U.S. Civilian Gun Market Has Become a Militarized Bazaar, New Violence Policy Center Study Documents

For Release: Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Widespread Sale of Military-Style Weapons Drives Illicit Traffic to Mexico, Increases Armed Attacks on U.S. Law Enforcement Officers, and Facilitates Mass Shootings

Washington, DC–As the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform focuses on alleged failures of the U.S. Justice Department’s program to stop gun trafficking to Mexico, a new study by the Violence Policy Center (VPC) identifies the major force driving the criminal cross-border gun traffic: the gun industry’s cynical militarization of the U.S. civilian gun market.

“Today, militarized weapons–semiautomatic assault rifles, 50 caliber anti-armor sniper rifles, and armor-piercing handguns–define the U.S. civilian gun market and are far and away the ‘weapons of choice’ of the traffickers supplying violent drug organizations in Mexico” the study, “The Militarization of the U.S. Civilian Firearms Market” (http://vpc.org/studies/militarization.pdf), finds. The study also finds that the gun industry has become so dependent on militarized product lines that 11 of the top 15 gun manufacturers now market assault weapons, adding that “…the gun industry designs, manufactures, imports, and sells firearms in the civilian market that are to all intents and purposes the same as military arms. It then bombards its target market with the message that civilian consumers–just like real soldiers–can easily and legally own the firepower of militarized weapons.”

The study documents a deliberate gun industry design and marketing strategy, begun in the 1980s, that has resulted in the easy availability and shockingly weak regulation of guns that are—

  • Identical to sophisticated battlefield weapons used by the armed forces of the United States and other countries, such as the Barrett 50 caliber anti-armor sniper rifle.
  • Slightly modified variants of military firearms that would otherwise be illegal to sell on the civilian market, including semiautomatic versions of military assault weapons, such as civilian AR-15 and AK-47 assault rifle models.
  • Weapons capable of defeating body armor, specially designed for police and counter-terrorism units, such as the FN Herstal Five-seveN 5.7mm pistol.

“Your grandfather’s shotgun has no place in today’s civilian gun market,” said the study’s author, VPC Senior Policy Analyst Tom Diaz. “The gun industry has created a unique American civilian firearms bazaar which arms thousands of criminals, dangerous extremists, and drug traffickers throughout the world. If Congress wants to find the real causes of the gun traffic to Mexico, it needs to look upstream to the gun industry’s callous transformation of the American gun market into one more suited to warfare than sport. The world’s bad guys come here for their guns because they are cheap and plentiful.”

The study describes how, plagued by declining gun ownership and the explosion of recreational alternatives such as electronic games, the faltering gun industry has relied on creating demand by designing and selling increasingly lethal military-style firepower.

Among the myriad lethal results of the gun industry’s profit-driven choices, the study reports: “Semiautomatic assault weapons–especially inexpensive AK-47 type imports–are increasingly used in attacks against law enforcement officers in the United States.”

About the Violence Policy Center
The Violence Policy Center is a national educational organization working to stop gun death and injury. Follow the VPC on TwitterFacebook, and YouTube.

Media Contact:
Georgia Seltzer
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