Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) is a term used in arms control protocols to refer to two main classes of weapons:
- Small arms: hand-held small caliber firearms, usually consisting of handguns, rifles, shotguns, manual, semi-automatic, and full automatic weapons and man-portable machineguns.
- Light weapons: Includes a wide range of medium-caliber and explosive ordnance, including man-portable and vehicle-mounted antipersonnel, antitank and antiaircraft rockets, missiles, grenade launchers, rocket launchers, landmines, antiaircraft guns, mortars, hand grenades and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), and so on.
Definition by international legal conventions
These definitions may vary depending on the convention and on the expansion of the term's use over time with the introduction of new weapons technologies and concerns. For example:
SALW include all arms that can be used by one person alone and all associated ammunition, including grenades, rockets, missiles, mortar shells and man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS), and that landmines can be considered as having similar effects,
Recalling that items such as daggers, machetes, clubs, spears, and bows and arrows are also frequently used in armed conflicts and criminal acts, and that, although they do not fall under the SALW category, their use may need to be regulated,
Recalling also that the definition of SALW should not include swords, daggers, and other items which are not firearms and are not used to cause bodily harm, but as part of the national dress,
Deeply concerned also by the high political, social and financial costs incurred when SALW fuel armed conflict, armed criminality and terrorism, exacerbate violence, contribute to the displacement of civilians, undermine respect for international humanitarian law, impede the provision of humanitarian assistance to victims of armed conflict, and hinder a return to peace and sustainable development,
Recognizing the threat posed to civilian aviation, peacekeeping, crisis management and security by the illicit transfer and unauthorized access to and use of MANPADS,
Affirming that combating the proliferation and misuse of SALW requires coherent and comprehensive efforts by governmental and other players at the international, regional and national levels....
Thus, SALW include grenades, but does not include bows and arrows according to this convention.
The International Instrument to Enable States to Identify and Trace, in a Timely and Reliable Manner, Illicit Small Arms and Light Weapons, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 8 December 2005 defines small arms and light weapons as:
any man-portable lethal weapon that expels or launches, is designed to expel or launch, or may be readily converted to expel or launch a shot, bullet or projectile by the action of an explosive, excluding antique small arms and light weapons or their replicas. Antique small arms and light weapons and their replicas will be defined in accordance with domestic law. In no case will antique small arms and light weapons include those manufactured after 1899:
(a) “Small arms” are, broadly speaking, weapons designed for individual use. They include, inter alia, revolvers and self-loading pistols, rifles and carbines, sub-machine guns, assault rifles and light machine guns;
(b) “Light weapons” are, broadly speaking, weapons designed for use by two or three persons serving as a crew, although some may be carried and used by a single person. They include, inter alia, general purpose or universal machine guns, medium machine guns, heavy machine guns, rifle grenades, under-barrel grenade launchers and mounted grenade launchers, portable anti-aircraft guns, portable anti-tank guns, recoilless rifles, man portable launchers of anti-tank missile and rocket systems, man portable launchers of anti-aircraft missile systems, and mortars of a calibre of less than 100 millimetres.
Such arms control policies and treaties are focused on international arms trafficking (importation and export), and in the standardization of laws, protocols and sharing of law enforcement information and best practices across nations to prevent illicit arms sales. They also focus on terrorism, arms proliferation as a humanitarian concern, disarmament in the face of extreme violence, and cases of ameliorating anarchy, civil war and international conflict. SALW provisions are generally not oriented towards imposing or enforcing domestic national or local legislation of legitimate gun ownership or sale.
UN SALW control efforts
Small arms and light weapons are used to cause many deaths in conflicts around the world. Small arms control was first broached by UN Resolution A/RES/46/36 (December 1991), which was expanded upon by A/RES/50/70 (January 1996). This latter resolution mandated a panel of experts to research the type of small arms and light weapons being used in the world's conflicts and to study which weapons might apply to fall under an arms control regime. The recommendations of expert reports returned to the General Assembly, A/52/298 (1997) and A/54/258 (1999) led to a July 2001 UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms, with a follow-up in July 2006.
On 26 September 2013 the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2117, which urged nations to remain committed to small arms embargoes and SALW control protocols.
Work on SALW via the United Nations is coordinated by the Office for Disarmament Affairs (ODA or UNODA), though the UN Coordinating Action on Small Arms (CASA) mechanism, which comprises 21 UN departments and agencies working on different aspects of small arms and light weapons control. The United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), carries out research in arms control affairs and has published many articles and books related to small arms and light weapons.
On 2 April 2013, the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to adopt the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) to govern the sale, stockpiling and trafficking of many types of weapons, from warships and aircraft to small arms and light weapons. The treaty opened for signature on 3 June 2013. By October 2013, over half the member states had signed the treaty (113 states), though only 7 member states had as yet ratified it.
Controversy over the UN Arms Trade Treaty
In the United States, conservative gun rights advocates, including elected members of Congress and lobbyists, such as the National Rifle Association have maintained a political campaign to discredit the Arms Trade Treaty, saying that through the treaty the U.N. would deprive the U.S. of its national sovereignty, and deprive its citizens of their Second Amendment right to bear arms. However, the rumor-dispelling site Snopes.com has refuted such claims as false. In the Preamble of the Arms Trade Treaty, the sixth paragraph reads, "Reaffirming the sovereign right of any State to regulate and control conventional arms exclusively within its territory, pursuant to its own legal or constitutional system," which contradicts the assertion the treaty intends to violate any lawful internal rights of any member State. Instead, the treaty is aimed at curbing illegal arms sales within countries or between countries, and to improve controls for the trafficking and stockpiling of military arms and weapon systems.
Other SALW control regimes and organizations
Many other related governmental bodies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) also work on SALW control, major examples being IANSA and the Control Arms Campaign. Regional and sub-regional organizations working on SALW control include the African Union, ECCAS, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Southern African Development Community, Andean Community, CARICOM, MERCOSUR, Organization of American States (OAS), European Union, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, ASEAN, the League of Arab States, and the Pacific Islands Forum.
- The Role of Parliaments in Strengthening Control of Trafficking in Small Arms and Light Weapons and Their Ammunition IPU, Nairobi, Kenya, 12 May 2006
- "International Instrument to Enable States to Identify and Trace, in a Timely and Reliable Manner, Illicit Small Arms and Light Weapon".
- ODA: SALW UN Office for Disarmament Affairs
- "4.11 SALW Control, Security & Development". Retrieved 19 May 2011.
- "A/RES/50/70 D". Retrieved 19 May 2011.
- "Report of the Group of Governmental Experts on Small Arms, 1999".
- "Resolution 2117 (2013)".
- "CASA Participants".
- "UNIDIR selected publications and activities related to small arms".
- "The Arms Trade Treaty".
- "Lawmaker Blasts Obama Administration’s Signing Of UN Gun Control Law – OpEd".
- "U.N. Arms Trade Treaty".
- "The Arms Trade Treaty".
- "Control Arms Campaign". Retrieved 19 May 2011.
- "PoA-ISS: Regional Organizations".
- United Nations Coordinating Action on Small Arms
- UNIDIR: Programme of Action
- UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office: Small Arms and Light Weapons
- UNDP South Eastern and Eastern Europe Clearinghouse (SEESEC)
- The Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies