As President Barack Obama has outwardly attempted to curtail Americans’ Constitutional Second Amendment right to bear arms, his Administration has approved huge increases in defense spending and export sales. The Administration is now seeking to eliminate stringent State Department controls on exports and foreign licensing of dozens of categories of weapons and technology from the United States Munitions List (USML) by transferring control to the pro-business Commerce Department.
In spite of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) warnings this change could increase terrorist access to dangerous weapons, the Administration claims this “reform” would enhance “the competitiveness of key United States manufacturing and technology sectors.”
It may seem hypocritical to tighten gun control at home and flood the world with weapons. But since Obama was elected president, Democrats have eliminated Republicans’ advantage in collecting defense industry campaign contributions.
President Obama has tried to push Congress into passing extensive domestic gun control legislation. In Obama’s first four years in office he also used his regulatory powers for the federal government to conduct about the same number of background checks on gun owners and prospective buyers as George W. Bush’s in his first six years in office.
Declaring a national gun control crisis after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in January 2013, the Administration issued 23 executive orders directing federal agencies to “improve knowledge of the causes of firearm violence, what might help prevent it, and how to minimize its burden on public health.” According to the Institute of Medicine, “One of these orders directed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to identify the most pressing problems in firearm violence a committee tasked with developing a potential research agenda that focuses on the causes of, possible interventions to, and strategies to minimize the burden of firearm-related violence.”
It seems clear that the goal of this Presidential Executive Order is to instruct the CDC to fund medical research to “prove” that gun owners are afflicted with some pathological disease or mental defect.
The President may have been visibly advocating gun control in America, but he has been a huge cheerleader for expanding the American defense industry. Since 2008, U.S. defense spending grew by 25% to $900 billion; defense exports grew by 30% to $73 billion; and foreign licensing agreements grew 46% to approximately $50 billion.
Prior to Barack Obama, Republicans dominated campaign contributions from the defense industry. But despite John McCain’s reputation as a defense hawk, Obama pocketed twice as much from the defense industry as McCain in 2008. Over the last three elections, the Democrats have pulled even with Republicans in campaign contributions by raising $32 million from the defense industry.
But with the Budget Sequestration expected to cause U.S. defense spending to fall to $820 billion over the next three years, the boom times for the defense industry seemed at risk. This may explain the Obama Administration’s enthusiasm for defense industry Export Control Reform. Given that the U.S. already accounts for 80% of the global market for items currently covered by the restrictive USML, eliminating State Department restrictive reviews would quickly ramp up defense industry orders.
In 2011, the most recent year a breakdown of statistics are available, the U.S. defense industry booked foreign arms sales worth over $66.3 billion, representing 78.7% of all global arms exports. The next closest competitor was Russia, with 5.6% of the world arms market. The State Department approved export licenses that year under 20 categories from the USML worth $44.2 billion. The largest categories by dollar value were aircraft, $17.2 billion; military electronics, $15.2 billion; fire and guidance control equipment, $2.4 billion; tanks and military vehicles, $1.7 billion; spacecraft systems and associated equipment, $1.4 billion; and ammunition and ordnance, $1.1 billion.
Despite GAO concerns that reform could increase terrorist’s access to sophisticated weapons, the Administration wants to switch two dozen categories of weapons from rigorous U.S. State Department oversight under the USML to the export-friendly Commerce Department Control List. The White House acknowledges, “At the end of this process, we anticipate that a significant percentage of the items that are transferred off of the USML would be permitted to be exported without a license.”
It seems hypocritical to simultaneously tighten guns control in the U.S. and flood the world with weapons. But Barack Obama and the Democrats figured out that the big campaign contributions regarding guns comes from the defense industry, not individual Americans who worry about the loss of their Second Amendment rights.