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Germany: Small arms down, light weapons up

Lewis Sanders IV
August 21, 2018

The German government has approved less small arms exports during the first six months of 2018 compared to last year. But critics have cast doubt on the decrease, saying light weapons sales have grown significantly.

A Walther P22 handgun with the clip unloaded
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/O. Kling

German authorities have approved €16.6 million ($19.1 million) in small arms exports in the first half of 2018, suggesting a downward trend when compared to last year's overall figures, reported German public broadcaster ARD on Tuesday.

The data, provided to the Greens by the government in answer to a formal parliamentary inquiry from the opposition party, showed that small arms exports in 2017 amounted to €76.5 million.

However, Katja Keul, Greens spokeswoman for disarmament policy, said she was skeptical that the export trend for small arms in 2018 would continue through the rest of this year.

Keul told DW that there were political developments during the first half of 2018 that could have contributed to the decrease, including an interim government "that postponed major decisions."  

She also pointed to the distinction between small arms and light weapons. According to Berlin, German companies exported nearly €56 million worth of light weapons during the first half of 2018, significantly more than in all of 2017.

"The German government's figures on small arms exports are misleading and euphemistic because they undercut light weapons," Keul told DW. "Light weapons can spread as uncontrollably as small arms, but are often even more destructive."

An assault rifle developed by German gunmaker Heckler & Koch
Germany is one of the world's top 5 arms exportersImage: picture-alliance/dpa/D. Karmann

Small arms vs. light weapons

Small arms are weapons that tend toward the lower end of the caliber spectrum, including handguns and rifles.

While light weapons are characterized as still being suitable for a single person to carry, operate and reload, they tend to have significantly more firepower, such as a grenade launcher or a larger caliber rifle.

Although the German government appears to report the two separately in the parliamentary inquiry, they are generally classified as one category: small arms and light weapons, or SALW.

Read more: Heckler & Koch quietly becomes world's most ethical gunmaker

How Germany handles guns

Downward trend
Arms trade can be a controversial subject in the country, in part due to Germany's World War II history. Arms exporters must receive approval from Germany's economy ministry before completing a deal, with several more government ministers and the chancellor involved the decision-making process.

Several times over the past five years, German officials have pledged to reduce the country's arms exports. It has witnessed a significant decrease since 2015, when it exported a record-breaking €7.86 billion ($9.05 billion) in arms.

Read more: Arms trade hits highest level since Cold War: study

Since then, arms exports have declined. In 2017, arms sales amounted to €6.24 billion ($7.19 billion), down roughly 9 percent compared to the year before. However, it still represented the third-highest annual total, beaten only by 2015 and 2016.

The hometown of Heckler & Koch

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