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Instruments of Violence: Weapons Control Efforts to Reduce and Prevent Armed Violence

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Introduction

More than 526,000 people are killed each year as a result of lethal violence, and nine out of ten of these deaths occur in non-conflict settings. Lethal violence is strongly linked to underdevelopment and failure to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (Geneva Declaration Secretariat, 2011, p. 1).

Armed violence takes many different forms in different local, national, and regional contexts, so methods to reduce and prevent such violence vary similarly. A common element of direct intervention initiatives aimed at armed violence reduction and prevention (AVRP) is, however, the effort to control access to the weapons most often used to perpetrate violence, which tend to vary from country to country and region to region. For the purposes of this paper, the term ‘disarmament’ is used as a shorthand for such initiatives.

Disarmament strategies are based on the expectation that restricting access to lethal weapons will result in a reduction in the level of weapons-related homicides and injuries. For example, a 2011 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) survey of 570 state and civil society AVRP interventions found that 90 per cent of direct interventions were disarmament programmes that involved physically removing weapons from society (OECD, 2011, p. 37, Table 2.2).

This paper demonstrates that such weapons control or disarmament initiatives are necessary but insufficient elements in attempts to reduce and prevent armed violence. It surveys a range of weapons intervention approaches that have been taken—from ‘stand-alone’ arms control initiatives to approaches that integrate weapons control into broader development strategies—outlining their strengths and limitations in terms of AVRP. The evidence-based main findings of the paper are as follows:

  • Stand-alone weapons control programmes rarely achieve sustainable reductions in armed violence.

  • Weapons control programmes are most effective when they include comprehensive strategies for interventions that combine policy reforms, prohibitions on the carrying of weapons, policing, weapons collection and destruction campaigns, awareness raising, and behavioural change.

  • Initiatives that produce the most measurable and sustained reductions in armed violence levels are those that address both the supply and the availability of weapons and the factors that drive demand for them. If the factors that drive the acquisition, use, and misuse of weapons—such as feelings of insecurity, mistrust of state security providers, etc.—are not addressed, interventions will have at best only a short-term impact.

  • While reducing the availability of weapons is an important variable in the success and sustainability of development planning, complementary initiatives are needed to address the social and economic factors that increase the risk of armed violence.