The United Kingdom became the world’s second largest small arms exporter this year, all while British citizens are still prohibited from owning or possessing defensive firearms.
A large portion of U.K. weapons exports went to war-torn countries, with two-thirds of sales going to the Middle East, a hotbed of terrorism and conflict. The U.K. also sold arms to 22 of the 30 countries on its own human rights watch list. While countries like Libya, Russia and China have received British arms for years, citizens of the U.K. are not granted the same access.
More than 700,000 firearm owners live in the U.K., but many of them feel stigmatized for owning weapons. Obtaining a gun is also remarkably difficult; applicants must open themselves up to a police investigation that involves a range of intrusive questioning, including the inspection of one’s home and interviews with the applicant’s doctor. Unlike foreign entities, which receive a vast array of small arms, British citizens are generally restricted to shotguns and rifles. Handgun ownership is almost nonexistent.
“It’s frustrating for me that when you tell someone you own a gun you’re instantly labelled a weirdo. It’s like a secret society,” Callum Long-Collins, a British gun owner, told BBC earlier this year.
To make matters worse, law-abiding gun owners are often the target of increasingly restrictive laws. In a scholarly piece on gun policy, it is noted that most of the U.K.’s gun laws have been “precipitated by extraordinary acts of violence that sparked public outrage,” writes Jonathan Masters, a Deputy Editor for the Council on Foreign Relations.
Most of the legislation resulting from so-called “public outrage” is turned against legal gun owners.
Dictatorial regimes and human rights violators who wish to buy British weapons do not face the same stringent regulations as British citizens. While all U.K. arms sales require an export license which is controlled by the government, arms shipments to rogue regimes are rarely revoked. There is currently a great deal of political pressure for the government to cease arms sales to Saudi Arabia, though Prime Minister Theresa May defends the sales.
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