Guns in America
And the U.S. military industrial complex
“Politicians in Washington of all stripes, whatever the occasion, love to quote the Founding Fathers. But there’s one quote you’ll never hear. It’s from James Madison. He said, ‘Of all the enemies of public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies. From these proceed debts and taxes. And armies, debts and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.’”
—Gore Vidal, Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace: How We Got to Be So Hated, Causes of Conflict in the Last Empire.
I don’t think many people realize that U.S. society is not only addicted to guns socially and culturally, but also how much the country is economically dependent on military industries, weapons manufacture, military budget expenditure and the export arms trade. The U.S. economy is a military armaments and war-based economy and needs to constantly produce military hardware and to fight wars to keep its economy going.
The top three largest military production companies in the world are all United States companies. With combined total revenue of over $100 billion and employing more than 400,000 people, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Boeing are the three powerhouses of American corporate business.
The total economic impact of the firearms and ammunition manufacturing industry in the United States increased from $19.1 billion in 2008 to $43 billion in 2014 to over $49.3 billion in 2015, a 15 percent percent increase. The annual revenue of the gun and ammunition manufacturing industry (December 2015 figures) is $13.5 billion, with a $1.5 billion profit. The annual revenue of gun and ammunition stores is $3.1 billion with a $478.4 million profit. While the total number of full-time equivalent jobs rose from approximately 166,000 in 2008 to 263,000 in 2014 to almost 288,000 in 2015, according to a report by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the industries trade association.
Almost 11 million guns and rifles were made in the U.S. in 2013 (the latest available figures) more than twice as many as were made in 2010 (5.4 million). That’s about four million rifles; over one million shotguns; more than four million pistols and a million revolvers and miscellaneous firearms. Only four percent of these guns produced were exported. So, 96 percent of those 11 million guns, stayed in America. There are now over 310 million guns owned by American citizens in the U.S.; millions of them are military style automatic and semi-automatic weapons.
Close to 33,000 Americans were victims of gun-related deaths in 2011 and an average of 268 citizens are shot every day. In 2011, 10.3 in every 100,000 people in the U.S. were victims of gun-related deaths. Buyers that purchase firearms through private sales in the U.S. don’t have to pass a background check before obtaining possession of the weapon. This means criminals, people with a history of severe mental illness, and inexperienced users can easily obtain guns.
In the months of January to November of 2012, the federal government performed 16.8 million background checks on legal gun purchases, which was a record high since its foundation in 1998. But still 80 percent of those people who carry out mass shootings used legally obtained firearms.
The military style AR-15 is a popular rifle among U.S. gun owners; they possess five million of these assault rifles. And it’s become especially prevalent as the weapon of choice in American mass shootings. It was the weapon used by the Orlando gunman in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history. The massacre in the Orlando nightclub left 49 dead and dozens more wounded and has once again prompted calls for a ban on the AR-15. The AR-15 was developed from the U.S. military’s M-16 rifle and is manufactured by dozens of U.S. companies, including major gun makers like Smith and Wesson, Sturm Ruger and Remington Arms. Unlike the military version, the AR-15 is not fully automatic, meaning the shooter must pull the trigger each time to fire a shot. But like the military version, the guns are capable of firing many rounds of ammunition quickly and can be reloaded rapidly.
The Orlando massacre “is more horrific evidence of the unique lethality of the AR-15,” said Joshua Koskoff, a lawyer representing the families of those killed and injured in Sandy Hook. In December 2012, Adam Lanza used a Bushmaster XM15 to kill 28 children and adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School before taking his own life with a Glock pistol.
The U.S. also outpaces all other nations in military budget expenditures. World military spending totaled more than $1.6 trillion in 2015. The U.S. accounted for 37 percent of the world total. U.S. military expenditures are roughly the size of the next seven biggest military budgets in the world combined. In 2015, military spending accounted for 54 percent of all federal discretionary spending, a total of $598.5 billion. Military spending includes: all regular activities of the Department of Defense; war spending; nuclear weapons spending; international military assistance; and other Pentagon-related spending. This military budget total does not include billions for various secret military and security projects, operations and military aid within the scope of the U.S. State Department and the Defense Department that is not publicly disclosed.
In contrast the U.S. Budget (2015) to fund other sectors were much smaller, these included: Government, six percent; Education, six percent; Veterans Affairs, six percent; Medicare and Health, five percent; Housing and Community, five percent; Social Security, Unemployment and Labor, two percent; Science, three percent; Energy and Environment, three percent; International Affairs, three percent; Transport, three percent; and Food and Agriculture, one percent.
The U.S. is also the top global arms exporter, with more than 50 percent of the global weaponry market sales controlled by the United States as of 2014. Arms sales by the U.S. jumped 35 percent, or nearly $10 billion, to $36.2 billion in 2014, according to the Congressional Research Service report, which analyzed the global arms market between 2007 and 2014. And foreign military sales rose to a record high of $46.6 billion for the fiscal year 2015. And they will sell arms to both hostile sides in a dispute or war, such as the rivalry between India and Pakistan, Greece and Turkey among others. The U.S. also has a sordid history of supplying repressive, corrupt and dictatorial regimes throughout the world.
The U.S. is also a huge sponsor of foreign military aid to “friendly” nations. According to the U.S. State Government Foreign Assistance report, the USA gave $5.9 billion in foreign military aid in 2014. Some 75 percent of that went to two countries, Israel and Egypt. Most of that funding, $3.1 billion went to Israel. And $1.3 billion of military aid was sent to Egypt. This does not take account of economic aid to these and other countries, which stipulate that this money must be used to buy U.S. military equipment and supplies. And by U.S. law, millions of dollars of other economic and military aid to Israel does not have to be publically disclosed.
The U.S. elites therefore want their own people to keep buying weapons and to sell more weaponry overseas to keep the U.S. industrial-military complex going. This brings in billions in huge profits to the big arms manufacturers and provides millions of jobs in military industries. So the constant fear, conflict and warfare are good for the weapons businesses. The war dependence is propped up by politicians dependent on the support of the military companies, and their military contractors and suppliers.
So the military-industrial complex continues to get the assistance it needs from both Democrats and Republicans so the corporate military alliance can continue to make billions in weapons sales and to get the financing for wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere while Congress cuts billions in health, welfare, education budgets and other social programs to obtain the money.
Even some 60 years ago, U.S. President Dwight D Eisenhower was concerned enough to warn the nation in two speeches of what he viewed as one of its greatest threats: the military-industrial complex composed of military contractors and lobbyists perpetuating continual war and ever expanding military budgets.
The first, the Chance for Peace speech was addressed to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, in Washington D.C., on April 16, 1953. Speaking only three months into his presidency, Eisenhower likened arms spending to stealing from the people. Eisenhower took an opportunity to highlight the cost of continued tensions and rivalry with the Soviet Union. He noted that not only were there military dangers, but an arms race would place a huge domestic burden on both nations:
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 in population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter with a half-million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. . . . This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”—President Dwight D. Eisenhower.1
Later, on January 17, 1961, President Eisenhower, a former soldier and retired Army General warned in his farewell address that “an immense military establishment and a large arms industry” had emerged as a hidden force in U.S. politics. President Dwight Eisenhower gave the USA a dire warning about what he described as a threat to democratic government. He called it the military-industrial complex, a formidable union of defense contractors and the armed forces. This last speech may have been Eisenhower’s most forceful and far-sighted. Since then the U.S. arms industry and its influence has only grown stronger.
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” President Dwight D. Eisenhower.2
These military industry companies are a very wealthy and powerful lobby group that finances politicians and political campaigns. For instance the National Rifle Association (NRA) alone spent $17 million on publicity campaigns in the 2012 presidential and congressional elections. This is a large part of the reason that it is so hard to wind back domestic gun sales in the U.S. and to limit the military budget expenditure or the overseas arms trade. This makes initiating genuine change on the issue of guns very difficult. Let’s hope the populace of the U.S. can soon become empowered enough to change that reality, for the good of people in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world. These gun atrocities are utterly heartbreaking in that many millions of innocent lives are lost and shattered and in the loss of boundless creative potential. But also the present wretched situation with gun violence and its massive carnage have an immensely detrimental social and economic cost to humanity that is not only an appalling waste of society’s resources, but inexcusable and untenable.
“At the end of WWII, the U.S. emerged as a global power with unprecedented wealth and advantages. Most of that has been squandered. We’ve gone from number one creditor nation to number one debtor. As its vast military machine straddles the globe, at home, things fall apart. The mortgage giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, need a massive taxpayer bailout. Same too for Wall Street banks. Even New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, a champion of U.S. dominance and empire, mentions the word ‘decline’ and U.S. in the same sentence and points to problems ‘in infrastructure, basic research and education.’ Curious that he doesn’t mention the huge Pentagon budget, hundreds of bases, and the permanent war economy as factors contributing to the decline. The signs of decay are everywhere but Washington politicians from both parties largely avoid talking about it. Imperial fantasies and mendacities continue.” —Gore Vidal, The Fall of the United States.
1 The Chance for Peace speech was addressed to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, in Washington D.C., on April 16, 1953. Speaking only three months into his presidency, Eisenhower likened arms spending to stealing from the people. Eisenhower took an opportunity to highlight the cost of continued tensions and rivalry with the Soviet Union. He noted that not only were there military dangers, but an arms race would place a huge domestic burden on both nations.
2 On January 17, 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower gave the USA a dire warning about what he described as a threat to democratic government. He called it the military-industrial complex, a formidable union of defense contractors and the armed forces. Eisenhower, a retired five-star Army general, the man who led the allies on D-Day, made the remarks in his farewell speech from the White House.