Small Arms Trade

Conventional small arms constitute the majority of weapons traded, used, and stockpiled on an international scale. Small arms are weapons that can be operated by one or two people, including, but not limited to, handguns, sub-machine/PDWs (Personal Defense Weapons), rifles, light machine guns, shoulder-fired explosives, and handheld explosives ( The Global Threat of Small Arms and Light Weapons— A Primer). > With the increase of accessibility to all parties, the illegal acquisition of these weapons continues to stand in the spotlight as a major threat to development, stability, and most importantly, security.

The illicit small arms trade started in 1821 in Mexico during the Mexican War of Independence in order to pay back debts that had been accumulated throughout the war. Countries import and export small arms for military, police, and civilian use. Focusing on civilian and professional use, the legal small arms trade proves lucrative for the countries involved. Problems arise from the small arms trade when criminal actors use these weapons to cause violence and destabilize cities and regions. Given that there is never a shortage of criminal activity, these illegal actors contribute to organized crime and terrorism ( The Global Threat of Small Arms and Light Weapons—A Primer). Armed violence kills around 535,000 people annually, with more than three-quarters dying in non-combat settings (“Armed Violence”, 2017).

Illicit small arms trade is difficult to effectively monitor. Weapon trafficking, both by private entities and governments, contributes to illegal weapon ownership in a variety of atmospheres that would benefit from illicit firearms (“Illicit Trafficking”, 2018). Thousands of illegal firearms seized in Mexico are traced back to the U.S. annually (“Illicit Trafficking”, 2018). Large arsenals have been covertly delivered by countries to war zones with the potential to destabilize governments or entertain certain political aims (“Illicit Trafficking”, 2018). These types of “sales” are arguably the most concerning as they involve large organizations which can use political power to avoid accountability. Insufficiently monitored government stockpiles of weapons are susceptible to theft by both outsiders and government actors (“State Stockpiles”, 2018). These stockpiles are locations where unused or obsolete weapons are stored.

Because illegal weapons cross borders and appear in a variety of armed conflicts, many United Nations member states have agreed to follow international standards set by the International Small Arms Control Standard (ISACS) and the Arms Trade Treaty. The ISACS has a variety of standards including ammunition purchase, background checks, safety training, and general education (United Nations, 2015).

The Arms Trade Treaty regulates the trade of all weapons, including small arms. Adopted on April 2, 2013, by the UN General Assembly, the Treaty aims to spread peace by preventing human rights abusers, criminals, and pirates from gaining access to weaponry. The issues of weapon and ordinance surpluses, safety, accountability, and the illicit trafficking of firearms must be discussed. Consequences of illegal small arms violence impacts all nations through organized crime and terrorism.

Your task is to develop an international plan to combat the illicit small arms trade in order to bolster international security.


  • Does your country have regulations on small arms trade?
  • What current actions is your country taking to ensure that legal firearms trade is increasing, while illegal firearms trade is decreasing?
  • Are there any steps or policies your country has taken that should be considered by the United Nations towards small arms trade?
  • How will you prevent illicit trafficking without affecting legal weapon ownership?
  • Do you believe that countries should be allowed to covertly sell/export weapons to serve political needs?
  • What actions can be taken to address the stockpile issues?
  • Which form of illicit arms trade is most prevalent in your country? (Drug trade, trafficking, terrorism)
  • What steps can be taken to seize illegal arms at national borders?
  • Should UN forces take a more active role in the regulation of small arms in countries at risk?


  • S/RES/2117
  • A/RES/55/25
  • A/68/171
  • A/67/176
  • A/RES/67/58
  • A/RES/67/41
  • A/RES/66/42


“Armed Violence.” Small Arms Survey - Armed Violence - 526,000 People Killed Violently Each Year, 75%+ in Non-Conflict , 12 June 2017,


“Illicit Trafficking.” Small Arms Survey - , 22 Feb. 2018, and-markets/transfers/illicit-trafficking.html.

“Silencing the Guns in Africa by 2020 | Africa Renewal.” United Nations , United Nations, 2020,

“State Stockpiles.” Small Arms Survey , 11 Oct. 2018,

The Global Threat of Small Arms and Light Weapons — A Primer,

United Nations, Coordinating Action on Small Arms. “International Small Arms Control Standard.” 11 June 2015

United Nations, Office for Disarmament Affairs. “FACT SHEET INTERNATIONAL SMALL ARMS CONTROL STANDARDS.” .