Sifting the Sources Authorized Small Arms Transfers

Book Chapter

Dreyfus, Pablo; Nicholas Marsh; Matt Schroeder & Jasna Lazarevic (2009) Sifting the Sources Authorized Small Arms Transfers, in Small Arms Survey 2009 Shadows of War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (6–59).


This chapter provides an in-depth analysis of available firearms data—the first phase of a multi-year project that will examine all components of the global trade in small arms and light weapons. According to customs data reported to the UN Commodity Trade Statistics Database (UN Comtrade), trade in the three main categories of firearms—sporting and hunting shotguns and rifles, pistols and revolvers, and military firearms—totaled approximately USD 1.44 billion in 2006. A 53-country comparison of data from UN Comtrade with information from other sources—including the UN Register of Conventional Arms (UN Register) and national and regional arms transfer reports—reveals an estimated USD 140 million in additional firearms transfers not captured in customs data. In total, then, the authors estimate that the documented global authorized trade in firearms reached about USD 1.58 billion in 2006. The undocumented trade, which remains significant despite greater reporting on firearms transfers, is likely to be at least USD 100 million.


Using Comtrade data alone, the chapter also identifies a 28 per cent increase in the authorized trade in small arms, light weapons, their parts, accessories, and ammunition from 2000 to 2006, after adjusting for inflation. One trend that partly explains the growth is that the US market significantly increased its imports of handguns, sporting guns, and ammunition during that period. The highest growth sector was small-calibre ammunition (less than 14.5 mm), the trade in which increased by USD 183 million, or 33 per cent, between 2000 and 2006.

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