Gun violence

Comment: Should European gun companies stop exporting to the US?

And so it goes; another week of bloody headlines about American gun shootings.

It’s something we have long come to expect. According to FBI data , in 2013 8,454 people were shot and murdered in the United States – just under 70% of all homicides. The same year the CDC reported that 21,175 people shot and killed themselves.

These figures, though, seem to have lost their power to surprise. In a country where guns are ubiquitous, and the right to bear arms is firmly enshrined in its constitution – there are 310 million guns in circulation – American gun violence seems inevitable.

It is a situation that causes many to resign themselves to the thought that nothing meaningful can ever be done. And when any European dares to raise the idea of US gun control, they are told to go take a hike.

But perhaps, as Europeans, we can do something. After all, the EU boasts a very healthy gun industry, one that certainly profits from America’s love affair with the gun.

In 2012, EU countries exported small arms and ammunition to the value of more than three-quarters of a billion dollars there. That year the US was the recipient of 24% of the UK’s total small arms and ammunition exports ($28,130,000). And it made up 38% of Germany’s, 42% of Italy’s and 87% of Croatia’s small arms and ammunition export market – the three largest EU exporters to the US that year.

The truth is that some of the biggest gun companies in Europe – Beretta, Heckler & Koch, FN Herstal – all rely heavily on the US as a core market. Austria’s leading handgun manufacturer, Glock, boasts that about 65% of America’s police departments put one of their pistols “between them and a problem”.

Knowing this, the question we should perhaps be asking ourselves is, should European gun companies be exporting to the US?

The United Nations’ arms trade treaty, for instance, seeks to regulate arms transfers that could exacerbate conflict or be used to commit violations of human rights law. All EU states have signed the treaty and all, save for Greece and Cyprus, have ratified it. With as many as 110,000 people being injured or killed by guns every year there, could we be bold enough to say that the US is a nation in conflict?

Glock boasts that almost 65% of US police departments put one of their pistols ‘between them and a problem’

Human Rights Watch has also noted, with regard to the US police, that there exists a “gulf between respect for equal rights and law enforcement’s treatment of racial minorities”. Should we be sanctioning Glock, for instance, to be so readily arming America’s police forces? Given that the US website Fatal Encounters lists almost 2,500 people reported killed in police interactions in the US in 2013 and 2014, it’s quite possible that some of those died at the end of an Austrian gun.

Should there be a debate in the EU as to whether the US – in failing to properly address the epidemic of gun violence – is a country we should be exporting yet more guns to?

Americans, perhaps rightly, bristle when Europeans comment on their right to bear arms. But that does not mean that Europeans cannot, collectively, say that while that American right is both democratic and constitutional, it is not something we should be supporting with guns and ammo.

This article first appeared in the Guardian.