GOTHAM CITY GOES GLOBAL

Six summers ago I was on a bus with tourists, heading to the airport after a holiday in Puerto Vallarta. “I love my Glock,” I overheard one man say to another. “Yeah, mine’s a beauty,” replied the other, who apparently owned a different model of the same handgun. I turned to see one of the guys’ wives join in and gush about her Smith and Wesson, or some other brand of blaster. They appeared to be pleasant, middle-class, middle-aged white people, and their accents placed them from the American southwest and midwest. Their shared warmth for weaponry seemed comically surreal to me, like Monty Python’s Holy Grail characters genuflecting before The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch.

In the U.S., arguments for armed self-defense are often mixed in a stew of frontier justice, male machismo, and libertarian will-to-power-and in the case of my bus companions, the happy enthusiasm of collectors.

Last spring at a supermarket checkout in Maui, I picked up a souvenir: a copy of Shotgun News, “the trading post for anything that shoots,” with the sacred Glock 22 on the cover. For a gunaware guy like me, the publication’s prose read like a mix of English and Vulcan. “Dominate the Encounter” demanded an ad for “Aimpoint & EOTech.” An adjacent article drooled over a commercially available sniper rifle: “The Cottonmouth from Venom Tactical is built to the highest possible standards_. and is ideal for use by law enforcement agencies_ in urban environments.” Also ideal for use by unstable loners, no doubt.

Want a scope mount? A Romanian AK-47 or an Israeli M10 Gas Mask? A 40mm grenade can made of steel? A kevlar codpiece signed by Dick Cheney? Shotgun News is your resource for all but the last item. The U.S. is awash in easily acquired weapons, legal or otherwise, and the Aurora, Colorado theatre shooter may not have even had to leave his booby-trapped apartment to shop for his overkill gear. “I call 6,000 rounds of ammunition running low,” one Colorado gun-owner said of James Holmes’ armoury in the New York Times.

In 2011, the New York Times reported that many top selling gun brands, including Remington and Bushmaster FireArms, have been acquired by a company called Freedom Group. “By its own count, the Freedom Group sold 1.2 million long guns and 2.6 billion rounds of ammunition in the 12 months ended March 2010, the most recent year for which figures are publicly available.”

Freedom Group is owned by Cerberus Capital Management, a private equity firm that acquired Chrysler in 2007. In case you flunked Greek Mythology 101, Cerberus is the three-headed hound that guards the gates of the Underworld. (Is this starting to sound like the plotline from an Alan Moore graphic novel, or what?)

Freedom Group, with two retired U.S. generals on its board, has sold weapons to the governments of Afghanistan, Thailand, Mexico and Malaysia, notes the Times. But let’s not leave the U.S. government out of the picture when it comes to dispensing firearms like Halloween candy. The Telegraph reports that from 2009 to 2010, agents from the department of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms knowingly allowed drug cartels to purchase about 2,000 assault weapons in the United States. The intent of “Operation Fast and Furious” was to trace the weapons to crime scenes in Mexico.

Retired judges, police officers and criminologists have come forward to declare that the U.S.-led “war on drugs” an abject failure. Yet from the perspective of disaster capitalism it’s been a raging success. Governments and law enforcement agencies throughout the world are big customers for the  small arms industry, and while the U.S. is the biggest single player, they’re hardly alone. Companies based in South Africa, Belgium, Britain, Germany, Argentina, Turkey and other nations also command some of the shoot-’em-up profits. The multibillion-dollar guns n’ ammo industry is getting a huge boost by a worldwide, post-9/11 explosion of private security firms.

A UN conference on a proposed Arms Trade Treaty ends in New York this Friday. The assembled delegates, some representing underdeveloped nations turned into free-fire zones by the influx of guns, jerks, and steel, are grappling with an estimated 875 million small arms in circulation around the globe. Gotham City has gone global. And good luck finding a Batcave-dwelling billionaire with the intent of disturbing the jokers’ status quo.

The Vancouver Courier, July 25

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