CENFAD at the Forefront of Small Arms Studies

Regina Gramer, Senior Lecturer in History
Assistant Director, CENFAD
On July 9-10, 2005 CENFAD organized its first international and interdisciplinary conference on "Small Arms and Light Weapons: From a New Challenge to a New Field of Research." With generous support from the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, CENFAD convened over 30 academic scholars and policy researchers at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs to promote research in the United States on local and global small arms violence. CENFAD Research Assistants Drew McKevitt and David Zierler assisted Drs. Richard Immerman and Regina Gramer in creating a productive and innovative forum on armed violence. This conference was the first formal meeting of scholars and researchers to be held as part of the Research Initiative on Small Arms (RISA), launched in the fall of 2004; it attracted experts from North and South America, Europe, and South Africa, and included historians, anthropologists, public health researchers, political scientists, sociologists, and criminologists. Based on the premise that small arms and light weapons constitute one of the key challenges to human security in the twenty-first century, on both national and global levels, the conference participants explored the potential and viability of creating a new interdisciplinary academic field of "Small Arms Studies."

The conference overall showed that research on small arms violence in the twentieth century has broadened from traditional state-centered to new society-centered approaches. Scholars are not only studying the small arms trade, but are increasingly focusing on the effects of and demand for small arms. This conceptual shift has already yielded important and innovative policy change as in the linkage between small arms disarmament and development aid. The conference also established the three key challenges for future research: 1) set common standards on data collection and create reliable data sets on the availability and impact of small arms and light weapons; 2) scrutinize the link between the availability and misuse of weapons; and 3) gather more data on the costs of gun violence in pre-conflict, conflict, and post-conflict situations.

Even though the latest demographic and epidemiological research suggests a decline in direct conflict deaths over the last two decades (with an estimated range of 80,000-108,000 direct conflict deaths in 2003), case-study research confirms that small arms and light weapons are directly responsible for 60-90 per cent of direct conflict deaths, and overall conflict deaths (direct and indirect) remain well above 300,000 per year (Small Arms Survey 2005). As the United States remains the top exporter and importer of small arms, and the Pentagon has recently supported the gun liability bill shielding firearms manufacturers and dealers from lawsuits for reasons of "national security" (New York Times, 10/21/05), the issue of stockpile security has emerged as one of the most critical and immediate policy challenges. Recent research suggests that most armed conflict starts by theft or leakage of internal arms stockpiles, and not by international arms traders, although international arms traders are essential in fueling ongoing armed conflict.

As a result, Ph.D. student Bob Wintermute is currently developing CENFAD's collaborative project with the Army War College on stockpile security. Regina Gramer has broadened CENFAD's institutional connections to the Bonn International Center for Conversion and the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt, where she discussed further collaborative projects on gun culture, the re-integration of combatants, and small arms trade and control measures. And David Zierler and Regina Gramer are continuing to foster RISA while planning the first major academic conference for Small Arms Studies at Temple University in the spring of 2006.

For the July 2005 conference program, full conference summary, conference pictures, and updates on future conferences, please visit http://www.temple.edu/cenfad/smallarms/