My friend Charles Lane, a former New Republic editor with whom I've tangled in the past over income inequality, has a Washington Post column up today (“Europe's Role In U.S. Gun Culture”) that everyone should read. Lane begins by quoting Christoph Prantner in Austria’s Der Standard complaining (just as I have) that America’s rigidly pro-gun interpretation of the Second Amendment “occasionally has a very high price and, in a bloody perversion, fatally impairs the freedom of others.” Lane says he “can’t disagree” with Prantner’s point, but faults Prantner for failing to point out that one of the weapons with which James Holmes allegedly carried out the massacre in Aurora, Colo., was one of Austria’s most successful exports: the Glock pistol. Citing Paul Barrett’s recent book, Glock: The Rise Of America's Gun, Lane says Glock sells about $100 million worth of Glocks to the U.S. each year. Lane counts no fewer than seven U.S. shooting rampages over the previous two decades in which the Glock was the weapon of choice, including Aurora (12 dead).
When you throw in Walthers (one of which Seung Hui Cho used, along with a Glock, to kill 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2010, and Sig Sauers (Steven Kazmierczak, five dead, Northern Illinois University, 2008), both German-made, and toss in assorted firearms from Italy and elsewhere, the European Union “shipped just under a million handguns to the United States in 2010. Their domestic markets may be limited by gun control, but Europe’s small-arms makers can still get rich, and create jobs, thanks to the Second Amendment.” In a Twitter comment, Jim Impoco, executive editor of Reuters digital (who earlier in his career was a foreign correspondent in Asia) notes an apt parallel with the 19th century opium trade, in which Britain (and the U.S., and France) countered a severe trade imbalance with China by selling opium manufactured in British East India to Chinese smugglers. Chinese authorities were not amused.
The opium trade led to two wars. Lane proposes the milder response of a prohibitive tariff on imported firearms. “[I]t might reduce risks at the margin,” he writes, plus “I sort of like the idea of protectionists and gun-control advocates teaming up against the Second Amendment lobby.” An even tastier prospect is that such a tariff might drive a wedge between U.S. gun manufacturers, who presumably would support import restrictions, and the National Rifle Association.
Or, the Europeans might impose export restrictions unilaterally, for humanitarian purposes. That might seem unlikely, but Lane points out that in December the European Union restricted sales to the U.S. of sodium thiopental, “an occasionally life-saving anesthetic,” on the grounds that it will be used in lethal injections to U.S. prisoners who receive the death penalty. Should Holmes be executed in Colorado, a lethal-injection state, Lane notes, Europe will be able to say its hands are clean. But it can't say the same about the Aurora killings for which Holmes faces punishment.