Germany is the world’s third-largest arms exporter, coming only after the United States and Russia. It is estimated that German manufacturers export more than $7.8 billion in small arms and military equipment every year. The country’s Minister of Finance, Sigmar Gabriel, pledged earlier this year to restrict arms exports due to growing concerns that more and more weapons are heading to non-NATO countries. Gabriel appeared on public television last month urging changes in the way the country exports arms, and news.com.au reported that pressure from the economy minister is cause for concern in the firearms industry.
“German companies will disappear from the market or relocate abroad,” warned Horst Seehofer, the head of the Christian Social Union party.
The country may be ranked third, but industry experts say that the data behind German arm exports can be misleading. NPR reported that Germany has a transparent and highly detailed reporting process when it comes to arms exports, including counting items that can be utilized by both the police and military. Adjusting for dual-services goods and the reporting process of other countries, Germany is expected to rank a few spots further down in the list of world arms exporters, but still in the top 10. Gabriel, however, said that manufacturers should pay more attention to who they are shipping arms to.
“There are basic rules in Germany for exporting arms, and they’ve been ignored in the last years,” Gabriel told ZDF. “Now we are going to observe them again.”
In 2013, the United States was the third-largest importer of German arms, at $789 million worth of goods. Yet the US market is not what Gabriel and his supporters are worried about, it is instead non-NATO countries like Qatar, which bought $870 million worth of arms last year. The economy minister said that Germany has to be more careful who it is selling arms to, especially when it comes to countries in unstable regions or nations shrouded in controversy.
That is cause for concern in small manufacturing towns such as Oberndorf, which is home to the production facilities of renowned gun maker Heckler and Koch, and their 600 employees. Last year the manufacturer made over $250 million in sales.
“What I hear repeatedly is that people are worried about their jobs,” said Klaus Kirschner, an Oberndorf employee and former lawmaker. “If we don’t deliver these weapons, another country will.”
Despite Gabriel’s reassurances that he does not intend of changing Germany’s export laws, stricter regulations are how export licences are issued could mean an economic blow to gun makers. For the residents of Oberndorf, that could mean an end to a centuries-old history of gunsmithing.