The UN estimates that the 500 million-plus small arms in circulation have fuelled 46 of the world's 49 largest conflicts since 1990, mostly in the developing world. According to a report by the US State Department, "AK-47s sell for as little as $6 in some African countries... it is easier and cheaper to buy an AK-47 than to attend a movie or provide a decent meal." Amnesty International estimates that more than 1,300 people each day are killed by small arms and light weapons, in conflicts from Sierra Leone and the Congo to Colombia and Indonesia. Of those killed, an estimated 90% are civilians, 80% of them women and children.
The extent of the damage caused by the proliferation and unlawful use of light weapons -- an estimated 90 percent of fatalities in conflicts since 1990 have been among non-combatants -- has made this issue a major concern for NGOs working on development, humanitarian relief, human rights, and peace and security.
The five permanent members of the UN Security Council are responsible for 85% of the world trade in small arms. The USA is the leading exporter of small arms and light weapons and has more than half the world's small arms companies. The USA reportedly sold light weapons to 124 countries in 1998; in five of those, the weapons were used to fire on US or UN soldiers. After the USA, Germany is the single largest small arms exporter; Austria, Britain Sweden, Belgium, Italy, the UK and Canada are all in the top twenty.
Many governments see restrictions on the legal trade-whether government-to-government, business-to-government, or private civilian sales-as compromising their ability to make foreign policy, as well as possibly costing jobs. For the United States, sales and direct transfers of light weapons to allies are a major foreign policy tool, and a significant source of foreign exchange. Additionally, well connected arms manufacturers in the United States, Russia, France, and Britain, to mention only a few, are strongly resistant to the strengthening of controls in an increasingly competitive global market. Further complicating matters for backers of the light weapons campaign are politically powerful groups like the National Rifle Association of America, which has opposed controls on weapons possession both in the United States and abroad.
In the aftermath of the school shootings in Littleton, Colorado, the US acted swiftly to propose new laws aimed at restricting the sales of guns to juveniles and to close loopholes in existing laws. In May 1999, the Senate passed a bill to ban the importation of high capacity ammunition magazines and require background checks for guns sold at gun shows.
2. Freedom from fear is a fundamental human right. All citizens of the world have a fundamental right to be safe from the threat of firearm violence. Many countries have explicitly recognized the obligations of their government to protect their citizens from the threat of violence. The UN and member states should work together to preserve this right.
2. The passage of the Brady Bill and assault weapons ban in the US in 1994 were interpreted by those in the militia movement and among the right-wing as the first steps towards disarming citizens in preparation for the UN-led New World Order takeover. Some are convinced that the registration of gun owners is in preparation for a confiscation of firearms and eventually the arrest of the gun owners themselves.
3. Gun battles at school and in other public places do not prevent the USA from advocating the right to guns and rifles. Its international stance appears designed to cater to the most extreme domestic opponents of gun control, including "anti-UN zealots" and "far-right conspiracy theorists.