For decades, the U.S. has associated with cartels around the world as a fixture of its foreign policy, including destabilization of the drug cartels of Latin America while maintaining diplomatic ties with the association of oil-producing countries known as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
Defined as an association of bodies intent on monopolizing a market by restricting competition, a cartel is not limited to its common connotation with illegal activity. Take the status of OPEC, an international cartel which fills a niche supplying oil worldwide, a necessary good for most nations. Yet the term “cartel” still tends to have ties to images such as the illegal drug cartels which have monopolized the trade of illicit substances.
Known as the “world’s policeman,” it is almost unthinkable to assert that the U.S., a country so immersed in trying to end the operations of illegal cartels overseas and at home, would inexplicably be a cartel itself. The U.S., where gun ownership is so embedded in the national identity, is the global gun cartel because it has essentially monopolized the trade. Second Amendment opponents aim to protect the innocent lives of those who are increasingly subject to violence stemming from gun ownership. However, their voice is drowned by the waves of support by those who profit from the industry, not limited to the NRA and its political pawns. Deconstructing the size of the American gun industry domestically will not gain broad support due to the profits of those involved with expanding their exports; the National Shooting Sports Foundation has calculated the $300 billion dollar defense industry to be 1.8% of total American GDP.
In the midst of a flurry of shootings of innocent peoples in schools and other establishments nationwide, why can’t the U.S. take a firmer stance on gun control state- and nationwide? The fact that the right to bear arms is guaranteed in the Constitution is only one reason for this hesitancy; in fact, one in five Americans wish to repeal the Second Amendment, highlighting that this centuries-old amendment may have outlived its necessity. Nonetheless, with a history so entrenched in warfare, it comes as no surprise that firearm exports are an essential component of American economic success globally now and for the foreseeable future.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) uses a metric known as Trend-Indicator Value (TIV) to measure the firearm exports of every nation. Between 1950 and 2017, the U.S. topped the chart with 673.01 billion TIV, followed by Russia, exporting 588.15 TIV and the U.K., with 140.38 TIV. Russia has come under fire by the U.S. media as a hotbed for black-market arms trades, for example, as per its growth after the destabilization of Ukraine. In fact, Russian arms sales have declined by 7.1 percent; as of 2018, the U.S. exports 58 percent more firearms than the oft-maligned Russians. Either a figment of “fake news” or an exposé of the Cold War enemy, American figures have rarely depicted the U.S. as an even greater – in fact, the greatest – participant in the global arms trade, whether legal or not.
Between 2013 and 2017, the U.S. sold arms to at least 98 countries worldwide, totaling 34 percent of global arms trades – over one-third of all guns exported. In fact, half of U.S. firearm exports are sold to the Middle East, where war remains persistent. 60 percent of firearms sold on the dark web have an American origin; the U.S., however, is not only an exporter – one-third of all firearms in the U.S. are imported. Regardless of the popular sentiments amongst young people towards restricting firearms, the Trump administration has further loosened restrictions on firearm exports, simplifying the application process to grow the size of this domestic, though legally operable, cartel.
Even as U.S. policy aims to dismantle Mexican drug cartels, the firearms they possess more often than not were sourced from U.S. dealers – 70 percent of traced and recovered Mexican firearms have an American origin. The fact that U.S. citizens are the most likely to possess firearms than any other citizen of any other nation only bolsters the image that America is the go-to market for firearm needs.
Although popular sentiment, especially amongst today’s youth, revolves around common sense gun control, broader domestic support of the Second Amendment has consequences at home and abroad. While advancing gun ownership has been essential to the American identity, government officials may be interested in preserving Second Amendment rights only to continue to secure the $51.3 billion, as it did in 2016, in revenue that the industry collects annually. Only if the profits from this industry can be replaced by profits elsewhere — and, if continued warfare ceases to be an incentive for profit — can the American gun cartel be curtailed.
While the U.S. has maintained a diplomatic relationship with Saudi Arabia, a leader of OPEC and the largest importer of American firearms, they have maintained a “War on Drugs” against cartels in Mexico and South America. The latter conviction may only be a facade – it is American weapons that supply not only these neighboring cartels, but also the Middle Eastern factions that arise regularly to combat the volatile changes in government that have grown since U.S. involvement.
Restricting the U.S. gun cartel may not end global warfare, and shutting it down completely may not be economically feasible considering the benefits for those participating in the market. However, it is important to note that however the media spins the status of American enemies, the U.S. is also complicit.
While promoting Second Amendment constitutional rights, the economic opportunities that U.S. gun policy has initiated has broad socioeconomic benefits that only serve to sustain the cartel. As the domestic firearm industry grows past its homeland borders without restriction, a conflicting world system exists that will continue to demand American firearms as long as warfare, or the potential for it, remains a viable option in international affairs. Perhaps by this policy, foreign nations can now police themselves.