The National Security Paradox: How America’s obsession with guns harms worldwide security


Conservatives who are quite willing to toss privacy rights to the wayside in the name of patriotism fail to recognize the severe breach in national security created by the lack of gun regulations. Whether it’s the NSA or the TSA, these conservatives consistently prioritize security over privacy, even if it means abrogating the most fundamental human rights.  Without any apparent irony, opposition to gun control is justified on the basis of preserving constitutional rights, yet many conservatives appear quite ready to sacrifice other fundamental rights under our constitution for the possibility of even marginally improving the security of Americans.

The data clearly show that America’s horrendous gun policy facilitates the flow of weapons to criminals, drug lords, and terrorists, who are far more effective at using these weapons to harm innocent civilians, than law-abiding citizens are at using them in self-defense.

Real security, then, the kind that can be operationalized and observed in homicide and crime statistics, is very clearly being exchanged for the illusion of security—for the naïve belief that walking into a Starbucks with a concealed carry weapon makes you ‘safer.’

Anybody can buy a gun through online sources with relative ease and near complete anonymity, no questions asked.  Gun advocates insist on keeping it this way. The irrational fear that even the tiniest amount of gun regulation will lead to a slippery slope to totalitarianism also has profound international consequences. Take, for example, the UN Small Arms Treaty. The entire purpose of this treaty is to help keep weapons out of the hands of dictators and terrorists, a goal definitely worth pursuing. As the UN states:

“On 2 April 2013, the General Assembly adopted the landmark Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), regulating the international trade in conventional arms, from small arms to battle tanks, combat aircraft and warships. The treaty will foster peace and security by putting a stop to destabilizing arms flows to conflict regions. It will prevent human rights abusers and violators of the law of war from being supplied with arms. And it will help keep warlords, pirates, and gangs from acquiring these deadly tools.”

If this sounds completely unobjectionable to anybody who isn’t a warlord, pirate, or gang member, you are in good company. In fact, only three nations voted against the Treaty: Iran, Syria, and North Korea. However, to this august list of freedom-loving countries we need to add one group: the NRA. Why would the NRA have any objection to this perfectly reasonable treaty, you may ask? A shallow and historically inaccurate interpretation of the Second Amendment, for starters. The NRA and its allies (a group that apparently includes 50 Senators) also fear that the treaty will allow President Obama and his international gun-grabbing cronies to circumvent Congress and implement gun confiscation schemes that would somehow inevitably result from gun registration.

However, such fears are completely unfounded and directly refuted in the text of the treaty itself. As Fareed Zakaria explains, the Treaty explicitly acknowledges “the sovereign right of any State to regulate and control conventional arms exclusively within its territory, pursuant to its own legal or constitutional system.” The treaty, therefore, has no effect within the US.

In blocking the ratification of this bill, the NRA and its allies have only furthered the killing capacity of those who mean freedom harm. Aside from terrorists and dictators, the prime beneficiary from blocking the Treaty is the gun-manufacturing industry behind the multi-billion dollar firearm export business. The message these efforts send is that it doesn’t matter who receives the weapons, as long as manufacturers profit. Thousands of dead civilians are merely collateral damage.

Along with helping anti-American extremists both here and abroad, our national obsession with guns and lack of any substantive regulations has nearly crippled Mexico. When we think of the drug war, we often only consider the steady flow of illicit drugs from Mexico to the US. However, this completely overlooks the far more deadly flow of military grade weaponry from the US to Mexico. Unfortunately for Mexicans, the states with the least amount of gun regulations sit right across the border, which allows cartels to arm themselves with ease.  A recent study found that an annual average of 252,000 guns cross the U.S.-Mexican border, far higher than earlier estimates based on seizure data. Despite the fact that Mexico has relatively stringent gun regulation, the proportion of murders committed with a firearm increased from 20% in the 1990s to 50% in the past few years.  This sharp spike in the proportion of firearm killings can be explained by the inflow of guns from the United States, which has directly facilitated new waves of cartel violence.

However, many gun advocates will protest that the drug cartels would inevitably find another source of military-grade weaponry. However, this line of defense is extremely weak. For starters, roughly 70% of the firearms in Mexico are either manufactured in or pass through the US on their way to the cartels, a highway of gun trafficking that keeps many gun dealers near the border in business. Also, simply because the other 30% comes from China, Russia, and elsewhere has no bearing on whether we implement policies to keep high-powered weaponry out of the hands of drug cartels. Will cartels find new sources to replace some of the lost supply from the US? Probably. Will cartels even come close to make up for a massive decrease in US supply? Hardly. And fewer illicit guns will mean fewer dead civilians on both sides of the border.

To those gun advocates who read this, let us be clear: If Newtown, Aurora, Tucson, and the hundreds of other mass shootings our nation experiences on a yearly basis are not yet enough to persuade you of the necessity of common sense gun reforms, perhaps the following will: Your opposition to measures such as background checks and gun licenses makes it easier for terrorists and drug lords to arm themselves and kill innocent civilians, the very people you buy guns to defend you and your family from.  Resistance to obvious and necessary gun control reforms is not brave or blameless — it makes you an ideological accomplice to the murder of the thousands of people who die each year as a consequence of America’s terribly dysfunctional gun regulation.  Nobody is trying to take your guns away. These measures are designed to keep weapons out of the hands of those who want to harm you.

To date, there is no research, not a single study, that shows an individual in the United States is made safer by having a gun in the house.  So let’s be clear what conservatives mean when they resist even the most basic gun control regulation:  My peace of mind is more important than the lives of thousands of innocent people who die each year because of America’s broken gun policy.  My right to not be inconvenienced in the least is worth giving terrorists, cartels, and criminals ever more means to kill.  My bumper sticker slogans are enough to form sensible opinions about the content of our nation’s public policy.  And for some reason, our politicians are listening to them.

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