Gun Control, What For?
(Top Posts - Social/Legal - 051300)

From Scientific American, week of May 8, 2000 ...


A Scourge of Small Arms

With a few hundred machine guns and mortars,
a small army can take over an entire country,
killing and wounding hundreds of thousands.

Excerpts: "... More than 100 conflicts have erupted
since 1990, about twice the number for previous
decades. These wars have killed more than five
million people, devastated entire geographic regions,
and left tens of millions of refugees and orphans.
Little of the destruction was inflicted by the tanks,
artillery or aircraft usually associated with modern
warfare; rather most was carried out with pistols,
machine guns and grenades.

... Small arms and light weapons are weapons of
choice in most internal conflicts for a number of
reasons: they are widely obtainable, relatively cheap,
deadly, easy to use and easy to transport.

... Reliable estimates of the legal trade in small arms
and light weapons put the annual figure between
$7 billion and $10 billion. A large but unknown
quantity of small arms--worth perhaps $2 billion
to $3 billion a year--is traded through black-market

... Common small arms such as the AK-47 are cheap
and easy to produce and are extremely durable.
Manufactured in large quantities in more than 40
countries, they can be purchased at bargain-basement
prices in many areas of the world. In Angola, for
instance, a used AK-47 can be acquired for as little
as $15--or a large sack of maize.

... The proliferation of automatic rifles and submachine
guns has given paramilitary groups a firepower that
often matches or exceeds that of national police or
constabulary forces. Modern assault rifles can fire
hundreds of rounds of ammunition per minute.
A single gunman can slaughter dozens or even
hundreds of people in a short time.

With the incredible firepower of such arms, untrained
civilians--even children--can become deadly combatants.

Unlike the weapons of earlier eras, which typically
required precision aiming and physical strength to be
used effectively, ultralight automatic weapons can be
carried and fired by children as young as nine or 10.

... In 1998, in a comprehensive survey of the problem
of small-arms proliferation, the International Committee
of the Red Cross (ICRC) noted its deepening concerns
about this issue, particularly regarding the safety of

As a leading guardian of international humanitarian law,
the ICRC stated that it was especially troubled by three
dangerous trends.

First, the group expressed its alarm at the growing number
of civilian deaths and injuries--which often reach 60 to 80
percent of total casualties--that occur in modern conflicts.
Equipped with rapid-fire automatic weapons, untrained and
undisciplined fighters, few of whom know anything of the
Geneva Conventions on human rights, either specifically
target civilians or fire indiscriminately into crowds, killing
and wounding scores of noncombatants, including women
and children.

Second, civilians now suffer increased pain and deprivation
when international relief operations must be suspended more
frequently because the aid workers themselves have become
targets of attack. In the 1990s more than 40 ICRC personnel
were killed in Chechnya and Rwanda alone, compared with
the 15 who lost their lives in all conflicts between 1945 and

Third, societies awash in weapons often find themselves
caught in a culture of violence even after the formal conflict
ends. For young ex-combatants who have known little else
besides war, their weapons become a status symbol and
a means of making a living, either through individual acts
of street crime or as part of an organized criminal operation.

... [skipped details on several measures suggested to curb
small arms threats] None of these measures by itself can
overcome the dangers posed by the uncontrolled spread
of small arms and light weapons. The problem is far too
complex to be solved by any single initiative. Yet each
time international leaders have sought to enact controls
on nuclear, chemical or biological arms, they have dealt
with similar problems.

The foundation has now been laid for the world to bring
small arms under effective control. If we fail, we are likely
to face even greater bloodshed and chaos in the decades

The Global Picture : SUPPLY AND DEMAND