The Global Gun Trade
The international market for firearms is large and complex in terms of both the markets served and the players involved in various stages, from production through use. Some aspect of firearm manufacture takes place in almost 100 countries, but much of the production is concentrated in a few countries. In many cases, the production of firearms is state controlled in countries in which states are tied very closely to the defense industries. In other cases, manufacturers focus on consumer markets and are extremely diverse in their scale and products.
Although the manufacture of small arms and light weapons is widely dispersed, a dozen or so countries are responsible for the bulk of the arms sold on the international market. These include the five permanent members of the UN Security Council—the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom and France—plus a number of other European, Asian and Latin American countries. If these countries could agree to a common system of restraints on exports, the sale of arms to areas of instability is likely to fall substantially. Some weapons would still flow through clandestine channels, but most large-scale transactions would be subject to international oversight.1
The production and distribution chain for firearms is complex: guns often change hands many times before reaching their final destination, and the resale markets (legal and illegal) are substantial because of the durability of the product. As Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York noted, “The life of a handgun seems to be measured in decades, generations, and even centuries.”2 The same is true of military weapons, which move from conflict to conflict.
Manufacturers of firearms can be analyzed from the perspective of the primary customers they serve (state or civilian markets), the types of weapons produced and sold (handguns, rifles, shotguns, military assault