Taking stock of action on the illicit small arms trade: Craft weapons
Small Arms Survey Online Forum Inventory 4
By: Emilia Dungel and Matthias Nowak
Craft weapons pose a challenge to arms control efforts. The fourth panel of the Small Arms Survey 2020 online forum ‘Taking stock of action on the illicit small arms trade’ hosted a discussion on research findings on craft weapons, measures to address the problem, results of such actions, and recommendations for moving forward.
What do we know?
Both the production and use of craft weapons are major obstacles for preventing the illicit arms trade and reducing its negative impacts. In most cases, craft weapons are produced outside any kind of state control and provide a supply source not only for armed groups and criminals, but also community defence forces, hunters, and those seeking to arm themselves for self-defence. The weapons vary widely in quality and sophistication, ranging from very crude, single-shot, muzzle-loading firearms to elaborate copies of semi-automatic pistols or even assault weapons.
A global phenomenon, craft weapons are found in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, and Latin America. This panel focused on craft weapons production and use in Africa:
- Production in Nigeria ranges from simple, crude weapons to sophisticated 9mm Beretta semi-automatic pistol copies. Some producers are community-based blacksmiths who produce weapons for hunting purposes while some — younger — producers have mobile workshops and fabricate weapons on demand.
- Craft production in Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Senegal represents only a small part of blacksmiths’ activities and income. This, in turn, provides entry points for regulating and preventing such production, as legislation and implementation would have a lesser impact on the livelihoods of these artisans.
What has been done?
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons, their Ammunition and Other Related Materials allows for craft production in ECOWAS member states but the Community works to assist states with efforts to regulate and control such production. ECOWAS plans to build on the collective experiences of states in addressing regulations with craft producers. Depending on national needs, the Community is working to limit, or at least sufficiently regulate, the craft weapon industry.
For example Sierra Leone accepts craft production if licensed by the National Commission, but craft producers consider the registration and related costs to be too steep. Nevertheless, many manufacturers in the country’s Kono district are willing to form cooperatives and subject their production to licensing.
Where do we go from here?
It is paramount to understand both the demand and supply factors behind craft production. Demand dynamics include insecurity, security governance issues, mistrust in security providers. On the supply side, cultural factors mean that families keep the acquired skills alive due to community customs as well as economic factors. Instead of outright prohibiting the practice in the cases where there is both a need and established history of craft production, states are developing and using solutions that regulate possession, production, as well as control measures such as marking and record-keeping.
The speakers for this panel were:
- Chair: Matthias Nowak, Small Arms Survey
- Sani Adamu, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)
- Georges Berghezan, Groupe de recherche et d’information sur la paix et la sécurité (GRIP)
- Adenike Cole, Sierra Leone Action Network on Small Arms (SLANSA)
- Jerzy Makarowski, Permanent Mission of Sweden in Geneva
- Wilphred Samuel Taylor, Sierra Leone National Commission on Small Arms (SLeNCSA)
To learn more about craft production, improvised firearms, and emerging technologies, see:
- An Introductory Guide to the Identification of Small Arms, Light Weapons, and Associated Ammunition (Small Arms Survey Handbook)
- Beyond State Control: Improvised and Craft-produced Small Arms and Light Weapons (Small Arms Survey report)
- Handmade and Deadly: Craft Production of Small Arms in Nigeria (Small Arms Survey Briefing Paper)
- From Legal to Lethal: Converted Firearms in Europe (Small Arms Survey report; also available in French)
- Behind the Curve: New Technologies, New Control Challenges (Small Arms Survey Occasional Paper)