The Glock Gun Spiel: A Case Study in Political Geography and Human Rights

Article excerpt

Purpose: a context for understanding

My purpose is to begin to provide a theoretical and empirical political geographic and human rights context for the plan of the Cedar Rapids, Iowa police department to exchange 238.40 caliber semiautomatic guns and their accompanying 714 15-round magazines for new ones. The reasons for this exchange are different on each side. On the side of the police department, they postpone a purchase of new service guns for fifteen years by replacing their five-year-old guns now. The Law Enforcement Equipment Co. in Kansas City regains the guns and, more significantly, the magazines. The magazines retail for five times their original value, spurred by the perception of scarcity since the passage of the September, 1994 Crime Bill, which made illegal the manufacture of magazines with more than 10 rounds. Austrian Glock and Italian Beretta, both manufacturers of semiautomatic service pistols, had failed to build up a supply of such magazines, and now need to recycle the used ones to remain competitive in a hot market. Such offers were made around the country - in Louisville, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Knoxville, Washington, DC, several towns in Connecticut, Florida and Oklahoma as well as in Cedar Rapids and Waterloo, Iowa and the Nebraska and Missouri State Patrols. Some places, such as Louisville, Cincinnati and several towns in Connecticut turned down the offer.

An important topic for human rights and political geography

The exchange of guns is an important topic for both human rights and political geography, not only because the use of small arms has a devastating effect on the personal freedom of victims and often perpetrators, but also due to the effect of violence on social equality and the rights of the community to safety and security. The importance of the topic is indicated by a publication of the Committee on International Security Studies of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences: Lethal Commerce: The Global Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons. Production, distribution and use of small arms throughout the world is, I propose, both a reaction and contribution to inequalities not only within but between countries.

I want to name many ways the theme of guns can be material for political geographers to analyze. First, guns are commodities on the international market and a factor in the balance of trade for emerging countries such as China, Mexico and Brazil, and also wealthy countries such as Austria, Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal and Israel. Second, guns assume a greater significance in social communication, as they are used as images in news and programming on television, in the movies and in video games. Third, the social misuse of guns leads to injuries requiring extensive medical care often at public expense. Fourth, their social misuse contributes to a burden on the legal system, with many criminal court cases and much imprisonment as a result, again at public expense. Fifth, they are the focus of a conflictual social movement in the U.S.A. around the meaning of the Second Amendment in the Constitutional Bill of Rights.

On the following pages I will develop the Constitutional arguments, because they are so important in distinguishing the U.S.A. from other countries, before turning to my main consideration - the environment of the national headquarters of Glock in the Cobb County city of Smyrna, Georgia as a place that has been created by politics. Cobb County, I maintain, can be considered as a model of an emerging core for American society. The question I ask is: Why did the Austrian company, Glock, choose Smyrna in Cobb Co. as its U.S. home, and of what significance is that to Americans? Finally, I will restate my concern with the danger the gun trade poses to basic human rights - civil liberties, equal access to social resources, human solidarity with past and future generations in community.

The changing rationale for gun ownership

Now, I want to turn to the Second Amendment, for many people a bulwark of individual civil liberties in the United States. …