The United States is the indisputable mass shooting capital of the world. But in the wake of the recent horrifying incidents in Buffalo, Uvalde, Tulsa and over 230 other communities in 2022, it is worth recalling that the U.S. not only has the highest rate of gun deaths and gun possession among wealthy countries. It is also the world’s preeminent arms merchant. In fact, the U.S. is responsible for more than 40 percent of all reported arms exports globally over the past five years.
About half of U.S. sales between 2017 and 2021 were directed to clients in the Middle East, with the rest scattered across more than 100 countries, including many with a record of serious human rights violations. The most valuable exports include fighter jets and guided missiles, but it is the millions of small arms, light weapons and ammunition that exact the higher human toll. Man-portable air-defense systems, machine guns, semi-automatic rifles, handguns and small arms ammunition make up an estimated $228 billion of the more than $1.3 trillion in U.S. arms export authorizations issued since 2009.
During his 2020 election campaign, President Joe Biden promised to instill a more restrained and human rights-oriented approach to arms exports, but reforms have been sluggish. Sales persist to countries like Saudi Arabia and the Philippines, where human rights are under threat, and U.S. arms continue to flow to places where homicide and police violence are rampant.