A woman holds up the photo of her son, who fell victim to gun violence in 1993, during a news conference in Los Angeles in May 1999. (© AP/Nick Ut).
A Common Tool: FIREARMS, VIOLENCE, AND CRIME
INTRODUCTION Highly publicized mass shootings such as the 1999 Columbine High School massacre or the 2002 Washington, DC, sniper attacks tend to generate a skewed picture of firearm-related violence, focusing on extreme personalities in unusual contexts. Yet small arms are misused on a daily basis in many communities around the world, making gun violence too banal and too frequent for the international media to cover it all. To those involved, the effects of everyday gun violence are no less dramatic than they would be in a mass shooting. Innocent people are killed and injured, while fear and perceptions of insecurity often spread through society as a whole. State agents have used small arms to violate, directly and indirectly, the entire spectrum of human rights, including rights to life, liberty, and security of person (UNECOSOC, 2002). Moreover, a growing human security movement aims to hold states accountable for controlling high levels of armed violence, particularly in the absence of basic measures to promote the safety and security of citizens.1 Others see armed violence as justification for an individual’s right to self-defence, a concept frequently used to legitimize private gun ownership.2 These diverse interpretations highlight the need for a deeper understanding of the complex relationship between small arms and societal violence, defined here as the use of firearms in crime, suicide, and unintentional shootings. This chapter considers the following questions: •
How prevalent is non-conflict-related gun violence, globally and regionally?
Does the accessibility of firearms affect overall levels of violence?
How do communities experience and react to gun violence?
The debate over the relationship between firearms and violence has, for the most part, remained a North American academic and public policy issue. Most of the relevant data, research methodologies, and findings have emerged from that region, with its distinct cultural and socio-economic characteristics. While acknowledging the valuable insights included in such literature, this chapter brings a global perspective to the debate, drawing both on existing international evidence3 and new field research.4 The first section draws on criminal justice and public health datasets to measure the extent of gun violence at the global and regional levels, relying primarily on rates of firearm use in homicide and suicide. It also establishes gender and age profiles of the victims of gun violence. The second section reviews recent developments in the academic and public policy debate with respect to the use of small arms in violence. It offers an overview of recent studies assessing the impact of gun availability on violence and crime levels, and discusses the economic costs incurred by gun misuse. The main findings of field research conducted in African communities and other local contexts are presented in the third section. Common patterns discussed include the recycling of military weapons in criminal activity, as well
SMALL ARMS SURVEY 2004
as the emergence of various private responses to cope with high levels of gun violence. The following are among the most important findings: •
At least 200,000 non-conflict-related firearm deaths occur each year, world-wide. These include firearm homicide, firearm suicide, and unintentional shooting deaths.
Globally, firearms are used in six per cent of