According to the UN definition, small arms* include:

 Light weapons include:

Ammunition and explosives include:

More than 100 conflicts have erupted since 1990. These wars have killed more than five million people, devastated entire geographic regions, and left tens of millions refugees and orphans. In most of these conflicts death, injury and destruction have resulted more from small arms and light weapons than from heavy conventional weapons (i.e., tanks, aircraft, warships).

Small arms and light weapons have few moving parts, are extremely durable and require little upkeep or logistical support. With minimal maintenance, some can remain operational for more than 40 years. Small arms are relatively cheap, lethal, portable, concealable, long lasting, and so easy to operate that a child as young as 8 can carry them into combat.

In comparison with major conventional weapons systems, the global trade in small arms and light weapons has been much more difficult to estimate and control. The U.S. State Department estimates that 13% of the global traffic in arms is in small arms and ammunition, and others have approximated that this estimate would double if it included light weapons as well. This means around $7-8 billion a year in legal sales alone. But the special characteristics of small arms and light weapons make them particularly amenable to illicit trafficking. They are often sold illegally in exchange for hard currency or goods such as diamonds, drugs, or other contraband. Estimates of the black market trade in small arms range from $2-10 billion a year.

*Small arms, light weapons, and their ammunition are normally referred to as "small arms" for short.


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.