Exposure to the misuse of firearms is a high-profile issue across many regions of the world, attracting extensive media attention. Action movies and video games often feature armed violence, arguably numbing individuals to what they are viewing. However, in many places of the world armed violence is an everyday lived reality with millions of people increasingly affected by the violence associated with firearms. The questions surrounding firearms, and their illicit proliferation, trafficking, acquisition and use, and their consequences and impact on peace, security and development involve a variety of interconnected factors and elements. Understanding the complexity of the issue is an important pre-condition for assessing existing responses and their possible gaps and limitations, and to promote evidence-based and informed decision-making around these sensitive and complex topics.
Two similar but not identical terms are in use, both in practice and in United Nations policy documents: 'firearms' and 'small arms and light weapons' (SALW). As will be further explained in this Module, the Firearms Teaching Module Series will generally use the term 'firearms' and only refer to the other term - SALW - when relevant and explicitly referred to in the specific literature in question.
This Module takes a broad approach to the issue of firearms and addresses most of the areas that will be further developed in subsequent modules, so as to provide a comprehensive overview. The first part of the Module sets out concepts and definitions relating to firearms and gives a generic introduction to their legal and illicit market, their estimated size and features, as well as to the consequences and impact of their illicit manufacture, acquisition and trafficking on security, peace and development. The functioning of these parallel markets, and the methods used to divert firearms into illicit possession, trafficking and use are further described in Modules 3 and 4. This Module further describes different approaches to firearms use and misuse, and the policy responses adopted at international and national levels, which will be further developed in Modules 5-9. Also addressed here is the impact of firearms trafficking and armed violence on peace, development and security, and the important role played by civil society and communities in tackling the grass-root causes of the problem. The importance of gaining a better understanding of this complex phenomenon, including the use of better data and evidence-based information and policy development, is acknowledged.
The following sections of this Module examine the key issues: