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1.2 million pistols from Austria sold in the USA

One of the rituals after any mass shooting in the United States is that a debate breaks out over whether the country should adopt stricter gun laws after all. As a rule, the discussions end without results. More rarely, like after the rampage in a school in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 dead in February, the rules are tightened somewhat, at least at the level of the states concerned.

In Europe, the public follows the discussions with a mixture of amazement and incomprehension: after all, there is no gun mania, as it is anchored in parts of US society, in Europe.

One detail is often overlooked on this side of the Atlantic: European producers have a large part of the US arms market firmly under control. Slightly more than every third handgun legally sold comes from European production. The export country Austria is particularly big in business.

According to an evaluation by Small Arms Analytics, a US consulting firm for the STANDARD, the Americans imported 3.2 million pistols and revolvers from abroad last year. The imports come almost exclusively from Europe. 1.2 million of them came from Austria. The number of weapons produced in Austria that are sold in the USA has doubled in just a few years.

These import statistics do not reveal which company builds the weapons. In Austria, however, there is only one company that produces pistols on an industrial scale: Glock. The company has three production sites in Europe. In addition to Deutsch-Wagram in Niederröstereich, there is a Glock factory in Ferlach, Carinthia, and one in Bratislava.

Glock also produces directly in the US state of Georgia, most recently around 370,000 pistols. According to Firearms Analytics, Georgia is meeting the government's demand: two-thirds of US police officers wear a Glock. If you add imports and local production together, one in five pistols sold in the US in 2016 came from Glock, says Jurgen Brauer of Firearm Analytics. The largest part is intended for private use.

"European manufacturers are valued for their quality," says the analyst. Beretta from Italy was established as the first overseas company to manufacture pistols for the US military since the 1980s. "Word of mouth from soldiers spread that the Europeans could build weapons," says Brauer.

After Beretta, arms manufacturers such as Sig Sauer from Switzerland and FN Herstal from Belgium began with the US expansion.

Glock has a particular strength: its lightness.

In 1963, the trained plastics technician Gaston Glock founded Glock GmbH and initially produced rifle belts and field knives for the Austrian army. In 1980 the army was looking for a new semi-automatic weapon for the troops. Glock developed a new type of pistol - easier to use, lighter because it was made of plastic, cheaper and with a larger magazine than the handguns common up to then: the Glock 17. From 1985 the company expanded into the USA.

There, the company keeps making headlines when Glock weapons end up in the wrong hands. For example, on June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen marched into a gay club in Orlando, Florida, and shot 49 people. In addition to an assault rifle, Mateen was armed with a Glock.

A year earlier, 21-year-old Dylann Roof murdered nine African Americans with a Glock in a church in Charleston, South Carolina. On October 1, 2015, a gunman killed nine people at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. The perpetrator was armed, among other things, with a Glock.

The shootings have had an indirect impact on arms manufacturers' sales, says analyst Brauer. If, after a rampage, the impression arises that gun laws are being tightened, sales skyrocket. Barack Obama's presidency was good for business in this regard. The arms market has collapsed since his departure. "Nobody expects tougher laws under President Trump," says Brauer. (Georg Eckelsberger, Eja Kapeller, Florian Peschl, Peter Sim, Florian Skrabal, András Szigetvari, Sahel Zarinfard, 22.9.2018)