Illicit arms trafficking or gun running contributes to civil wars, fuels sky rocketing crime rates and stocks the arsenals of the world's most heinous terrorists. Here's why the problem can only be managed and not stopped.
The Flow of Weapons
Most troublesome is the illicit or illegal trade in small and light weapons (SA/LW). According to the Small Arms Survey of 2006, SA/LW weapons account for an estimated 60-90% of the 100,000+ conflict deaths each year. Also, SA/LW arms account for tens of thousands of more deaths outside of war zones. Of the roughly 175 terrorist attacks examined last year by the State Department in its report on Patterns of Global Terrorism, about half utilized small arms or light weapons.
Stopping the flow of these weapons is impossible. As opposed to weapons of mass destruction, small arms and many light weapons have a beneficial use by law enforcement, military and legitimate use in recreation or sport. Therefore, an outright ban on manufacture of the weapons is out of the question. Instead, governments must attempt to prevent the misuse and diversion of SA/LW weapons without infringing on any legitimate use and trade. This is an extremely difficult process. SA/LW weapons are in abundance, easy to conceal and highly lethal, therefore making them a smuggler's dream and a nightmare for law enforcement.
Hundreds of thousands of small arms in less than secure government arsenals find themselves vulnerable to theft, diversion and loss. Once the weapon is acquired by traffickers, these weapons can be smuggled across national borders in a variety of different ways. Some of the ways include, hiding them in trucks under sacks of vegetables, packing them into household appliances which are then loaded onto cargo ships, or even air dropped from an old Soviet military transport plane.
When these weapons fall into the hands of criminals and terrorists, they have the capacity to kill dozens and even hundreds of innocent civilians. The prevalent shoulder fired surface to air missile or RPG which can be purchased on the black market for as few as a thousand dollars is capable of destroying a commercial airliner on the ground or as it descends or ascends. A couple of AK-47 or other type assault rifles are capable of causing an enormous amount of casualties. This can be seen by the November 1997 terrorist attack in Luxor, Egypt, during which 6 terrorists armed solely with assault rifles, pistols, and knives effectively slaughtered 58 tourists.
For all of the reasons above, small arms trafficking is a problem that cannot be solved, but can be managed. Strong export and border controls must be enacted, stockpiles must be safeguarded or destroyed, and trafficking networks must be dismantled at all levels. The root of the causes of civil conflicts and increasing urban crime rates must be addressed, enabling governments to reduce the supply of, and demand for these weapons.