The Straits Times (Singapore)
MAY 9 1997
UN survey finds firearms a menace
By R. Senthilnathan in Vienna
A15-YEAR-OLD school boy near Vienna on Monday managed to
demonstrate easily what just hours ago an international team of
experts tried to do with their words and charts: that almost every
country in the world has some kind of problem with the misuse of
firearms, and governments have to improve their existing
record-keeping, firearm issuing and storage systems to tackle the
Armed with his fathers pistol, the young boy ran amok in his
school, killing a teacher and seriously wounding another student.
He was later arrested, and the police said the boy claimed he was
angry that girls were not casting an eye on him.
The experts team presented its conclusions and recommendations
after analysing the information sent in to a detailed questionnaire
prepared by a group of international experts on behalf of the
United Nations. The questionnaire was prepared to conduct the
first-ever global survey on firearms.
The results, which were presented at the ongoing UN Commission
on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice in Vienna, are
preliminary, and the final results, along with their
recommendations, are to be presented at the end of this year, Mr
James Hayes, who co-ordinates the project, said on Monday.
A total of 46 countries, representing 3.7 billion people or nearly
two-thirds of the world population, have so far sent in their
replies, said Mr Hayes, who is the co-ordinator of the Firearm
Control Task Force of the Canadian justice department. In Asia,
seven countries -- China, India, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines,
Singapore and Vietnam -- have so far answered the
The experts say the geographic distribution of the 46 countries
mean they are not truly representative for the world, but that
they do nevertheless demonstrate the increasing menace of
firearms and how countries are trying to tackle the issue.
The background to the survey was done by the global congress on
crime prevention and criminal justice, which was held in Cairo
two years ago. Towards the latter part of that year, the first
serious work on the survey began by the UN office dealing with
crime issues: the Vienna-based Division of Crime Prevention and
Landmines and other armaments were excluded from the scope of
the survey which covered only the regulation of civilian owned
firearms, leaving out the military weapons.
The survey was tested in three countries -- Canada, Japan and
Singapore, and the questionnaire was modified.
The survey found that most of the countries allow the ownership
of firearms for hunting, target shooting, collection and for
protecting person and property.
Two countries, Luxembourg and Malaysia, totally prohibit the
possession, export and import of both long guns and handguns. In
two countries, the Czech Republic and Romania, there are no
restrictions at all.
The term-long gun includes rifles and shotguns while a handgun
is any firearm with a short stock and is designed to be held and
fired by a single hand.
The availability of firearms differs from country, ranging 0.1 per
1,000 people in Uganda to 411 per 1,000 in Finland.
Finland also topped another list, with half its households
reportedly owning at least one firearm. Just over 40 per cent of
the US households possess firearms while in Malaysia it is less
than 1 per cent.
If the present firearm regulations are already weak, matters are
made worse by the increasing illegal manufacture, import and
export of them, the survey found.
Judging from the descriptive case study information provided by
the respondents, there appears to be a problem involving firearms
being transported illegally through one or more countries between
the time of their manufacture and their ultimate recovery by law
enforcement officers, the report said.
Singapore, however, reported it had no problem in this area. On
the other hand, Brazil and Germany, reported they have a serious
Not all countries possess accurate information about deaths
caused by firearms, but generally about five people per 100,000
people fall victim to firearms -- either through suicide or
homicide -- every year, the survey found.
Fortunately, the survey found, the growing menace of firearms
has not gone without notice by the governments. Twenty-five
states claimed they have modified their firearm regulations
during the past five years while in some countries, such as Brazil,
India and South Africa, major reforms are planned.
But Mr Hayes and his experts group also want more to be done.
They want member states to be encouraged to improve their
present system of record keeping, which should include
appropriate markings by the manufacturers so as to enable
identification of the weapon and its owner later, better safety and
storage systems and an improved licensing system to prevent
those who are considered to be potential misusers from getting
According to Mr Daryl Smeaton, an Australian official in the
experts team, experience in his own country suggested that the
reduction in the availability of firearms caused a decrease in
The experts group expects work to done in the coming years on a
model agreement to combat illicit trafficking in firearms and
extend the scope of the survey to include explosives.
However, fighting firearms is not an easy battle. In many
countries, the firearms manufacturers as well as users have strong
Organisations like the US National Rifle Association (NRA),
which holds consultative status at the UN as a non-governmental
organisation, are opposed vehemently to any sort of restriction on
The writer covers the activities of UN agencies and international
bodies based in Vienna for The Straits Times.
Copyright © 1997 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.