What comes first to mind when you think of the United States?
High standard of living? Beacon of representational democracy? The melting pot? Consumer society? Fast food and blockbuster movies?
Land of the free? Home of the brave?
When I think of the United States, the first image that comes to my mind is a gun.
We are a society awash in weaponry with an economy in large part based on weaponry.
Let’s start with the fact that we sell three quarters of all the arms exported around the world. That means of every dollar’s worth of bombs, tanks, jet fighters, ammo and machine guns sold around the world, 75 cents of it goes to a U.S. company.
Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, the Congo and Israel are among the many countries receiving arms from the Unites States, often purchased with funds borrowed from the U.S. government.
It’s a good thing the mainstream media doesn’t give much attention to the harm that’s done from the guns we sell abroad. Based on the space given in the media recently to condemning Russia for giving or selling to Ukraine rebels a rocket that the rebels used to down a commercial jetliner, coverage of the people killed with U.S. weaponry would crowd out all other news every day of the week.
At more than $660 billion a year, we dedicate more money to military spending than the next nine largest military spenders combined. We spend more than three times as much as number two on the list, China, even though the population of China is more than four times what ours is. Let’s do the math: The autocratic Chinese spend about $139 per person per year on their military. The United States spends about $2,032 per person. (I’m using 2013 figures from the Stockholm International Peace Institute, which I first found in a Wikipedia article).
The United States thus bears the major responsibility for the flood of weapons that help national and regional problems turn violent all over the world.
The violence doesn’t stop at our borders. Our militarism abroad runs parallel to our dedication to guns at home. The United States has the largest number of privately held guns per capita of any nation, almost one per person. Just as with military spending and weapons exports, our private ownership of guns far surpasses that of any other country in the world. We have 97 private guns per 100 people; no other nation has as many as 60 guns per 100 people.
More guns lead to more deaths and injuries from gunfire in the United States than in any other industrialized countries. Only countries at war see more of their people killed and injured by guns than the United States does.
It seems as if we worship guns and gun ownership. State legislatures and dubious court decisions have loosened gun control laws over the past two decades. After every bloody mass murder, more states pass laws to make it easier to own and carry a gun than toughen gun laws. Every week, the media covers protests of gun owners who think their rights have been squeezed or want to assert new rights to tote guns: sometimes they march into a fast food joint, sometimes on a university campus. Very few politicians—and virtually none in the South—will come out against gun control for fear that the gun lobby will pour money into the opponent’s campaign.
The funny thing is, our reverence for the weapon both inside and outside the boundaries of our country plays to a stridently vocal minority. Only about 40% of the population has a gun in the home. Many surveys show that the number of gun owners is falling—but that each owner has more guns in his or her possession. Our gun sales abroad primarily benefit the gun-makers, who are delighted to get the subsidies that U.S. loans to support arms sales represent.
What we have then is a society dedicated to guns and an economy in which making and selling guns play an outsized role. Instead of singing “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” we might more accurately end the “Star Spangled Banner” with “the land of the gun…and the home of the gun sale.”