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Illegal trafficking of small arms

Media Release

03 March 1999

Firearms are important instruments of crime, and their unauthorised movement across national borders constitutes a crime in itself. Small arms pose the greatest threat because they are easily concealable, making them attractive for traffickers and criminals alike.

International Traffic in Small Arms: an Australian Perspective, a paper written by Jenny Mouzos and released today by the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC), highlights international strategies aimed at curbing the proliferation of firearms into Australia. It also examines Australian government initiatives to reduce the number of and access to illegal firearms in the community and consequently to reduce firearm-related violence.

In 5 years to June 1998 just under 260,000 firearms were legally imported into Australia, but there is no way of assessing the number of illegal weapons.

"Controlling illegal traffic in small arms is important to Australia not only because these weapons may be used for criminal purposes, but also because illegal international trade in small arms can contribute to disorder in neighbouring nations, and the destabilisation of governments in our region", AIC Director, Dr Adam Graycar said today.

Small arms and light weapons have been the main means of violence in most recent world conflicts, yet there are no international standards overseeing their accumulation.

The existing black market in Australia does not appear to be an organised underworld. It is mostly divided into criminal gangs whose main focus is crimes other than dealing in firearms, and small networks of individuals who buy and sell by word of mouth.

The main methods of illegal acquisition by individuals are mail order from overseas, theft from gun dealers or owners and assembly from imported parts.

In an effort to reduce the national firearms inventory, the Australian Firearms Buyback and Amnesty collected 643 726 firearms. But it is difficult to ascertain both the level of compliance and the extent to which the inventory may have increased by illegal imports.

Preliminary evidence suggests that the legal importation of firearms has substantially decreased. But will the decreased availability of firearms result in a reduction of firearm-related violence or will there be a displacement effect where criminals turn to alternative methods to commit violence?

The Australian Institute of Criminology monitors the effects of these firearm controls and their impact on the level of violence in Australia.

For 25 years, the Institute has been the national centre for the study of crime and criminal justice in Australia.

Firearms monitoring is one of the many topics being discussed at the Australian Institute of Criminology's 3rd National Outlook Symposium on Crime in Canberra, to be held in Canberra, 22-23 March.