Praise Gun Control And Go For The Ammunition

Armaments are not absolutely necessary for killing on a large scale, as we found out in Rwanda, but they certainly help. Murdering people with a machete is a slow, labour intensive, low productivity business. High technology machinery can work wonders if a high rate of killing is needed.

Which is perhaps why there are at least twelve major, serious Non-Governmental Organisations devoted to studying and trying to oppose or convert firms away from the arms trade.

The arms trade is huge. Guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers are durable goods that can be easily hidden. They can be transported across borders. They have no distinctive smell, apart from the oil that coats them, which is indistinguishable from the smell of any other machinery. Investigators have to make a visual or X ray inspection to confirm that a package contains armaments rather than common machinery. In short, it is difficult to control arms transactions, arms transfers, arms exports and arms caches.

On the other hand, armaments are no better than highly expensive clubs without ammunition, and ammunition has two give-away characteristics.

Ammunition has a distinctive smell. Sniffer dogs are routinely trained to identify the presence of ammunition. Countries and agencies that invested in sniffer dogs could prevent the transfer of lethal products across their borders. They could also use the dogs to lead searches for ammunitions caches.

The other weakness of ammunition lies in its production. Not only will the factory have a distinctive smell, so that a clandestine production unit will be open to discovery by the aforementioned sniffer dogs if sited downwind (think sniffer dogs being driven systematically around the country, windows open, ears flapping in the breeze, happy in their work), but also, in order to produce ammunition, the manufacturer needs to obtain large quantities of certain chemicals. All it takes is for these chemicals to be put on a register, and people ordering large quantities of the precursor chemicals will attract attention.

Therefore it is the contention of this short paper that the many agencies with an interest in preventing the suffering and death that follows the use of small arms should concentrate on controlling the ammunition, not the arms.

Richard Lawson

Friday, 15 June 2007