US Arms Trade Fuels Mass Shootings at Home and Around the World

While U.S. lawmakers are struggling to agree on legislation to curb gun violence following mass shootings, the U.S. is still the largest international source of arms, sending billions of dollars of military weaponry into wars like those in Ukraine and Yemen. Until there is a serious curtailment of U.S. militarism, it will continue to prioritize U.S. lives over lives abroad, says Norman Solomon, national director of RootsAction and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, whose new piece is headlined, “How About Some Gun Control at the Pentagon?” International arms control advocate Rebecca Peters describes U.S. efforts to block weapons control efforts at the United Nations and adds that New Zealand’s swift action on gun control following the Christchurch mosque killings in 2019 should give the U.S. impetus to do the same.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN:This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

Another mass shooting. A gunman attacked a Catholic hospital’s medical facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Wednesday night, killing four people. It’s the 20th mass shooting in the United States since the school massacre in Uvalde, Texas, killed 19 fourth graders and two teachers last Tuesday.

A bipartisan group made up of nine U.S. senators met on Capitol Hill Wednesday to discuss legislation that would address the aftermath of the shooting. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell expressed hope that lawmakers would target the source of U.S. Mass Shootings.

MINORITY LEADER MITCH McCONNELL:It seems to me that there are two broad categories of problems: mental illness, and school safety.

AMY GOODMAN:Mental illness and school safety. He did not mention guns.

After meeting with Jacinda Adern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand and discussing how her country responded to the Christchurch massacre, which occurred in 2019, President Biden stated that much of the violence from mass shootings can be prevented.

As we continue our coverage of gun violence in the United States, we turn now to look at an issue seldom discussed: the role of the U.S. as the world’s leading weapons exporter. For more, we’re joined by two guests. Rebecca Peters, an international arms control advocate and former director of International Action Network on Small Arms, is here to share her expertise. She’s joining us from Guatemala. Norman Solomon is also joining us. He’s with RootsAction and the Institute for Public Accuracy. He is the author War Made Simple: How Presidents & Pundits Keep Us Spinnin’ to Death. And he’s got a new piece on Common Dreams headlined “How About Some Gun Control at the Pentagon? The weapons of war that maim and kill — the big ones and the small — let’s do something to curb them all.” He’s joining us from San Francisco.

We would love to have you both back. Democracy Now! Norm Solomon, let’s begin with you. Talk about the connection between the massive number of mass shootings in this country — 20 since last week alone, since the Uvalde massacre — and mass shootings are defined as shootings of four or more people, whether they’re maimed or they’re killed — that connection — and we’re all seeing it on our screens now — to what happens abroad and how the U.S. may, horribly, be the link.

NORMAN SOLOMON:These connections are hidden from plain sight. And it’s really stunning that with all the discourse about gun control and the debates in the political and media arenas, there’s virtually no discussion of the crying need for gun control at the Pentagon. We know that gun control restrictions implemented in other countries have reduced the number and severity of mass shootings. And yet it’s off the media map, because of the internalized militarism of mass media and the political establishment in this country, to talk about the huge amount of gun usage by the Pentagon.

If you look at the statistics, it is clear that approximately 19,000 Americans are killed each year by shootings. If you look at the Costs of War Project stats at Brown University, you will see that the U.S. military has killed a similar amount of civilians in the last 20 years. This really does not reflect the extent of murder by weapons. We’re referring to assault weapons in America. Well, the U.S. Pentagon is wielding a huge array of assault weapons in many countries around the world, and the figure of about 19,000 average civilian deaths since 2001 caused by the U.S. military really understates — for one thing, those are just the direct effects. The average annual 19,000 deaths and the destruction of infrastructure are manyfolds higher than that. As the great journalist Anand Gopal stated on the program last summer: The official estimates of Afghan deaths due to U.S. military action are woeful underestimates.

So what we have is this sort of hidden conceit in the United States, in so many different realms, that, “Oh, yeah, we’re going to talk about whether to have gun control in the United States” — well, we should, and it should be implemented. But until we have a serious curtailment of the militarism of the Pentagon and the U.S. government, then tacitly what the U.S. society is saying, in silence, is that the grief of some people in the United States who have loved ones who were killed with weapons because of lack of gun control inside the country, that grief is really, really important — and it is, and we should recognize that — but another part of the message is, the grief of people in Somalia or Afghanistan or Syria or Iraq, that is completely off the media map because, to be blunt about it, the tacit message from U.S. media and political power structure, the elephants and the donkeys in the living room, they are essentially saying, in silence, “We don’t care about the grief of people elsewhere in the the world. Not only that, but we particularly don’t care when the U.S. military is causing the grief.”

NERMEEN SHAIKH:Rebecca Peters, you were, of course, the former director for the International Action Network on Small Arms. I’d like to ask about the role that the U.S. has played in advancing or blocking treaties at the U.N. that govern the arms trade — the U.S., of course, the largest exporter of military equipment worldwide. You could also speak about the Arms Trade Treaty which the U.S. played an important role in drafting but which the Trump administration pulled out from a few years back and has not been rejoined by the Biden administration?

REBECCA PETERS: Yeah, thanks. Though it’s — the point that Norman makes about U.S. arms exports, in general, and the damage they do applies, of course, absolutely, to the question of guns, which in U.N. parlance are called small arms. The United States is the largest producer of guns and the largest exporter of illegally and legally manufactured weapons. These two streams of guns flow into other countries from the U.S. and cause havoc, including here in Guatemala.

And within the U.N. — the U.N. started to try to get countries to work together to strengthen their controls on guns around 2000. So, for 20 years there’s been an effort within the U.N. And during most of those discussions, the U.S. has really taken a pretty unhelpful position. In the very beginning, there was a — the main agreement relating to guns in the U.N. is called the Program of Action, and that was developed in 2001. And a really important point that was not able to be included in that agreement because of the U.S.’s insistence was there’s no mention of any regulation of guns in the civilian population. Although almost every other country in the world felt it was important to say, you know, 85% of guns in the world are in civilian hands, regulation of guns should deal with civilian-owned weapons, but the U.S. refused, and therefore that wasn’t able to be included.

Later we were able to develop the Arms Trade Treaty, which is the first internationally binding treaty dealing with — trying to link arms sales to, for example, human rights standards. The U.S. would privately say to us, “Of course we need this,” but they were very concerned by the fact that the American gun lobby felt that the Arms Trade Treaty — or, I don’t think they really thought this, but the American gun lobby claimed the Arms Trade Treaty was a global ban on the Second Amendment. The whole process of negotiating that treaty was made more difficult by the U.S. But it finally was adopted, and it’s come into force. And unfortunately, yeah, now as — the U.S., the biggest producer of military equipment, has not actually ratified it. And so, I mean, it doesn’t obviate the need for the treaty. Obviously, even if the big producer is not — hasn’t ratified it, but still, obviously, it would make — it would be really, really helpful if the biggest producer of weapons would join the international treaties governing and agreements governing that industry.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And could you speak, Rebecca — just earlier this week, on Tuesday, the prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, met with President Biden, in which, of course, among the issues they spoke of was gun control. Explain the events in New Zealand following the Christchurch massacre and the significance this meeting between them.

REBECCA PETERS:New Zealand is an example of a country who made a mistake once and then got it right again. New Zealand was supposed to be part of the changes that came about in Australia’s gun laws in 1996, because those changes were under a body called the Australasian Police Ministers’ Council. Australasian refers to Australia and New Zealand. New Zealand should have embraced the Australian gun laws that banned semiautomatic rifles. But at the time, the gun lobby in New Zealand persuaded the New Zealand government that there was no need for that, and therefore New Zealand didn’t change its laws in ’96.

Then, in 2019, the massacre at the mosque in New Zealand was actually carried out by an Australian, who would not have been able to do that in Australia, wouldn’t have been able to get the weapons, but went to New Zealand, where he was able to get assault weapons and murdered over 50 people in a — it was a massacre. It was also terroristic. It was also an act in white supremacy. New Zealand changed its laws.

And I suppose the — I was interested to see Jacinda Ardern’s comments in the U.S. She said that New Zealanders simply saw it as a problem that needed solving; New Zealanders are practical people. And she also said, of course, it’s up to the U.S. what it does; we can only tell you what we do in other countries, and that’s true for Australia, as well. But I think that the more that the U.S. government and the U.S. people can hear from the leaders of other countries, which are culturally similar, which are — you know, where the lifestyle is similar, from other countries that can see “when there’s a problem, fix it,” that I’m hoping that that will give a bit of force to or bit of impetus to change in the U.S.

AMY GOODMAN:We will conclude with Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand Prime Minister, speaking at the Harvard University Commencement Speech last week. Her speech was met with standing ovation.

PRIME MINISTER JACINDA ARDERN:51 people were killed by terrorists in Christchurch, New Zealand, on the 15th of February 2019. The entire incident was streamed live via social media. The Royal Commission that followed determined that the terrorist responsible had been radicalized online. Now, in the aftermath of New Zealand’s experience, we felt a sense of responsibility. We knew we needed to reform gun laws and that’s what we did.

AMY GOODMAN:Jacinda Adern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, was the one who did it. We want to thank Rebecca Peters, an international arms control advocate and former director of The International Action Network on Small Arms and Norman Solomon, national director at RootsAction, and executive director at the Institute for Public Accuracy, for being with us. We’ll link to your piece on Common Dreams, “How About Some Gun Control at the Pentagon?” Stay with us.