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How Guns Shift Conflict Towards Violence: Part 2

By Danny Kleschick

Guns Incendiary Effects on a Global Scale

Due to their ease of use, transportation and concealment, yet astonishing lethality, modern small arms and light weapons have the power to transform small disputes could be resolved peacefully into deadly conflicts. Of the roughly 500 million illicit small arms and light weapons circulated world wide, over 100 million are present in Africa despite the nation producing very little weaponry themselves [5]. There presence in the continent have allowed ethnic tensions to develop into humanitarian catastrophes.

Specific examples include:

  • Kenya - where the introduction of firearms has turned formerly benign dispute over cattle raiding and banditry into violent conflicts [5].

  • Sierra Leone - where following a capture of the nation’s capital of Freetown in 1997 by the rebel group the Revolutionary United Front, over 7,330 people were fatally shot during in just a single month in an act of ethnic cleansing [5]. In total, a conflict between the rebel group and the ruling government of the nation cost over 200,000 lives between 1991 and 2002. 60% of casualties in this conflict were due to gunshots, and 43% of victims were women. This conflict was was also marked by the widespread use of children as soldiers [10]. The conflict’s violence was escalated by the importation of guns to the region by foreign powers who desired political influence over who held power in the nation.

  • Côte D'ivoire - where an electoral dispute in 2011 led to a conflict between those loyal to incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo and his opponent Alassane Ouattara. Both sides of the dispute committed human rights atrocities before the conflict was finally settled after over three months of conflict. An “anarchic” distribution of weaponry coupled with an influx of weapons into north and west Africa following the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya greatly increased the damage done on human lives and ensured that a conflict that should have been resolved democratically was provided the firepower to turn into a massacre [5]. In total, over 3,000 people died from February to April, with most of them being civilian casualties [5].

This phenomenon is not unique to Africa. An influx of weapons into the Philippines in the past three centuries has resulted in a dramatic uptick in homicide rates, with over 85% of external deaths being attributable to small arms in 2000, and 78% of deaths relating to criminal activity could be attributable to military style assault weapons and handguns [5]. In Latin America, it is reasonable to question whether the atrocities committed by drug trafficking rings today would be so great in number if not for the influx of weapons to the region in the 1970s and 80s as part of the Cold War. The same question begs to be asked about the widespread violence along ethnic and religious lines present in the modern Middle East. Would the casualties of this warfare be as high if not for the heavy arming of citizenry during the Gulf Coast in the 1990s? Across the globe, it is proven that an unregulated distribution of guns allows long festering divisions within society to erupt into acts of violence leaving innocent people dead.

Over the next few days, we will be adding more of Daniel's work in this series of five posts. Check back tomorrow for more or read the full piece on our Medium page by clicking here.


[1] The New York Times, “Las Vegas Shooting: Investigators Grapple With Gunman’s ‘Secret Life’,” The New York Times Online, October 5, 2017

[2] Edward Mogire, “The Humanitarian Impact of Small Arms and Light Weapons and the Threat to Security,” 2004,

[3] Michael Siegel, Craig S. Ross and Dr. Charles King, III, “The Relationship Between Gun Ownership and Firearm Homicide Rates in the United States, 1981–2010,” American Journal of Public Health, 103(11) (Nov. 2013)

[4] “International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Arms Availability and the Situation of Civilians in Armed Conflict,” American Red Cross, 8, 2007

[5] “Human Cost of Illicit Flow of Small Arms, Light Weapons Stressed in Security Council Debate,” Meetings Coverage, United Nations, May 13 2015

[6] National Shooting Sports Foundation, “Firearms Industry Economic Impact Rises 168% Since 2008,” Gun Laws and Legislation, The Daily Caller, October 4, 2017 [7] Adam Winkler, “The Secret History of Gund,” The Atlantic Online, October 2 2017

[8] Matt Zapotosky, Devlin Barrett and Mark Berman, “Police say Las Vegas gunman planned ‘extensively,’ used cameras to monitor officers as they approached,” The Washington Post Online, October 3 2017

[9] Blair Guild, “GOP Sen. Lankford open to possibility of ‘bump stock’ regulation,” CBS News Online, October 4, 2017

[10] Shekou M. Sesay, Davidson S.H.W. Nicol and Others, “Civil War,” Sierra Leone, Encyclopædia Britannica Online, September 15, 2017

[11] Michael S. Schmidt, “Background Check Flaw Let Dylann Roof Buy Gun, F.B.I. Says.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 10 July 2015,

[12] Griffin, Drew, Jeanne Meserve, Christine Roman, and Michael Sevanof, "Campus killer's purchases apparently within gun laws." CNN. April 19, 2007.

[13] Pearce, Matt, "Adam Lanza's files show him as another shooter caught up in Columbine," Los Angeles Times. November 27, 2013.

[14] "Court Found Cho "Mentally Ill"," The Smoking Gun, July 18, 2010.


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