Survey - Nearly one gun for every American

Wednesday, July 9, 2003

UNITED NATIONS -- The United States has by far the largest number of publicly owned firearms in the world and is approaching the point where there is one gun for every American, according to the Small Arms Survey 2003 released Tuesday.

But in surprise findings, the survey found that Europeans are more heavily armed than commonly believed while there are far fewer small arms in Afghanistan and sub-Saharan Africa than previously estimated.

According to the independent survey, the crackdown on terrorism after Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States "had little effect on the size of the global stockpile of 639 million known small arms."

The survey said its estimate of the global value of small arms production remains unchanged at about $7.4 billion -- with the United States and Russia accounting for more than 70 percent of production. The estimate of the legal small arms trade -- $4 billion a year -- also remains the same, with the European Union dominating the international export market.

America is now estimated to have between 238 million and 276 million firearms, compared with some 250 million legally owned guns, or 84 for every 100 people recorded in a July 2001 survey.

Nearly one gun per person

"By any measure the United States is the most armed country in the world," it said. "With roughly 83 to 96 guns per 100 people, the United States is approaching a statistical level of one gun per person."

The country with the second-highest gun ownership is Yemen, with between 33 and 50 firearms per 100 people, followed by Finland with 39 per 100, the new survey said.

"Contrary to the common assumption that Europeans are virtually unarmed, the 15 countries of the European Union have an estimated 84 million firearms. Of that 67 million (80 percent) are in civilian hands," the survey said. With a total population of 375 million people, this amounts to 17.4 guns for every 100 people.

The survey of global small arms was released on the second day of a weeklong U.N. meeting reviewing progress toward implementing a U.N. program adopted two years ago to combat small arms trafficking. More than 30 researchers contributed to the project, which is coordinated at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva and financed by a dozen Western governments.

Peter Batchelor, the survey's project director, said at a news conference that there are still "disappointingly low levels of transparency" about the global arms trade, with only about 20 countries providing annual export reports. Sixty countries are known to be engaged in the legal trade.

"Based on our research, it's clear that the value and the volume of the legal international trade has appeared to decline since the 1990s. This has been led by a dramatic fall in the trade of military weapons, and also certain categories of civilian firearms," he said.

Batchelor said the illicit trade is believed to be worth about $1 billion, or 20 percent of the legal trade.

While small-scale smuggling across borders continues, "the large-scale deals that seemed to be very prominent in the last decade seem to have declined somewhat," he said.

New research is leading to an increasingly balanced, though still incomplete, picture of the distribution of small arms and light weapons, the survey said.

Although it is has been widely reported that Afghanistan has at least 10 million small arms, the survey said, "careful analysis places the total between 500,000 and 1.5 million weapons."

It also said there probably are no more than 30 million firearms among civilians, insurgents and governments of the 44 countries of sub-Saharan Africa.

"This is enough guns to perpetuate fighting in many countries and raise the danger of criminal violence in many others, but it is not enough to render the situation totally beyond hope," the survey said.

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