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It’s no secret that European weapons makers love the U.S. civilian market. Confronted with stricter gun legal guidelines and more durable export controls in their very own nations, firms just like the German Sig Sauer and the Austrian Glock have constructed reputations for his or her handgun experience throughout the Atlantic.

Nevertheless, Germany’s Heckler & Koch (H&Okay), which focuses on assault rifles and different military-style weapons, is discovering that its merchandise have some status amongst U.S. gun homeowners.

In response to H&Okay spokesman Florian Bokermann, “The product portfolio we provide within the USA is comprised virtually completely of weapons whose prospects are sports activities marksmen, or whose consumers want them for self-protection.”

However a go to to the corporate’s U.S. web site exhibits that H&Okay additionally sells 4 totally different military-style rifles on the U.S. civilian market. “That may be semi-automatic rifles with pistol grips and high-capacity magazines,” stated Nicholas Marsh, a small-arms skilled on the Peace Analysis Institute Oslo. “And people are usually the favourite weapons carried by individuals who perform mass shootings. They’re very lethal.”

Although statistically handguns are the most typical weapons utilized in shootings within the U.S., using assault rifles (in each the Dayton and El Paso shootings, simply to call current examples) has reignited questions on how acceptable they’re for “self-protection.” As a result of these kind of weapons are authorized within the U.S., H&Okay is bolstering its enterprise by catering to civilians on this nation.

Understanding the enterprise methods of gun producers is vital to understanding their position in gun-related violence, and the evolution of H&Okay’s gross sales technique is especially notable — particularly a current determination to pursue an “moral” technique.

A Firm That Kills Individuals Worldwide

In July, H&Okay convened a unprecedented annual common assembly. The scene of the assembly was odd sufficient: a 100-year-old bathhouse the place staff in a close-by gun powder manufacturing unit would wash themselves after a day’s work arming the German Reich. However what made this explicit assembly so unusual was the uneven confrontation that befell — between protesters who had been harrying the corporate for many years and firm executives who had out of the blue determined to hearken to them.

The occasion, which befell within the picturesque medieval city of Rottweil, felt extra like a tribunal than an annual common assembly. The true buyers had been largely absent, represented by a couple of silent males with leather-based briefcases, which meant the room was primarily crammed by round 20 “vital shareholders,” as they name themselves — a group of peace activists, younger college students, native campaigners, journalists and church representatives.

This disparate group had every include considered one of H&Okay’s 21,657,289 shares, which, because of German stockholder legislation, gave them the correct to ask the board questions — as many as they appreciated and for so long as they appreciated.

For 2 straights hours, CEO Bodo Koch, CFO Björn Krönert, and board members Martin Sorg and Nicolaus Bockhardt sat on stage within the outdated bathhouse and listened whereas the shareholders queued as much as ship a relentless inquisition from the speaker’s lectern.

There have been practically 125 questions in all, some printed upfront, others fashioned on the spot. Some preceded with speeches concerning the hazard that the corporate’s merchandise might be utilized in mass shootings within the U.S., police repression in Hong Kong or murky offers in Saudi Arabia. By legislation, nobody was going residence till each had been answered. (H&Okay had even introduced alongside a lawyer to make sure procedures adopted appropriately).

“Do you hear the screams of people that have fled your merchandise or have been injured by them?” requested Alexander Schleicher, a Catholic priest.

“How do you assess the repeated experiences in varied media retailers that Heckler & Koch weapons are getting used each by authorities troops in Yemen and have fallen into the arms of jihadists?” Ruth Rohde, a scholar, wished to know.

“Prior to now 12 months, has Heckler & Koch used operational amenities in different nations to get round present export bans to Saudi Arabia?” requested Frank Chudoba, a journalist for a neighborhood newspaper.

In the meantime, Charlotte Kehne, an arms export management specialist on the German marketing campaign group Aktion Outcry–Cease the Arms Commerce, wished to understand how H&Okay may be certain that weapons produced within the U.S. wouldn’t be re-sold in different nations.

There was a number of floor to cowl: For 70 years, Heckler & Koch has been a supply of firepower to police forces, North Atlantic Treaty Group (NATO) armies, Center Jap dictatorships, Latin American mafia organizations and terrorist teams in every single place. For the previous few years, it has additionally been a provider to the U.S. civilian market, with a plant in Virginia.

However what made this occasion so surreal was the response of the well-coiffed executives on stage. The corporate males didn’t ignore the activists’ questions or grimly set their faces right into a rictus of suppressed guilt. As an alternative, Sorg, Koch and the others listened, interrupting solely to ask that the questioners decelerate in order that their “again workplace” (some 25 workers listening remotely from upstairs) may extra simply notice down the small print faithfully and give you solutions.

Afterward, veteran anti-arms-trade campaigner for the group World Web–Cease the Arms Commerce, Jürgen Grässlin, was grappling with what he had simply witnessed. Grässlin has been a headache for H&Okay for greater than 30 years. It was he who pressed the costs towards the corporate in 2010 that led to the agency’s conviction earlier this yr for an unlawful arms sale to Mexico – 4,686 G36 assault rifles shipped between 2006 and 2009, in violation of German arms export legal guidelines, which stipulate that weapons might solely find yourself in locations set down within the end-user certificates. That led to a positive of €3.7 million (US$4.1 million), an unprecedented punishment for a German gun-maker.

“I stood there and advised them that somebody is killed by a Heckler & Koch gun each 13 minutes. Another arms firm and they’d’ve stopped me and stated: ‘Repeat that and also you’ll be served a stop and desist order,’” Grässlin advised Truthout.

“After three and a half many years of laborious confrontation, blockades, authorized motion towards us by Heckler & Koch, they’ve moved to this tradition of communication, the place we pay attention to one another, and take one another severely,” he added.

That is all as a result of Heckler & Koch is making an attempt to do one thing distinctive on the planet of arms dealing.

A Weapons Producer Tries to Greenwash Its Public Picture

Two years in the past, H&Okay revealed that any longer it might pursue what it known as a “inexperienced nation” technique. That meant it might solely ship weapons to nations within the European Union and NATO, or what are often called “NATO equal” nations, reminiscent of Switzerland, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. This was the primary time {that a} German arms firm had an export coverage that was extra restrictive than the federal government’s – in any case, Angela Merkel’s administration continues to be approving weapons gross sales to Israel and Saudi Arabia.

This technique was adopted partially by necessity. The Mexico scandal hit laborious in Germany, the place the nationwide public broadcaster, ARD, aired a documentary and a fictional TV film concerning the affair. However issues hadn’t been going properly for the corporate earlier than: In 2015, the German Protection Ministry canceled new orders for the G36 after experiences that its accuracy failed in sizzling climates. This left H&Okay able it had not been in for many years — competing for the contract to produce the German army’s commonplace rifle. On high of that, the monetary state of affairs was disastrous. Reviews emerged final yr that the corporate was carrying a debt of €380 million (US$420 million) and was being saved afloat by loans from its majority shareholder, Andreas Heeschen, who by no means seems in public.

All these components, however particularly the Mexico courtroom case, left H&Okay with loads of incentive to wash up its picture. “As a consequence of [the Mexico scandal], we now have undergone a complete transformation course of prior to now few years,” firm spokesman Bokermann advised Truthout. “Immediately, Heckler & Koch is ready up fully otherwise to the center of the final decade. Heckler & Koch is expressly dedicated to its social and obligation.”

These modifications included a fundamental change to its gross sales technique, in addition to the institution of “new moral requirements.” The corporate additionally claims to have adjusted its compliance system in order to “consistently sharpen the sense of duty of the corporate and its workers,” whereas potential enterprise companions are subjected to a “strict compliance verify,” as Bokermann put it.

Arms commerce observers suppose it’s an unprecedented new thought. “I can’t consider one other personal firm that has achieved this,” stated Marsh. “Normally, the gun-making firms say, ‘Moral and authorized choices are past our pay-grade; we go away that to the federal government.’”

However it may also be a tactical retreat, making an attempt to move off new authorities consideration following the disagreeable brush with the legislation over the Mexico deal. “I’d suspect it’s a approach to stop even tighter regulation coming in,” stated Marsh.

Andrew Feinstein, writer of a definitive historical past of the weapons enterprise – The Shadow World: Contained in the World Arms Commerce – can also be skeptical that that is something greater than a PR technique for pleasing two particular audiences: buyers and the German authorities.

“Investor sentiment is essential to an organization like Heckler & Koch,” Feinstein advised Truthout. “If any grouping within the investor group determined that Heckler & Koch must be the topic of an investor boycott, it might considerably enhance the strain on the bulk shareholder. In concentrating on the monetary group in its PR, it means the worth of the corporate is more likely to truly go up.”

On high of that, turning into an “moral” firm makes it far simpler for the German authorities to supply H&Okay contracts. “The German authorities can say, ‘It is a principled, moral protection firm, and that’s why we’re so supportive of it, and that’s why we need to do enterprise with it,’” stated Feinstein. That can also be probably, most observers say, why the corporate has not too long ago employed Harald Kujat, a retired high German army common, as its new board chairman.

“After all, it’s higher that these firms make these statements than they don’t,” stated Feinstein. “And I feel within the case of H&Okay, it’s been a consequence of the courtroom case and civil society strain.”

Grässlin, who is aware of H&Okay higher than maybe anybody else, thinks the corporate pulled a sleight of hand on the annual common assembly with the way in which it subtly redefined its new “inexperienced nation” technique. “Final yr, [H&K] made very clear how the ‘inexperienced nation’ technique must be outlined,” Grässlin stated. “Specifically, no weapons exports to nations exterior the EU, NATO or NATO-associated nations.”

On the annual common assembly, nevertheless, the corporate’s board members had been out of the blue together with one other class in its listing of “inexperienced nations”: these which might be celebration to sure worldwide treaties, or have agreements with the Worldwide Legal Police Group (Interpol). That final situation is especially baffling, since Interpol is an administrative community that features just about each nation on the planet. “They’ve made a Swiss cheese out of the bulwark they constructed,” stated Grässlin.

One of many largest holes in that Swiss cheese is the U.S. civilian market, and H&Okay’s determination to promote its specialty – assault rifles – there. H&Okay’s annual report for 2018 signifies that new merchandise are being developed particularly for the U.S. market, though it’s already flooded. The Small Arms Survey says there are 120.5 firearms for each 100 U.S. residents, and greater than half of violent deaths within the U.S. are attributable to weapons.

On high of this, there may be loads of proof that weapons purchased within the U.S. are taken throughout the border into Mexico. The Middle for American Progress reported final yr that some 70 % of the 105,000 firearms confiscated by the Mexican police between 2011 and 2016 in the middle of felony investigations got here from the U.S. Provided that it’s troublesome to manage the place weapons find yourself as soon as they’ve been purchased legally, H&Okay’s “moral” gross sales technique appears fatally flawed within the U.S.

As H&Okay’s vital shareholder Kehne put it in her speech on the annual common assembly, “Many points recommend that this isn’t a inexperienced market in any respect, however a deep pink one.”

In terms of promoting weapons, even the so-called

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