This module is a resource for lecturers




Modules 5 and 6 addressed the regulatory framework and the preventative measures linked to firearms control. Module 8 focuses on the criminal justice responses that aim to control firearms-related criminality.

National firearms control regimes provide the administrative rules and measures that regulate the legal production, sale, transfer and use of firearms, their parts and components, and ammunition. Enforcement, however, is supported by specific criminal justice measures – prevention and control measures, which form two sides of the same firearms control regime and must be seen in conjunction. This is clearly reflected in the UN Protocol Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunition (Firearms Protocol), which “is strongly characterized by the combination of criminal law and regulatory tools as two strictly and functionally related components of a single law enforcement system” (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), 2012).

The Protocol requires States parties to establish a regulatory framework for firearms (articles 7–15) through a series of preventive measures that are of relevance to criminal investigations, and to establish specific criminal offences (article 3 and 5), that are directly linked to the enforcement of the regulatory regime. Identification and tracing of firearms are central pillars of both the prevention and the suppression activities: for example, article 7 clearly prescribes the obligation to keep records on markings and on international transactions of firearms for both prevention and detection of illicit manufacturing and trafficking. The tracing of a firearm found and identified in the course of an investigation on a single offence may help in such an investigation as well as in the disclosure of other criminal patterns. Keeping and exchanging information can be useful not only with marking and transaction, but also for firearms that are lost, stolen, smuggled or trafficked. Applying the specific criminalization and criminal law provisions and special investigative techniques established under its parent Convention – the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) – and using it as a legal basis for promoting international cooperation in criminal matters, further supports the criminal justice response to firearms-related crimes (for more details on the international legal regime and its national transposition, see Module 5 on International Legal Frameworks and Module 6 on National Regulations on Firearms).

To address the criminal justice response to illicit firearms, it is important to depart from this point, and to understand the different types of offences involving firearms, and how those specific offences link to the existing regulatory framework on firearms (and must therefore be interpreted in conjunction when it comes to proving the commission of a specific offence).

The first part of the Module therefore looks at the different types of offences related to firearms in general. It also addresses in greater depth the criminal offences established under the UN Protocol Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunition (Firearms Protocol) and the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC), as well as additional ancillary offences related to the national firearms control regimes and contained in the UNODC Model Law against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunition (UNODC, 2011) and in other instruments, such as attempting to commit, participating as an accomplice and organizing, directing, aiding, abetting, facilitating or counselling the commission of firearms offences.

The second part of the Module explores the challenges linked to preventing and countering the illicit manufacturing and trafficking of firearms, and the role that firearms play in the criminal justice system, looking at the different stages of a firearm investigation. The Module describes the different investigative approaches and the role law enforcement can play in the prevention, detection and subsequent investigation of firearms offences. Specifically addressed will be the use of special investigative techniques applied to firearms-related cases, and to the relevance of firearms as a source of information and evidence. Finally, the Module addresses specific aspects linked to court dealings with firearms and sentencing of firearms cases.

This Module therefore focuses on:

  • Criminal offences established under the Firearms Protocol and UNTOC;
  • Optional offences related to the regulatory framework;
  • Other offences which may run concurrent to the firearms-related crimes;
  • Investigative and prosecution approaches;
  • Resources, tools and techniques to combat these crimes;
  • Practical exercises and case studies.

Learning Outcomes

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

  • Explain the elements of the criminal justice response to firearms crimes and their links to the regulatory frameworks on firearms control;
  • Understand the types of firearms offences, in particular the offences established under the Firearms Protocol and UNTOC, and their constitutive elements that need to be proven in court;
  • Understand the different investigative approaches applicable to firearms criminality and the role of law enforcement and prosecution services in the different stages of the process: detection, investigation and prosecution of these crimes;
  • Explain the use of special investigative techniques, both nationally and internationally;
  • Explain the relevance of firearms and ammunition as pieces of evidence;
  • Present the most relevant instruments and tools for effective criminal justice responses to firearms criminality;
  • Identify the challenges before the criminal justice system in fighting firearms crime.
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