29 August 2012
General Assembly

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Review Conference

 on Illicit Small Arms Trade

5th Meeting (AM)

Speakers Distinguish Legal Civilian Firearms Ownership from Illicit Small Arms

Trade as Review Conference Concludes General Exchange of Views


The United Nations Review Conference continued today with representatives of firearms associations throwing into sharp relief the distinction between legal civilian ownership of weapons and the devastating illicit trade in small arms and light weapons, as speakers underscored the right of individuals — and women in particular — to defend themselves against violence.

“If there is a basic sanctity of a woman’s person, if there is a right to not be the victim of sexual or personal violence, then that […] involves the right to defend oneself,” said Julienne Versnel, speaking on behalf of the Second Amendment Foundation, a United States-based group supporting the rights of gun owners.  Since the Conference’s draft declaration specifically mentioned gender and women, it would be the “ultimate irony” if, through implementation of the 2001 United Nations Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons, women were forced to rely on a male-dominated organization to protect them, she added, underlining her organization’s support of women’s right to bear arms in self-defence.

Richard Patterson, Managing Director of the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute, agreed, stressing that the assumption by gun control advocates that “more guns would equal more violence” was simply not true.  Persisting in such an assumption could cause harm by removing the means by which people protected themselves, their families, and their communities, he said, underscoring the danger of sidestepping the consensus procedures required for the adoption of international instruments relating to arms control.  Such actions had led to bad results in the past, he warned, noting that several instruments had unfortunately become mere “platforms for the pseudo-legitimization of the wish lists of special interest groups”.

In similar vein, Belinda Padilla, President of the Armatix GmbH corporation and an expert in the field of “smart technology” aimed at making weapons safer, as well as ending their diversion to unauthorized users, said it was in the best interest of a responsible industry — as well as a boon to law enforcement — to reduce the risks associated with stockpile management, storage and transfer of small arms.  Smart personalized weapons and technologies such as microchips, GPS tracking and smart locks, among others, could assist with safety, smart storage and transport, she added.

Meanwhile, discussions continued on implementation of the 2001 Programme of Action, widely regarded as the only internationally agreed blueprint aimed at eradicating the illicit manufacture, use and possession of small arms and light weapons.  Among those calling for stronger implementation efforts were several speakers who also urged the Conference to update and improve the Programme. 

Marie-Thérèse Ngandji of the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) stressed that the Programme was a “living document” which should evolve with time.  The Conference should work to incorporate such important issues as rigorous border controls and munitions control.  Indeed, taking munitions into consideration was particularly important, she said, noting:  “Without a bullet, guns go silent.”

Also speaking as the Review Conference concluded its general exchange of views was the representative of Ghana.

Other speakers were representatives of the World Forum on the Future of Sport Shooting Activities, Canada’s National Firearms Association, and the Defense Small Arms Advisory Council.

Following those interventions, the Conference undertook its first formal reading of the draft outcome document, presented by its President, U. Joy Ogwu (Nigeria).

The Review Conference will reconvene on a date to be announced.


The General Assembly met this morning to conclude the general exchange of views in its two-week review of efforts to implement the Programme of Action from its 2001 special session on preventing, combating and eradicating the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all its aspects.  For background information, please see Press Release DC/3380 of 27 August 2012.


JONES BORTEYE APPLERH (Ghana), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the African Group, said that despite setbacks, developments in the implementation of the Programme of Action over the last decade had provided a useful framework within which to control small arms in his country.  Ghana had developed the strategic National Action Plan for Arms Control and Management.  Based on the Programme’s provisions and objectives, it consisted of five strategic action areas:  policy and legislative reforms; infrastructure development and capacity enhancement; alternative livelihood programmes for local blacksmiths; border control and cross-border crime initiatives, including arms and ammunition stockpile inventory-taking; and raising public awareness of the dangers posed by small arms, as well as the development of strategies needed to reduce their proliferation.  Two areas that Ghana would like to see as part of the Review Conference’s deliberations were resource support and training, and the use of orthodox cartridges, which provided criminals with a source of cheap but effective weapons and ammunition.

MARIE-THÉRÈSE NGANDJI, International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), said the Review Conference should enable the international community to update and bolster the Programme of Action, which was a “living document” that should evolve with time.  The integration of munitions into implementation schemes and more rigorous border controls were two key issues in that context, she said, pointing out that militias and armed rebel groups in Africa’s Great Lakes region exploited weak border controls, jeopardizing peace and security.  Munitions control was also integral to controlling the illicit small arms trade, as “without a bullet, the guns go silent”.  The African Union Strategy on the Control of Illicit Proliferation, Circulation and Trafficking of Small Arms and Light Weapons covered ammunition, she noted, expressing hope that other regional and national instruments would follow suit.  “The question of border controls applies to all regions of the world,” she said, adding that it involved tracing, marking, end-user certifications and cooperation at the national and regional levels.  Heartened by the “tangible” nature of the 2011 meeting of governmental experts, she suggested that it could be a model for future gatherings, proposing border controls as a theme for such a meeting in 2014.

BELINDA PADILLA, President of Armatix GmbH, whose participation was facilitated by IANSA, said the corporation was helping to lead efforts in using smart technology to make weapons safer and preventing their diversion to unauthorized users.  Its technology had enormous benefits for law enforcement.  Emphasizing the enormous challenges and risks associated with stockpile management, storage and transfer of small arms, she said it was in the best interest of a responsible industry to enhance effective measures in those areas, and to provide the means by which significant benefits could be achieved in reducing those risks.  Smart personalized weapons and technologies such as microchips, GPS tracking and smart locks, among others, could assist with safety, smart storage and smart transport, she said.

TOM MASON, World Forum on the Future of Sport Shooting Activities, said that from a long-term perspective, those supporting the Programme of Action continued to make a fundamental error by failing to acknowledge the legitimacy of civilian firearms ownership.  The Forum had requested the United Nations formally to recognize that legitimacy, he said, pointing out that civilians legally owned 60 per cent of all firearms.  Legally owned firearms were not part of the problem, and there was nothing inherently wrong with civilian ownership.  That change needed to be made in the Programme of Action in order to correct the fundamental error by acknowledging the legitimacy of civilian firearm ownership, he reiterated.

RICHARD PATTERSON, Managing Director, Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute, Inc., stressed that, while consensus was critically important in multilateral processes, “we have seen special interest groups and even United Nations agencies attempt to undermine the consensus process to make it easier to achieve their personal agendas”.  That was a dangerous path, he warned, recalling that the elimination of consensus had led to “bad results” in the case of the International Small Arms Control Standards.  The programme had had an opportunity to achieve success, but the decision to ignore consensus had led to both technical and policy errors, he said.  The International Small Arms Control Standards had therefore come to provide nothing but a platform for the adoption and pseudo-legitimization of the “wish lists” of special interest groups, he said.  As for the Programme of Action and other such initiatives, the failure of consensus could lead to similar errors, he warned, pointing out that advocates of gun control made two fundamental assumptions — that more guns equalled more violence, and that gun control equalled less violence — both of which were “simply not true”.  Persisting in accepting those assumptions could cause harm by removing the means by which people could protect themselves, their families and communities, thereby also protecting their right to self-determination, he stressed.

SHELDON CLARE, President, National Firearms Association of Canada, expressed concern that the attempts by the United Nations to regulate small arms and light weapons were misdirected and would have an unjustifiably harmful effect on the ability of free people to enjoy access to firearms and ammunition for perfectly legitimate purposes.  The Association recommended limiting control of small arms and light weapons to major crew-served weapons systems possessed or sold by nations.  Questions of firearms ownership and use were a matter of national sovereignty, civil freedoms and property rights, he said, adding that they related to national culture.

JULIANNE VERSNEL, Second Amendment Foundation, noting that both the draft declaration and the draft implementation plan before the Conference mentioned gender and women, said that while the Foundation was primarily concerned with protecting the rights of American firearms owners, those rights included the right of women to defend themselves against violence.  “If there is a basic sanctity of a woman’s person, if there is a right to not be the victim of sexual or personal violence, then that right involves the right to defend oneself.”  It would be the “ultimate irony” if women were forced to rely on some organization — almost always male-dominated — to protect them, she said, emphasizing that efforts to implement the Programme of Action should do nothing to disarm women who legitimately and rightfully wished to defend themselves.

ALLEN YOUNGMAN, Defense Small Arms Advisory Council, said that the group, comprising companies with hundreds of years of combined experience in military small arms, knew how the systems envisaged in the Programme of Action could be improved.  The best policies were those based on accurate information, especially when that information ran counter to conventional wisdom.

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For information media • not an official record