Three things you can do to counter the proliferation of U.S. small arms* around the globe:

As the world's number one arms exporter the United States has the responsibility to lead the efforts of the international community in addressing the proliferation of small arms and light weapons. The United States provides weapons that go directly or indirectly through the black market to human rights abusers in some of the world's worst conflicts.

There is little oversight of small arms sales before they are approved. Congress and the public rarely review in advance small arms and light weapons exports because the Administration is not required to notify Congress of pending arms sales valued at less than $14 million. Almost all small arms sales fall under that threshold. On the other hand, transparency on arms sales after the fact is fairly good. Therefore, we know that from fiscal year 1996 to 1998 the Department of State licensed the sale of 1,026,665 pistols and revolvers to foreign countries. During that same period licenses for small arms ammunition exceeded 2.34 billion cartridges.

In August 1999 Secretary of State Madeleine Albright pledged to the UN Security Council that the United States would not sell arms to regions of conflict not already covered by arms embargoes. This policy was not enshrined in any U.S. law or official U.S. policy and can be ignored by a new Bush administration.

The Bush administration, as well as current and new members of Congress, need to hear voices of support for tighter restrictions on U.S. small arms exports and for the United States to take a leadership role in the small arms issue as a whole. The U.S. government is in an excellent position to encourage other countries to improve their policies on transparency, brokering, and export control with regard to small arms. But this will only happen if policymakers hear from their constituents that this issue is important to them.


*Small arms are weapons that can be carried and used by one or two people, including handguns, assault rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers, anti-tank or anti-aircraft guns and light mortars. Light weapons, ammunition, grenades, landmines, and explosives are also part of this category.

The Small Arms Working Group (SAWG) is an alliance of U.S.-based non-governmental organizations working together to promote change in U.S. policies on small arms. SAWG members believe that small arms proliferation must be countered by more responsible policies on legal sales and international cooperation to reduce illicit trafficking.