This module is a resource for lecturers


As stressed in other Modules of the UNODC Teaching Module Series on Firearms, firearms are central to many forms of crime. They are strategically important to criminal groups, as tools in crime and multipliers of violence, and as tools for power to demonstrate and exercise power and control over rival groups and communities. They are also financing tools as trafficking commodities traded to finance other criminal activities, or used as payment in exchange for other illegal goods or services, such as drugs or cultural goods amongst others.

This Module aims to shed more light on the illicit availability, trafficking and use of firearms by three particular criminal groups: organized criminal groups, criminal gangs and terrorist groups. The Module explores the strategic role and importance of firearms in the criminal activities of these groups, their race for power, and the role and involvement of these groups in the illicit trafficking chain. It will become clear that the purpose and criminal conduct of these groups largely define their distinctive character.

The Module also aims to highlight the catalytic role of firearms in these different crime settings; for example, how firearms’ availability and use by these groups exponentially increase the threat to peace and security. An analysis of the demand for firearms by each criminal group will take place under the following headings:

  • Firearms as Tools for Power
  • Firearms as Crime Enablers
  • Firearms as Trafficking Commodities

For each criminal group, the Module will provide illustrative examples and case studies, although lecturers are encouraged to add their own supplementary, localized examples in their classes.

Finally, the Module will address the differences and the interrelationships between these three criminal groups, particularly as far as the illicit acquisition, procurement and transfer of firearms to, from and between them are concerned. It will explore how firearms often represent the bridge that connects these three worlds to one another. Distinguishing between these groups is not always easy, as they often take on the characteristics of the others, if not in motive then in technique. Moreover, these groups sometimes form alliances with one another thereby further complicating law enforcement efforts to combat their criminal activity. The lines between them are increasingly becoming blurred and ill defined (Smith et al., 2013: 1).

The Module will not address in depth the links and interconnections between particular organized crime and terrorist groups as this is the objective of the Module on Linkages between Organized Crime and Terrorism of the UNODC Teaching Modules Series on Organized Crime and on Counter-Terrorism.

The UNODC Teaching Modules Series on Firearms demonstrates the importance of addressing the problems of firearms control, illicit manufacturing, proliferation, trafficking, and use. It is crucial for societies generally, but also a worthwhile aim in itself. However, it also highlights the risks of tackling parts of the problem in isolation or disconnected from the outside world, especially where illicit trafficking and misuse are connected with other security threats that organized crime and terrorism bring. The question underpinning this Module is to what extent legislative and policy efforts to enhance firearms control in all its respects can and should focus on the serious crimes of organized criminals and terrorists, rather than less serious offenders, in order to prevent these groups from acquiring weapons.

Learning outcomes

This Module will provide lecturers with the necessary guidance and resources to enable their students to:

  • Describe and briefly assess the nature of organized criminal groups, criminal gangs and terrorist groups, and the interrelationships between these groups
  • Understand the different factors that determine the demand of organized criminal groups, criminal gangs and terrorist groups for firearms
  • Understand through illustrative case examples the different patterns and modus operandi of these groups regarding the acquisition, possession and use of firearms
  • Understand, in this context, the importance for broad and robust legal frameworks and controls over the illicit manufacturing of, possession and movement of firearms to prevent their diversion into the hands of organized criminal groups, criminal gangs and terrorist groups
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