Small Arms and Big Capital

Arms sales and arms production, exports and imports reflect the militarization of society and the interpenetration of spheres of imperialist power. Domestically it represents an omnipresent threat of state sponsored repression and violent reaction. Internationally it reveals the vast swathe of murder by which imperialist states slaughter a bloody path across the face of the earth. The aggressiveness of US light weapons manufacturers in marketing and sales matches the aggressiveness of US imperialism as it sows chaos and war in order to maintain a global order that bows to its will. The industry itself has created a fever pitch of hysteria that helps lay the groundwork for the death squads of the future.

Small arms sales within the US have been in a long-term slump that began back in the eighties. Only recently with incessant industrially generated media hysteria have gun sales managed to start bouncing back out of this long term trough. Demographically fewer households own guns or live in an environment where a gun can even be used. To counter this the arms manufacturers, through their respective lobbying organizations, helped push the expansion of “concealed carry” permits. While brass, copper and lead have been increasing in price the cost of ammunition has gone up making the prospect of firing a weapon quite expensive. Massive government contracts for ammunition have effectively removed further ammunition from the US market. The arms industry generated fear over the vague prospect of the vague regulation of arms in the form of any proposed arms control legislation has caused a situation of hoarding both weapons and ammunition increasing sales even in spite of long term declines in gun ownership domestically.

In the US an estimated 3 out of every 5 weapon sales are individual to individual sales only 2 are purchased with a background check so the background check data has limited value in determining just how many weapons are being sold in the US. The US made some $66.3 billion dollars in arms transfers in 2012. This is up from $56.3 billion in arms transfers in 2011. [1] The increase in arms sales is due largely to a $10 billion dollar arms sale to the Arab states involved in providing aid to the Syrian rebels.

In the post-war boom, in the fifties and sixties small arms manufacturers had a peak of production and sales. Domestically the ownership of firearms was at a high. From 1977 onward the number of households in the US that have firearms have steadily decreased. This trend is far from being reversed even with the current spike in small arms sales. [2] The small arms industry that is based in the US has some of the biggest names in the business and is one of the few areas of industrial production where the US still plays a leading and dominant role. [3] Indirectly small arms sales in any area of the world represent the bloody arm of the state in its most brutal imperialist aspect. US arms feed its imperialist war machine and arms its cousin–the illegal drug trade.

Given the sheer number of soldiers that have rotated through the military, with over ten of the last twenty years being spent in a state of constant war. There is a highly nationalistic presence within US society of trained cadres of future blackshirts waiting in the wings for the nod to come from the state to unleash brutal repression in order to crush the class struggle that the bourgeoisie still fears despite the lack of an effective organized response from the class. This further emboldens these elements. The traditional response is to engage in a united front for the defense of the very same bourgeois order that has protected and fostered this malignant social force.

The bulk of all small arms manufactures in the United States goes to exports. Even the often seemingly insatiable domestic demand for firearms cannot measure up to foreign demand. (overview of data collected on exports and imports here) [4] Arms manufacturers are, of course, quite secretive about who their clients abroad are and so for them the UN Small Arms Treaty is seen as a real infringement. With the National Rifle Association taking up the lead on behalf of the arms manufacturers in opposing a treaty that would not have effected the US weapons market in the least by scaring the gullible with a ridiculous fantasy about the UN coming to take away their guns. As a marketing lobbying arm of the arms industry groups such as the NRA form a conduit of power from industry to the government whose job is selling their industry to the whole of the capitalist class organized nationally in its state power nexus.

The approach of the White House is to call for a ban on large capacity magazines for semi-automatic rifles when these rifles account for very few of the firearms deaths in the U.S. thus irrelevant to the nature of the problem of posed by gun violence that will accomplish nothing except making large capacity magazines more expensive to purchase. Indeed the chimera of impending gun control has done nothing but provide an temporary advertising boost to gun sales. However the current trends in firearms ownership are downward trends that are economic in nature, when the price of a gun is over a month's wages it is not surprising that gun ownership is down overall. The gun buying frenzy is largely manipulated and created through restriction of supply by dealers, ammunition purchasing by the U.S. Government and the increases in costs of raw materials like brass, copper and lead. The passage of “concealed carry” permits around the US was pushed by the arms manufacturers for a very good reason, this provided an immediate boost to sales and created a new market spawning a new generation of small and highly concealable firearms.

According to Chalmers Johnson, a veteran diplomatic corps cold warrior writing in 2001, prior to the 9/11 attacks:

“The government employs 6,500 just to coordinate and administer its arms sales program in conjunction with senior officials at American embassies around the world, who spend most of their “diplomatic” careers working as arms salesmen.” [5]

For the US to be officially agonizing over whether to provide direct military assistance to Syrian rebels, while having long provided indirect military assistance channelled through Inçirlik Air Force Base in Turkey is indicative of the hypocrisy of all the great powers who prattle about peace and freedom while stoking the arms trade. In May the US government failed to ratify the UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) after having voted for it in the UN. The ATT treaty was ratified to try to address illegal arms trade between nations. While the US currently is controlling 30% of the world arms trade, the White House is seeking to cut back on the approval process so as to further expand its arms sales. [6]

The media primes the pump of weapons sales in the US by spreading fear of street crime or terrorism while it is in fact the state entity itself that represents the largest threat to any social stability. Only in a revolutionary situation where the workers have imposed their will on a crushed and broken bourgeoisie will it ever be possible to speak of any substantive 'gun-control' or disarmament. Any real arms control will have to be enforced by the working class against the bourgeoisie as a part of a radical overturning of social relations. This imperialist war machine cannot be reformed away. Freedom for the bourgeoisie means freedom to own, to buy, to sell and to make profits. Freedom for the bourgeoisie means freedom to own, to buy, to sell and to make profits. The bourgeoisie owns more freedom than the proletariat. The bourgeoisie always makes sure they have enough firepower to keep themselves in power. The US is a third world war looking for an enemy.



[1] Congressional Research Service. Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 2004-2011. August 2012. <>

[2] Tavernise, Sabrina and Gebeloff, Robert. “Share of Homes with Guns Shows 4 Decade Decline.” New York Times. March 9, 2013.

[3] Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The SIPRI Top 100 arms-producing and military services companies in the world excluding China, 2011. SPIRI, 2013.

[4]Small Arms Survey 2013: Everyday Dangers; Annexes 8.1 & 8.2, pp. 8-18. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press and the Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. July 8, 2013.

[5] Johnson, Chalmers. Blowback: the costs and consequences of American Empire. Macmillan 2001. pg. 87

[6] Bridgeman, Maggie. Obama Seeks to Expand Arms Exports by Trimming Approval Process. McClatchy Newspapers. July 29, 2013.

Saturday, July 13, 2013


A super article.

There are corrections pending on this article to deal with errors and omissions. Mea culpa.