Arms trafficking is one of the main global safety challenges. The Global Study on Firearms Trafficking 2020 points out that weapons contribute to violence and “they are often used by organized crime and they support operations related to armed conflicts and terrorism.”
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released the report in July 2020. The data is based on information collected from 81 countries during 2016 and 2017. The first data that the study highlights is the total number of weapons seized per year: 550,000 worldwide. The United States, Canada, Australia, Angola, Colombia, and Argentina had the highest number of seizures.
However, the actual number of seizures worldwide is estimated to be much higher, as some of the countries covered by this study either underreported or did not provide information on the topic.
The UNODC report indicates that firearms are usually sold in legal markets by licensed manufacturers, although they often end up on the black market. As such, when addressing weapon seizures, the report refers to weapons that the authorities confiscated temporarily or permanently, because they are linked to crimes and misdemeanors or are found on the black market.
The majority of firearm seizures take place within each country. Less than 10 percent of all seizures happens at borders, which constitutes international trafficking.
Types of arms and violence
Handguns are the main types of weapons seized by authorities. “This is driven to a large extent by the pattern in the Americas […]. In the Americas the main types of seized firearms are handguns. Pistols constituted more than 50 percent of the total firearms seized in the region during the reporting period, followed by revolvers, which represented 24 percent of the seizures,” the study indicates. In the Americas, the use of pistols and revolvers is mostly linked to violent crimes.
According to the UNODC report, in 2017, 54 percent of homicides worldwide were carried out with firearms. This data is mainly linked to gangs and organized crime activities.
Latin America and the Caribbean tend to seize a higher percentage of weapons connected to violent crimes and drug trafficking. The same happens in Europe. However, in Africa, most firearms seizures are connected to official operations to combat terrorism.
With the release of this study, the UNODC seeks to promote operations that fight arms trafficking and related crimes. “The study can support governments in strengthening the response of law enforcement and criminal justice to detect and disrupt illicit trafficking of goods, dismantle those criminal organizations and networks responsible for committing the crimes, and bring the perpetrators to justice,” the report says.