means ending the War On Drugs. There is no third option.
Note: A substantial debt is owed to the BBC in the person of the fictional yet all too real Sir Humphrey Appleby for the bones of this argument.