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Arms trafficking

Arms trafficking, also known as gunrunning, is the illegal trafficking or smuggling of contraband weapons or ammunition. What constitutes legal trade in firearms varies widely, depending on local and national laws. The 1997 Report of the UN Panel of Governmental Experts on Small Arms provides a more refined and precise definition, which has become internationally accepted. This distinguishes between small arms, which are weapons designed for personal use, and light weapons, which are designed for use by several persons serving as a unit. Ammunition and explosives also form an integral part of small arms and light weapons used in conflict.

The illicit trade in small arms and light weapons occurs in all parts of the globe but is concentrated in areas afflicted by armed conflict, violence, and organized crime, where the demand for illicit weapons is often highest. Arms trafficking fuels civil wars and regional conflicts; stocks the arsenals of terrorists, drug cartels, and other armed groups; and contributes to violent crime and the proliferation of sensitive technology.

Black market trafficking usually takes place on a regional or local level; publicly available data suggests that the multi-ton, inter-continental shipments organized by the ‘merchants of death’ account for only a small fraction of illicit transfers.  Among the most important forms of illicit trafficking is the ‘ant trade’—numerous shipments of small numbers of weapons that, over time, result in the accumulation of large numbers of illicit weapons by unauthorized end users.