Small arms = big problem

Small arms are weapons of mass destruction, killing hundreds of thousands of people around the world each year. That’s far higher than the casualty count from conventional weapons of war like tanks, bomber jets or warships.

These lethal weapons are relatively cheap, highly portable, easily concealable, long lasting, and so easy to operate that a child as young as eight years old can carry and use them. These characteristics make small arms particularly susceptible to illicit trafficking. They are often sold illegally in exchange for hard currency or goods such as diamonds, drugs, or other contraband. Estimates of the black market trade in small arms range from US$2-10 billion a year.

Small arms = big business

Making and selling small arms is a worldwide business. Nearly 7 million commercial handguns and long guns are produced annually. About 75% of these are made in the USA or the European Union. Other important producers include Brazil, China, Canada, Japan and the Russian Federation.

• At least 90 countries can or do produce small arms and/or ammunition.

• Around 16 billion units of ammunition were produced during 2001.

• The value of small arms and ammunition production was at least US$7.4 billion in 2000.

• The glob al small arms stockpile is estimated at 639 million guns. Approximately 59% of this arsenal is in the hands of civilians ­ over 377 million weapons. The remainder are owned by government armed forces (about 39%), police, insurgents and other non-state forces.

What are small arms & light weapons?

The term ‘small arms and light weapons’ refers to weapons that can be carried by a single person, either for military or civilian use. The term is often shortened to ‘small arms’ or ‘SALW’. It covers a wide range of weapons ­ from pistols, machine guns and other firearms, to grenades, portable anti-tank systems and mortars. For more details, see the UN’s Report of the Panel of Government Experts on Small Arms.

Small arms = big damage

Worldwide, small arms are devastating communities through conflict and crime. Because they are so durable, the same guns are sometimes recycled from one conflict area to another, thereby exacerbating the conflicts and contributing to humanitarian crises.

Peacetime deaths

Small arms kill an additional 200,000 people in ‘peaceful’ nations each year in homicides, suicides, unintentional shootings and shootings by police. In countries like Brazil, USA and South Africa, guns are a leading cause of death among young men.