War profiteer of the month: SIG Sauer

A black hand gun sits on top of a black plastic box
A Sig Sauer P320 handgun. Photo: wikipedia/Texaswarhawk, CC4.0

Sig Sauer is a brand name used by two sister companies based in Germany and the USA. The company, originally based in Germany, was founded in 1976 from a partnership between two other arms companies - Schweizerische Industrie Gesellschaft (SIG) and J.P. Sauer & Sohn of Germany. In 1985, Sig Sauer set up a US subsidiary, originally named SIGARMS, before changing its name to Sig Sauer Inc. in 2007. The US arm employs around 1,200 people.

Both companies specialise in the production of pistols and firearms – the US company claims that a third of police officers in the USA carry a Sig Sauer pistol. The company also sells to the American military; the US SEAL special forces teams have been armed with Sig Sauer handguns since 1989.

Advertising to civilians

The US company's website explicitly advertises a wide range of different pistols and rifles to law enforcement, military, and private security bodies, as well as accessories such as electro-optic sights, suppressors, slings, holsters, knives, magazines, and ammunition. One blog post on the website details the “history of the US Army’s sidearm” in a series of short videos. The post details how Sig Sauer won a US Army competition to develop a new handgun to replace the standard Beretta M9 with the development of the M17/18. The post ends with an advertising video for the civilian version, the P320-M17 pistol, drawing heavily on the fact it was “selected by the US Army”, and describes the weapon as having the “same innovation and versatility as the US Army’s M17 in a civilian version”.

The company’s website also features a tool for filtering to different weapons based on the “planned usage”. Selecting “home defense” immediately leads to a page prominently advertising the SIG MPX SBR submachine gun.

A screenshot from the Sig Sauer website shows a woman standing, looking cautious. She is holding a large rifle.
A screenshot from the SIG Sauer website.

In 2016, a Sig Sauer MCX semi-automatic rifle was used to murder 49 people and wound many more at a nightclub in Orlando. The weapon is a civilian version - described as a “modern sporting rifle” - of a weapon designed for the US special forces.

Controversial exports

The company has also exported widely, including Central and South America. In March 2015, the Department of State notified Congress of a Direct Commercial Sales license agreement for Sig Sauer, Inc. to sell rifles and pistols for the Mexican military and federal and state police forces, for a value of up to $266 million. The license is valid until February 2024. Between 2015 and 2017, Sig Sauer delivered 3,179 assault rifles; 696 machine guns; and 8,361 pistols to Mexico. In 2015, activists in Germany filed charges against the company following revelations that a member of a Mexican drug cartel used a Sig Sauer handgun to kill 12 people, including a prominent human rights campaigner.

Sig Sauer have also exported handguns to Colombia, to be used by police forces there. In 2014, the German company was accused of illegally supplying 36,000 SP2022 handguns to Colombia via the US Sig Sauer, an act that may violate Germany’s Foreign Trade Act. The German company was subsequently banned from exporting, and German prosecutors raided the company’s headquarters. SIG Sauer is alleged to have submitted false end-use certificates to German export officials, which stated that that the German handguns would only be used in the USA. The contract was worth over $306 million. In November, the CEO of Sig Sauer was arrested at Frankfurt Airport.

Also in 2014, the German company was raided, following allegations of illegally shipping handguns to Kazakhstan.

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