18 June 2009

Gun love is killing the U.S.

In 2001, the year Islamic extremists took 3,000 lives in the United States, Americans murdered 8,000 of their fellow citizens with handguns. Almost three times as many. And they do this every year. George W. Bush could have done his people a far greater favour by declaring war on handguns than by declaring a war on terror. But that would have been a mighty challenge indeed, declaring war on a love affair, the love that his fellow citizens have for guns.

The results of American gun-love transcends borders. The thousands of guns that pour into Mexico every year, from handguns to high-powered assault weapons, most bought legally in the United States, arm the Mexican drug cartels. There are over 6,600 licensed gun dealers along the border alone. Whatever damage drugs do in the U.S., other than that done by their own drug laws, can be attributed in large part to those weapons.

And not only Mexican drug lords take advantage. The U.S. is a veritable supermarket for terrorists seeking high-end weaponry. During a recent investigation, government agents posing as private buyers bought military-grade body armour, technology to stabilize and steer guided missiles, a device that can be used to detonate nuclear weapons, and other munitions -- all by legal means.The companies selling the equipment had not violated any laws or regulations. Investigators reported that the problem was sensitive military equipment barred from export was often legal to sell within the country. Smuggling the material out is apparently a minor challenge. How much of this weaponry is then turned against Americans is difficult to assess but given the American presence throughout the world, particularly in regions of violence, it could be a lot.

The American proclivity for guns as a solution to problems leads them into a war every generation if not every decade and sends young men and women to die often pointless deaths -- almost 60,000 in Vietnam and over 4,000 in Iraq to date.

And there are other ways to die than needlessly in war. One cannot help but wonder if the United States wouldn't have provided all of its people with good health care years ago if it didn't spend excessively on armaments. Its military spending is almost equal to the total of all other countries in the world combined which is absurd. One of the few American politicians who dares to challenge the military-industrial-congressional complex, Congressman Barney Frank, insists it should be easy to persuade Americans "that their well-being is far more endangered by a proposal for substantial reductions in Medicare, Social Security or other important domestic areas than it would be by cancelling weapons systems that have no justification from any threat we are likely to face." I doubt it's anywhere near as easy as Congressman Frank thinks.

But the greatest damage to the United States from its grossly inflated military spending may be that it is simply bankrupting the country. The American federal government is expected to run a record deficit of $1.8-trillion US in 2009 (13% of GDP), adding to the rapidly rising U.S. federal debt of 11.4-trillion US (about $37,000 for every American). Not even the richest country in the world can persist in this degree of financial irresponsibility forever. Yet not even Barack Obama dares to cut spending on weapons.

How ironic that the paranoia created by 9/11 is doing more harm than the attack itself.

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