Globalization and Gun
The illegal trade in firearms parallels in some respects the legal markets described in the previous chapter. Illegal trade occurs both within and among countries. Globalization and the erosion of boundaries between states, coupled with the growing sophistication of international criminal organizations, have caused the illegal trade to go global. Just as manufacturers serve both civilians and states, the illegal gun runners serve criminals, states and nonstate actors (who may be labeled insurgents, freedom fighters or terrorists, depending on the political agenda).
Those focused on conflict prevention worldwide have tended to concentrate on illegal transfers to states, insurgents and nonstate actors in violation of international embargoes and increasingly in violation of international law. Conversely, those focused on crime prevention have tended to focus on the mechanisms used to provide firearms to urban gangs and organized crime. As we have noted in previous chapters, many of these efforts to demarcate boundaries are undermined by the fact that the firearms, the supply chain and the actors involved in the illegal gun trade simply follow the money; they are not likely to distinguish among their clients based on motive, whether political or criminal. In some contexts—Colombia, for example—the boundaries between political violence and criminal violence are not clear. Firearms that had been supplied to political groups in Afghanistan now figure prominently in both political and criminal violence throughout South Asia. Understanding the sources of illegal firearms is important in devising effective strategies to stem the flow of guns to those likely to misuse them.
One thing is very clear: virtually every illegal gun begins as a legal gun. The production of illegal weapons accounts for only a small part of the problem. Efforts to combat the illegal trade in guns must focus on preventing the diversion of guns from legal to illegal markets. The mechanisms