Is the US in need of humanitarian intervention?

September 22, 2013

That’s exactly what Henry Porter argues in an interesting article in the Guardian entitled “American gun use is out of control. Shouldn’t the world intervene?” In support of his argument Porter presents three interesting facts that deserve our attention:

1. The annual death toll in the US from firearms is running at 32,000 and rising.

2. There have been more casualties from firearms in the US in the last 45 years alone (total 1,384,171) than the number of US casualties in all wars involving the US (total 1,171,117), including the American Revolution, the Civil War, World Wars I and II, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

3.  Since 9/11 there have been fewer than 20 terror-related deaths on US soil but about 364,000 deaths from privately owned firearms.

There are in the US, as in most other countries, plenty of good people working on socially beneficial policies to improve public safety, such as enforcing speed limits, cracking down on drunk driving, and banning smoking in public places. But unlike most other countries, Americans can’t seem to bring themselves to deal with the greatest public health hazard of all. The reason, of course, has to do with the NRA, which is widely considered to be the most effective and efficient lobby in Washington.  But the NRA is itself just a lobby group representing far more powerful interests–not those of private American gun-owners who have been deluded into thinking that guns make them safer, but the US weapons manufacturers, which are making a figurative killing making products that literally kill. The global arms trade is a massive trillion-dollar-a-year business, and the US is the world’s largest arms dealer. Given this, it is easy to understand why it is so difficult for American politicians to do anything to curb or regulate this industry. For more on the connection between the NRA and the global arms trade, see this excellent interview with Andrew Feinstein, author of The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade.

Precisely because the case for strict gun-control legislation in the US seems so hopeless, and tens of thousands of Americans are needlessly killed each year from gun-related violence, Porter suggests that the situation in the US is analogous to an intractable civil war and that the world must do something in response. But the idea of a humanitarian intervention to save Americans from themselves is of course laughable. It makes for a good punchline, but can’t be taken seriously. However, the idea that people outside the US can do something in response to this tragedy should be taken seriously. What people can do is to petition their own governments to stop purchasing arms from American weapons manufacturers. People living in democracies around the world, whether they realize it or not, are complicit in the global arms trade. So if we want to do something to solve the gun problem in the US, we should begin by removing our support for the industry that creates and sustains that problem.

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