You don’t have to go back very far to remember when gun control was a pretty dead issue in America, but as most everyone knows the gun rampages at Aurora and Newtown in 2012 have brought it back with a vengeance. In all the discourse where everything from the constitution; crime rates, and the need to protect children are thrown about, one major question seems to have been skipped in most of the arguments: How hard would it be to actually control guns in a large country like the United States, or in a wider world awash with weapons for that matter?
The first thing we need to dispense with is any idea that the 2nd Amendment of our Constitution, or the NRA that rallies support of it is needed for an ocean of guns to exist in the world. There is no doubt that the United States is the most profitable market for guns in the world, and the huge illegal flow of American bought weapons into Mexico and elsewhere only adds to this, but it’s very difficult to buy guns legally in Mexico. In 2012, The Miami Herald reported that only one legal gun store existed there in Mexico City, and it was kept on a military base for security. Despite the strict gun control, the gun violence in Mexico far exceeds that in the U.S. per capita. I don’t think either side of the gun argument can easily claim the Mexican example though. One can claim that American freedoms are spilling over into Mexico; and are thus a problem for others in the world, but it can also be claimed that Mexican gun control is a failure, as well as U.S. attempts to stop the illegal smuggling. Taking this all into consideration, weapons that can be traced to a sale in the United States still only accounts for a fraction of the global behemoth of small arms.
The Kalashnikov Monster: Kalashnikov assault rifles have been produced more than any firearms in history, with no other type coming even close to their numbers, which lie at about 100 million. About 75 million of these are the famous AK-47. The second most produced assault rifle in history is the M-16 and its variants, which come to only 8 million. While we can’t be sure how many Ak-47’s are still working, they have a reputation for durability and reliability that’s legendary. Even though Russia stopped producing the Ak-47 in favor of newer Ak designs, it is far from finished. Russia still has massive stockpiles, and China and other countries are still producing Ak-47’s in large numbers. Oddly though, the newer Kalashnikov rifles look almost exactly like the Ak-47’s. In 2012, Hugo Chavez announced the assembly of the newer Ak-103 rifles in Venezuela with help from Russia in the first such plant in the Western Hemisphere.
Europe exports more guns than the United States: Without even considering Russia, the amount of small arms legally exported by Europe far outweighs that of the United States per capita. While most nations in Europe have stricter gun control than the U.S., this doesn’t seem to alter their desire to produce weapons on a grand scale. The United States has a bigger market for the guns we produce ourselves, but the European exports are tremendous. On the web, I found a gorgeous graphic display that shows worldwide small arms and ammunition exports and imports using data obtained from 1992-2010. Study it, and you can get a good idea of who’s making the most money selling small arms.
According to the data, if you add the exports of Germany, Austria and Italy together, their totals amount to $826,228,613. If you compare this to the U.S. totals of $606,577,243, and realize the populations of these three nations come to about 150 million (less than half the U.S. population), you start to get a good picture of the European small arms and ammunition industry. To drive the point home, and show that I didn’t just hand pick a few countries to compare, I’ll add up the exports of three smaller countries like Belgium, Sweden (small population), and the Czech Republic – coming to an impressive $177,960,502 in exports. Though the second three don’t beat the U.S., the fact that their collective populations are less than the U.S. state of California should show how big weapons production is in Europe. Since this data isn’t exactly fresh, we could ask if Europe may have changed since 2010. It’s not likely, as a 2013 article by the German news website Spiegel Online reports that German small arms exports doubled in 2012 from the previous year.
Rogue gun-makers: In 2006 VICE TV sent a reporter into the lawless tribal regions of Pakistan to investigate the gun markets there, and found that just about any firearm could be made with the simplest of tools by poor people in mud-brick buildings. With the Taliban insurgencies against both Pakistan and the internationally supported Afghan government being based in the area, there are plenty of people to sell guns to.
Any insurgency is likely to increase the drive to illegally manufacture weapons. Prior to the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 waged by Polish partisans against their German occupiers, the Polish were secretly making their own weapons, such as the Błyskawica SMG. In a world where wars between nations are less common than insurgencies and civil conflicts, this sort of thing is only going to become more common, especially when the global community thinks an arms embargo can halt the violence. In the current Syrian civil war weapons more sophisticated than guns are manufactured by the rebels right inside the conflict zone. Everything from grenades; bombs, small arms, and rockets along with their launchers. They have even built some armored cars, at least one of which had its own remote machine gun turret that utilized a flatscreen TV and a Playstation paddle.
In the Philippines, there is a thriving legal and illegal gun industry. In Perth Australia, a motorcycle gang was busted with machine pistols that they appear to have made themselves. In London in 2008, a man was arrested for running an illegal factory that converted legal replica Mac-10’s into fully automatic weapons.
Extreme Gun Control: Great Britain and Australia have some of the strictest gun control in the world, but the success these governments have had at keeping them off the street has been limited. A report by The Telegraph in 2008 actually reported that British gun crime doubled in the decade following the 1997 handgun ban. If any country can keep guns off of its streets, it should be Britain, with its traditionally law abiding people; isolation, portable gun scanners that made news in 2004, and an insane amount of video cameras on the streets of London. Gun scanners are now reported to have been tested by the police in New York City, and are looked at as possibly replacing the controversial Stop and Frisk policy there.
Many of the tools that would be used to control guns initially wouldn’t be effective once they were banned in a big country like the USA. Using the nature of the law abiding citizen; registrations, and sales records to seize guns would be a one-time trick. After this, guns would go underground, and the ability to trace a cleaned gun to a murderer would be nearly impossible. The crime solving potential of micro-stamping would be lost before it was ever tried. A gun that’s taken care of can function for a century or more. Decades after a gun ban, all sales would be under the table, and tracking them would be as hard as a bag of weed that has changed hands several times. If illegal factories are set up, the guns produced will have a good chance of being fully-automatic. Serial numbers, and decent safety features would likely vanish.
Venezuela banned private gun ownership in 2012, and we are waiting to see if this will alter the high levels of violence in the country. It’s strange to think that in the same year the ban went into effect, Hugo Chavez announced the Kalashnikov assembly plant mentioned earlier. As is often the case, the trend isn’t less guns, but a change in who gets to legally own one.