Preventing Gun Violence Through an ATT

March 1 2011, 9:18 PM  by Oistein Thorsen

At the heart of some of the recent initiatives to address the costs, risks and limitations imposed by armed violence in countries around the world, the Arms Trade Treaty discussion presents a vital opportunity to make significant advancements that will protect and save lives. A central goal shared by civil society and several states in the negotiations is to include Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) under the scope of such an instrument.

In the discussions on scope, most of the statements arguing in favor of the inclusion of small arms were delivered by states mostly located in the global south, who have noticed that their efforts to provide effective internal security, promote regional and international peace, reach the Millennium Development Goals and comply with all their obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law, just to name a few, have been severely limited by the irresponsible trade of small arms and light weapons.A few other states expressed reservations concerning the inclusion of small arms and light weapons and specifically mentioned their reluctance to include sport and hunting arms and ammunitions. These states seem to overlook the fact that these same hunting and sports arms are lethal and can easily be transformed into classic firearms used to commit homicide. They also seem to overlook the fact that without ammunition arms might not be lethal, but small arms with ammunition certainly are.

During the week, several states not only reaffirmed the need for the inclusion of such material in the scope of the treaty but also linked small arms and light weapons with the parameters and criteria that should be taken into account when assessing the risk posed by a potential transfer of such arms.

Treating one patient injured by guns costs the same as five hundred malaria treatments in some African countries. In the Caribbean, weapons are freely poured directly into the hands of criminal groups where homicide rates surpass seven times the global average rate. Not too far, in Latin America, most of the poorer young death rates rise up twenty times the global average, and a large part of national investment is put into finding remedies for the consequences of such an environment of violence, threat and pain.

Most of the violent deaths or serious injuries in the world occur in non-conflict related settings, and the majority of them are committed with the use of small arms and light weapons.

This is why we have proposed that one of the criteria that needs to be considered before an international arms transfer decision, is whether there is a substantial risk that the transferred arms be used to perpetrate a pattern of or facilitate high levels of firearms-related homicide.

At the end of the day, in order to have a real impact, an ATT must counter the effects of the irresponsible trade of small arms and light weapons on lives and livelihoods.