Firearms trafficking affects all parts of the world and impacts on society in multiple ways. It is a major concern in the context of human security, and it is central in law enforcement efforts and activities. Firearms are instrumental in much violence, particularly homicide; they are often used by organized criminals and they support operations related to armed conflicts and terrorism. The most common form of weapons trafficking involves small arms and light weapons; however, the character of this trafficking can vary significantly in different geographical contexts and in relation to different weapons.
The 2020 Global Study on Firearms is responding to the requests (2010, 2016) by the Conference of Parties to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime on data collection and analysis related to trafficking in firearms. Building on the 2015 UNODC Study on Firearms, this report analyses the flows of firearms trafficking, the types of firearms that are trafficked, how this trafficking is conducted, how it is related to other types of crime and how firearms enter the illicit market.
The first chapter provides an overview of the available data on firearms seizures across the world, focusing particularly on the magnitude and location of seizures, as well as the types of firearms that are most frequently seized. It also analyses the typical sizes of seizure events according to type of firearm.
This chapter delves deeper into seizure-related data, analysing the legal justifications employed for firearms seizures and the broader criminal context in which seizures take place. Data on the legal justification used by law enforcement authorities to seize firearms and the subsequent criminal context that emerges from the investigation suggest that the great majority of firearms are first stopped on the ground of illegal possession but trafficking is frequently recorded at a later stage, as the criminal context in which seizures took place. In fact, only around one half of arms known or suspected to have been seized in a trafficking context were typically seized with this legal justification.
This chapter analyses the nature of firearms trafficking, starting by considering the prices paid for firearms in illicit markets around the world. The illicit nature of firearms markets makes prices generally higher than for firearms bought regularly, although there are some exceptions for some types of firearms in certain geographical locations where the licit markets compete with lower prices in the illegal market. The chapter then looks at the different ways that firearms can be trafficked between different locations, both across international borders and within countries, before finally looking more closely at trafficking within some selected countries with known, sizable domestic firearms trafficking flows.
This chapter takes a step back to analyse the bigger picture of linkages between firearms trafficking and a range of other crimes and social issues. Firearms trafficking often takes place to satisfy demand from criminals who need the arms for use in various unlawful activities. Drug trafficking and violent crime – including its starkest manifestation, homicide – are among the key crimes associated with the circumstances of firearms seizures.