Proliferation of weapons in civilian hands

Other Names:
Unrestricted sale of handguns to civilians
Supplying firearms for criminal activity
Private ownership of firearms
Insufficient control of personal firearms

To knowingly supply firearms or explosives to an individual or a criminal organization who intend to commit a crime with the aid of the weapons is to be guilty of a crime. Supplying weapons for criminal activity greatly increases the possibility of injury and death in the progress of the crime.

The unrestrained proliferation of firearms leads to an escalation of violence: fear leads to arming which breeds violence which leads to insecurity which leads to further arming. Firearms undermine long term efforts to build civil society by fuelling internal arms races, whether in war zones or inner cities.

Firearms are a matter of global concern from a number of perspectives: (a) they are a major cause of death: 30 countries in a UN study reported more than 200,000 deaths per year in murder, accidents and suicide. Many of these deaths are preventable; (b) the cost among children and youth is particularly high; (c) firearms are used in crime and firearm thefts fuel other crimes; (d) firearms significantly increase the lethalness of suicide attempts; (e) in many countries, guns figure prominently in the cycle of violence against women; (f) it is estimated that small arms, including firearms, account for as many as 90% of the deaths in armed conflict. A growing number of victims are children both as combatants and victims; and (g) the unrestrained proliferation of firearms undermines peacebuilding, governance and civil society.


The US makes up about 4.4 percent of the global population but possesses 42 percent of the world’s civilian-owned guns (2016 data).  The prevalence of high-powered weapons in America is creating an arms race between citizens and the authorities. Each year, dozens of police officers are shot dead, and officers kill around a thousand members of the public—often after mistaking innocuous objects for weapons or frightened behavior for threats. Meanwhile, peaceful protesters are increasingly confronted with snipers, armored vehicles and smoke and tear gas. In the first two decades of the 21st century, more than five billion dollars’ worth of military gear were transferred from the military to state and local police departments, including night-vision equipment, boats, aircraft, grenade launchers and bayonets.

According to United Nations data, the US had 29.7 firearm homicides per 1 million people in 2012, while Switzerland had 7.7, Canada had 5.1, and Germany had 1.9.

Deaths from firearms in 1992 in selected countries were: Australia, 15; UK, 25; Switzerland, 57; and USA, 33,000. More Americans died from handguns in the two years 1987-88 than during the during 16 years of the war in Vietnam. In 1992 it was estimated that there were more than 200 million firearms in private hands in the USA, namely more than one for each adult; a gun in an American home is 18 times more likely to kill a household member than an intruder. Of the 23,760 murders in the USA in 1992, 15,377 were through the use of firearms and 10,567 through the use of handguns (compared to 22 in the UK, 68 in Canada, and 10 in Australia). It has been estimated that in the USA, in the period 1979 to 1991, nearly 50,000 children and teenagers were killed by firearms. More than 24,000 of those deaths were homicides, the remainder being suicides and deaths from firearms accidents.

Narrower Problems:
Armed youth
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and ProductionGOAL 13: Climate ActionGOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions
Problem Type:
E: Emanations of other problems
Date of last update
04.10.2020 – 22:48 CEST