The real gun “conspiracy” — Lies, profits, and mercenaries

The vast majority of us don't think felons should be able to buy these. (Photo by Steve Mays)

The vast majority of us don’t think felons should be able to buy these. (Photo by Steve Mays)

With the failure of the United States Senate to pass the Manchin-Toomey gun bill, which would simply institute partial background checks on guns purchased in the nation, despite its overwhelming public support (as many as 90% of Americans), it failed. So when even a highly watered down, widely supported bill like Manchin-Toomey cannot get passed by this nation’s legislation, I can’t help but ask: Where is this massive conspiracy by liberals and President Obama to take people’s guns away? If it does exists then it is clearly horribly planned and demonstrably ineffective – gun control, under Obama has only become more lax and gun sales have increased since he took office.

The battle for increased gun control is not a conspiracy, but what about the fight against it? If there is one at all here, then that is the real “conspiracy” – a group of special interests, in the minority, controlling discourse and manipulating our legislative bodies to work so blatantly against the will of the country. Here’s the how and why.

As I speculated about a month ago, during then on-going negotiations taking place at the United Nations, an international arms ban treaty would be met with such opposition from the NRA that it could possibly influence the Senate to not ratify the treaty – and I was right. Apparently the NRA is more concerned about completely hypothetical, alarmist fantasy scenarios where the UN comes into US cities and begins confiscating civilian firearms than the real world scenarios of Assad resupplying his military with the weapons and ammunition they need to continue to slaughter his people en mass in Syria, going into its third year of bloody conflict. Or, since Americans aren’t really that concerned at all about Syrian lives – how about our troops in Afghanistan who are being shot with weapons and ammo purchased on an unrestrained gray and black markets (precisely the type of thing the UN treaty would aim to curtail)? I guess such issues are just secondary to the NRA.

From an insurgent raid in Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy ISAF.)

From an insurgent raid in Afghanistan. Glad the Second Amendment protects these guys’ right to stockpile this stuff. (Photo courtesy ISAF.)

So not only has the toothless partial background check bill and the ratification of the UN arms treaty not made it through the Senate successfully, but there actually have been federal legislative changes that have passed in Washington, since the incident in Newtown, in March. The twist is that these NRA-backed provisions actually serve only to further limit law enforcement’s ability to track firearm sales and hinder attempts at prosecuting gun retailers who deliberately skirt the letter of the law. Most of these provisions are not especially new, facing regular renewal with little or no attention or discussion centered around them. The difference, this time, is that some of these have been made into permanent legislation – but with the same lack of attention being paid to it as usual.

So that’s some of the basics of the how question, but does not necessarily explain the why. There are two basic levels to that answer. Perhaps the most plainly obvious one is money: The firearm industry in the US is extremely lucrative. In 2012 it was estimated that over $30 billion in profits were made from firearm and ammunition sales. When you consider that those the NRA often points the blame for our violent gun culture at, Hollywood, and realize they only brought in almost $11 billion last year  – it’s not a big cognitive leap in understanding that the massive industry gun and ammo sales are in the country really does have much more weight behind them (even more so since the Pandora’s Box of the Citizens United ruling) and wield some profound business interests.

The second part of how is a bit different but not unrelated to the desire for profits, but requires some background first. As some may know, “contract security” (the nice way to say private military contractors — which is the nice way to say mercenaries) has become a booming industry over the last ten years both domestically and abroad. Since its foundation, and especially since the bad press they’ve received from Scahill and the various Congressional inquiries and testimonies, Blackwater has subdivided and changed names numerous times, including Academi, Xe, and Greystone.

People may be aware of groups like Blackwater, perhaps recalling the incident in 2004 when several of their contractors were ambushed and killed by Iraqi insurgents, precipitating the brutal siege of Fallujah by the US military in the following weeks. However, what’s perhaps less well known to the general public is the true extent of Blackwater’s involvement in the US’s military operations (foreign and domestic). Jeremy Scahill, in Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, explains how, after the first few years of Blackwater and other private military operations being conducted in Iraq, their presence continued to expand rapidly, until the contractor-to-soldier ratio arrived at 1:1. That ratio? That was way back in 2004 and indications are that the trend of using more contractors like Blackwater in favor of US troops for military and security operations around the world does not seem to be ceasing.

Calling them "private contractors" makes them sound like they do catering or install wiring. These guys do neither. (Photo courtesy BabelTravel)

Calling them “private contractors” makes them sound like they do catering or install wiring. These guys do neither. (Photo courtesy BabelTravel)

So why all this talk about Blackwater and private military groups? Let’s bring it back to firearms and the UN arms treaty. As the world’s largest and most expansive private military army in the world, Blackwater is also the largest non-military, private consumer of firearms and ammunition in the world. Before finding exile in Africa, ex-CEO Erik Prince held the distinction himself as the individual owner of the US’s largest civilian firearm collection.

As Blackwater operatives exist in a strange, extra-legal realm that oscillates between civilian and military law, the ability for civilians to buy certain weaponry and ammunition easily becomes a serious issue not only for PMCs like Blackwater, but for the United States’ foreign policy which has come to rely so heavily upon such groups in conflict zones all over the world. If assault weapons were to be banned from civilian purchase or international sales to be regulated and illegal ones curbed – then PMCs like Blackwater would be unable to perform the many operations they have usurped from US military and law enforcement organizations, or at the least, severely disrupt the lucrative business they do with American weapons manufacturers.

Whether you want to call the powerful stranglehold the pro-gun lobby has over so many politicians in D.C. that trumps the will of 90% of citizens – or the way our liberal access to weaponry and ammunition is crucial both to a thriving civilian market and to sustaining the PMCs who are increasingly replacing our men and women in uniform overseas (and even here at home) a “conspiracy” or not, is up to you (and if you subscribe to the dictionary definition of “conspiracy”).

What I can say is that there is not a conspiracy to disarm Americans or even limit access to firearms – if there is, then it must surely be the most ineffective and poorly planned conspiracy ever. The real conspiracy is quite the opposite, in reality. And it is a substantially successful conspiracy.