Essay Preview: Small Arms
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Small arms kill hundreds of thousands of people around the world each year. The casualties to civilians from small arms are greater than conventional weapons of war such as tanks, warships, jet bombers, and even atomic, biological, and chemical weapons. Worldwide small arms are destroying communities. Small arms are more readily available in todays society, which causes them to be a large factor in the increase in the number of skirmishes, and in obstructing smoother rebuilding after the skirmishes have ended. When everything is said and done, small arms cause about ninety percent of all civilian casualties.
The term small arms refers to weapons that can be carried by a single person , either for military or civilian use. This includes a wide range of weapons from pistols, hand guns, mortars, landmines, grenades, sub-machine guns, and light missiles. This classification of small arms leaves out hunting and sporting guns, which are weapons of choice for suicide, knives, clubs, and machetes. These types of weapons are long lasting, low maintenance, relatively cheap, easily available, highly portable, easily concealable, and so easy to operate that a young child can carry and use them. These traits of small arms make it easy for illicit trafficking, and for the use of children in battle. While some may find it hard to believe it is estimated that there are 300,000 child soldiers. Small arms are usually bought and sold illegally, or are exchanged for items such as monies, drugs, and jewels. A local political leader in the Philippines captures the situation in many nations by saying, “firearms are so easily available its as easy as buying fish in the market”.
The making and selling of small arms is an international multi-billion dollar business. There are at least 1,134 companies in 98 countries worldwide that produce and manufacture firearms and ammunition. There are at least 639 million firearms in the world today, of which 59% are legally held by civilians. The remainder are owned by government armed forces. In 2000 it was reported that the value of all firearms and ammunition produced was $7.4 billion dollars. Estimates of the black market trade in small arms ranges from US$2-10 billion a year. When looked at from an economic stand point why wouldnt countries produce and sell arms, they are highly profitable.
Small arms as I stated before kill many civilians each and every day. It is estimated that half a million people die each year. Of these half a million, 300,000 are from conflicts and skirmishes, and 200,000 are from homicides, suicides, unintentional shootings, and shootings by police. From 1990 two million children are thought to be victims of small arms. These numbers are staggering. Small arms also have a large humanitarian impact. In certain countries guns are used to force families and villages to leave their homes. Small arms make it extremely difficult for people to get any kind of aid in a human rights crisis. They also obstruct these same people from developing personally and nationally.
At 11:21 a.m. on April 20th 1999, 18 year old Eric Harris and 17 year old Dylan Klebold entered Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado carrying two sawed-off shotguns, a Hi-Point semiautomatic rifle, and a 9 millimeter Tech DC 9 semi-automatic pistol with a high capacity magazine. They then proceeded to open fire, shooting 35 people before the end of lunch hour. By three in the afternoon, local police finally evacuated the building and started their search for the gunmen, only to find both in the school library dead of self-inflicted gunshot wounds. This tragedy has had many effects on the Nation. Questions running through peoples minds such as; why did this happen, where did they get the weapons; why were they so angry that they felt this was the only way to resolve their problems. The Littleton shootings followed similar, though limited attacks by students at schools in Jonesboro, Arkansas (Mar 98), and Pearl, Mississippi (Oct 97). These are only a few of the thousands of conflicts that go on everyday, in the world, in our nation, in our state and yes in our own county. It would seem the fist fights of twenty plus years ago have erupted into the gun fights of today. It is a sad state of affairs when schools have to chain lock the doors not to keep students in, but to keep violence out. Our local neighborhoods are even more dangerous. Gangs war everyday on the streets with the guns they purchased illegally. They make it so a person cant walk, or even drive their car without having the fear of being caught in the crossfire. Fights that used to be in the citys dark alleys are now in the suburbs at the malls.
Homicides and intentional criminal shootings receive the most attention when people look at the costs of guns in our society. This is partly to blame on the media. In 1999 10,118 homicides were committed with firearms. The annual homicide rate in the United States in 1996, which is the latest year data is available, reached 7.8 per 100,000 people. Homicides with firearms are the leading cause of homicides in the United States. This to me signifies that yes firearms are too readily available. Perhaps as a nation we should seek to improve on our firearm laws, with more control over who, when, and where one can obtain a gun.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among youths between the ages of 15 and 19 and the third leading cause of death for youths aged 15-24. Firearms account for over 60% of these suicides. During gun control debates suicide is a forgotten statistic. The most recent years we have been occupied with international affairs one tends to forget some of the violence that goes on within our on country with our own people hurting each other. Suicide by gun outpaces firearm homicides. I wonder why that statement doesnt raise any alarms. Perhaps the groups participating do not have all the information.
Small arms are proliferated through both legal and illegal trade. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council, which are France, Russia, China, the UK, and the USA, together account for 88 percent of the worlds conventional arms exports. This again shows how some profit from the arms trade, but on the other side one needs to wonder what these arms are being used for. Could these countries be profit from the misery of others? My answer is yes, if these small arms are being used to kill innocent people. While the nations do realize the need to control weapons of mass destruction, which small arms are, the trade continues to operate in a legal and moral vacuum. Countries are now starting to produce small arms, and do not have the ability to regulate their use. Too many arms get into the wrong hands and are used terrorize the innocent.