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Mass Shootings at Home, Mass Arms Exports Abroad: A Look at Deadly Role of U.S. Weapons Across Globe

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As U.S. lawmakers struggle to reach a consensus on legislation to curb gun violence in the wake of mass shootings, the U.S. also remains the largest international supplier of arms, funneling billions in military weaponry into wars 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.

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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. It was Wednesday night, four people shot dead in Tulsa, Oklahoma, after a gunman attacked a medical complex at a Catholic hospital. 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.

On Capitol Hill, a bipartisan group of nine U.S. senators met Wednesday to discuss new legislation in the wake of the shooting. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said he hoped lawmakers would target what he called the source of U.S. mass shootings.

MINORITY LEADER MITCH McCONNELL: It seems to me there are two broad categories that underscore the problem: mental illness and school safety.

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

President Biden said Tuesday much of the violence from mass shootings is preventable, after he met with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and discussed how her country moved quickly to change its gun laws after the 2019 massacre at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand.

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 is an international arms control advocate, former director of the International Action Network on Small Arms. She’s joining us from Guatemala. And Norman Solomon is with us. He’s with RootsAction and the Institute for Public Accuracy. He is author of War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us 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 welcome you both back to 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: The connections are really hidden in 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. And we know that implementing gun control restrictions in other countries has really reduced drastically the shootings, the mass killings with guns. 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.

When you look at the stats, we know that about 19,000 people a year, on average, in the United States are killed with shootings. And when you look at the stats from the Costs of War Project at Brown University, you see that in the last two decades a comparable number of civilians have been killed by the U.S. military. And that really understates the extent of, really, the murder using weapons. You know, we talk about assault weapons in the United States. 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 destruction of infrastructure and the less direct deaths are severalfold times that 19,000 average per year. And then, as the great journalist Anand Gopal said on this program last summer, the official estimates of deaths caused by U.S. military actions in Afghanistan 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, of course, were the former director of 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. And if you could speak specifically about the Arms Trade Treaty, which the U.S. played a major role in crafting but the Trump administration pulled out of a few years ago, and the Biden administration has not rejoined?

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 U.S. is the biggest producer of guns in the world and also the biggest exporter, both illegally and legally. So these two streams of guns flow out from the U.S. into others countries and cause havoc, including where I am, 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. And so, the U.S. definitely made the whole negotiation of that treaty harder. 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 what happened in New Zealand following the Christchurch massacre, and the significance of this meeting between the two.

REBECCA PETERS: Well, New Zealand was an example of a country that got it wrong once, and later got it right. 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. And Australasian means Australia and New Zealand. So, when Australia changed its gun laws to ban semiautomatic rifles and shotguns, New Zealand should have adopted that change, too. 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 an act of terrorism. It was also an act of white supremacy. And then New Zealand did change its laws.

And I suppose the — I was interested to see Jacinda Ardern’s comments in the U.S. I mean, she said that New Zealanders just saw it was a problem that needed to be solved; New Zealanders are a 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: So, we will end with the words of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, delivering the Harvard University commencement speech last week. She was met with a standing ovation.

PRIME MINISTER JACINDA ARDERN: On the 15th of March, 2019, 51 people were killed in a terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The entire brutal act was live-streamed on social media. The Royal Commission that followed found that the terrorist responsible was radicalized online. Now, in the aftermath of New Zealand’s experience, we felt a sense of responsibility. We knew that we needed significant gun reform, and so that is what we did.

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

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