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Why addressing small arms is important

  • “Small arms” are, broadly speaking, weapons designed for individual use. They include, inter alia, revolvers and self-loading pistols, rifles and carbines, sub-machine guns, assault rifles and light machine guns.
  • “Light weapons” are, broadly speaking, weapons designed for use by two or three persons serving as a crew, although some may be carried and used by a single person. They include, inter alia, general purpose or universal machine guns, medium machine guns, heavy machine guns, rifle grenades, under-barrel grenade launchers and mounted grenade launchers, portable anti-aircraft guns, portable anti-tank guns, recoilless rifles, man portable launchers of anti-tank missile and rocket systems, man portable launchers of anti-aircraft missile systems, and mortars of a calibre of less than 100 millimetres.
  • Violence against women in the family and community, and violence against women as a result of state repression or armed conflict, are part of the same continuum: much of the violence that is targeted against women in militarized societies and during armed conflict is an extreme manifestation of the discrimination and abuse that women face in peacetime. Whatever the context or immediate cause of the violence, the presence of small arms invariably has the same effect: more small arms mean more danger for women.
  • Guns may not be the root cause of violence, but they multiply it dramatically. When guns replace fists or knives, the outcome is far more likely to result in death. Guns, specifically designed to cause injury and death, can fire bullets at high speed from a distance, sometimes at a rate of several bullets per second. The presence of a gun also reduces the likelihood of bystanders intervening to assist the victim or to pacify the assailant. Guns are cheap, portable and concealable and easy to use. A gun in the home is a major risk factor for femicide, but psychological and other impacts are also significant as guns are used to threaten, intimidate, subjugate and rape. In many contexts, more women are killed by intimate partners than strangers.
  • The presence of guns threatens women’s security in both conflict and peace; they facilitate trafficking, forced prostitution and sexual violence. Weapons are often used to kill, threaten or intimidate women in their own homes. In many countries, legal firearms are the most commonly used weapons in domestic homicides. Still, most countries do not mention domestic violence in their gun laws, meaning that domestic violence offenders can carry guns legally.
  • As of 2013, there were an estimated 875 million small arms in circulation worldwide. An earlier study in 2003 by the Small Arms Survey found that roughly 25% belong to the police, armies, and other government agencies. The remaining arsenal, around 75% of the world’s guns, are in the hands of individuals, which makes the problem of small arms difficult to solve. Armed violence is strongly connected to a masculine identity, and possession of weapons is associated with manhood and masculinity. Guns are used as a threat that prevents a woman from leaving an abusive partner. The fact that most guns are in civilian hands leads to increased danger for women.
  • Perpetrators of armed violence include the police, armed forces, non-state armed groups, colleagues, family members and partners. Guns are very mobile and are often used several times in different locations. Furthermore, they are easily diverted from legal to illegal uses. For example, weapons bought for a legal purpose such as hunting can also be used to kill or threaten a woman in the home. Even though legal firearms are the primary weapons used in domestic homicides, law enforcement tend to focus on illegal small arms.

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