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Small Arms in the Pacific

NCJ Number
Philip Alpers; Conor Twyford
Date Published
March 2003
169 pages
This document examines small arms-related issues in 20 nations of the southern Pacific.
This study investigated the status of existing firearm legislation, the extent of legal stockpiles and illicit trade, and the socioeconomic impacts of armed conflict on Pacific communities. Key findings are that lawfully held civilian stockpiles of small arms in the Pacific include 3.1 million firearms, or one privately held gun for every 10 people. This surpasses the global ratio of privately held firearms to population by more than 50 percent. The vast majority of firearms are owned by Australians and New Zealanders, who rank among the most heavily armed civilians in the industrialized world. The combined law enforcement and military forces of the southern Pacific hold an estimated 226,000 small arms, or one-fourteenth of the civilian stockpile. In some areas, groups bent on rebellion, intimidation, and profit have taken weapons when needed from state-owned armories. At least 26 nations legally export arms to the Pacific, with more than one half of sales coming from the United States. This study can only estimate that many hundreds of thousands of illegal firearms exist in the Pacific region. Illicit trafficking in small arms is an urgent issue in Papua, New Guinea. Illicit small arms found in the region are seldom tracked back to their last lawful owners, either domestic or foreign. Firearms that “leaked” from lawful owners to criminals are the most common instruments of gun-related crime and violence. In communities that have recently suffered widespread small arms-related violence, the social and economic consequences have been profound. Direct impacts of armed conflict include death and injury, violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, and forced displacement. Indirect impacts include declining access to health and education, long-term trauma and disruption, damage to social and economic infrastructure, and declining levels of investment, economic productivity, and self sufficiency. There is a lack of capacity in many states to enforce existing law. 3 maps, 2 appendices, 309 endnotes, bibliography