CENFAD Launches Research Initiative on Small Arms and Gun Violence

Regina Gramer
Assistant Professor of History
Assistant Director, CENFAD

The Center for the Study of Force and Diplomacy at Temple University's History Department (CENFAD) is planning a series of three academic conferences to launch the new multidisciplinary field of Small Arms Studies. Beginning with two Planning Conferences in July 2005 and January 2006, held concurrently with United Nations meetings on small arms, and culminating with a major academic conference in June of 2006, CENFAD will bring together small arms researchers, policymakers, and NGO activists to establish the first United States consortium of scholars dedicated to research national and international gun violence. The organization of the conference series will occur in conjunction with Phase II of the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation's Research Initiative on Small Arms.

While the study of small arms and light weapons is a new research focus for historians at large, recent methodological developments within various social science disciplines and historical sub-fields have prepared the way for integrating small arms policy issues into the flourishing academic debate on transnationalism, gender studies, and human security. Small arms present a much graver challenge to developing societies than to established nation states. The small arms topic is ready-made to channel the most innovative trends that moved traditional security studies to human security studies.

Small arms and light weapons are a first-order threat to human security and development; around the world they have been responsible for 500,000 deaths annually since the early 1990s. The widespread and global proliferation of small arms contributes to the economic, social, cultural, and political destabilization of "peaceful," conflict, and post-conflict societies alike (William Godnick, et.al., "The Effects of SALW Use," in Small Arms: A Call for Research, Harry Frank Guggenheim Review, forthcoming, Spring 2005). Responding to a decade of policymaker and activist publicity, the United Nations adopted its 2001 Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat, and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (available at http://disarmament2.un.org/cab/poa.html). In July 2005 the United Nations will host its second Biennial Meeting of States to assess progress toward curbing the illicit trade in small arms. While various United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations, and policy institutes have begun to focus on problems of gun violence, research in academia is trailing behind. In June 2004 the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation launched its Research Initiative on Small Arms to engage the full range of social science and health science disciplines in academic research on small arms and light weapons; and the May 2005 issue of the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation Review, entitled Small Arms: A Call for Research, will substantiate the need for broadening academic research beyond the traditionally engaged disciplines of security studies and criminology, and propose strategies for essential data collection, multidisciplinary research, and research-based policy initiatives. The creation of a multidisciplinary academic field on small arms, independent yet linked to policy and policy research developments, is not only necessary to ground and invigorate United Nations policymaking, but will also improve peacebuilding efforts at large. For example, making small arms research on weapons stockpile security an integral part of United States post-conflict planning and operations will ameliorate crises such as the current insurgency in Iraq, where 7-8 million small arms had flooded into civil society in a matter of weeks following the destruction of Saddam Hussein's regime in early 2003 (Small Arms Survey 2004: Rights at Risk, New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, chap. 2). Small arms research needs to catch up with small arms activism; it also needs to radicalize and improve small-arms policy practice.

In conjunction with Phase Two of the Guggenheim Foundation's Research Initiative on Small Arms, CENFAD will organize three conferences between summer 2005 and summer 2006.

  • Planning Conference I, July 9-10, 2005 at the New School in New York, to coincide with the United Nation's second Biennial Meeting of States in New York (July 11-15, 2005).

  • Planning Conference II, January 14-15, 2006 at the New School in New York, to coincide with the United Nation's Preparatory Committee for the Programme of Action Review Conference (January 9-20, 2006 in New York).

  • Small Arms Studies Conference, June 2006 at Temple University in Philadelphia, to launch new multidisciplinary field on United States small arms academic research.

Both planning conferences will provide a unique opportunity to bring together government representatives from United Nations member states, small arms activists from nongovernmental organizations, and academic scholars from a wide range of social science disciplines. In collaboration with Edward Laurance and Rachel Stohl, CENFAD has identified 20-25 key representatives from a wide variety of social science and health science disciplines who will be present and present at the two Planning Conferences; in addition the conference attendees from a multitude of disciplines including, but not limited to, political science, psychology, sociology, criminal justice, anthropology, economics, history and gender studies, will be able to attend the proceedings of the two United Nations meetings on small arms. Roundtable discussions will assess Guggenheim's research initiative, obstacles to small arms research, research questions and methodology for each discipline, set research goals for the June 2006 Small Arms Studies Conference, and work out a platform for Small Arms Studies. Creating a vigorous dialogue among the diverse academic disciplines that touch on small arms, but never foreground the topic, and the policy-researchers and policymakers who have squarely focused on the topic for the last 15 years, but are so action-oriented that they cannot research any given topic in academic terms, is necessary for providing the foundation to the June 2006 Small Arms Studies Conference at Temple University in Philadelphia. Fifty United States scholars will convene for two days to discuss both original research and conceptual work on small arms issues. The conference papers will be published in book-format and thus formally launch the new multidisciplinary field of Small Arms Studies. As a result, attending researchers from the traditionally underrepresented academic disciplines (history, economics and business studies, psychology, anthropology, sociology, law, strategic studies, and epidemiology) will be able to serve as multipliers in their respective disciplines, but will also stimulate the entire academic community to take up research on small arms and light weapons.

CENFAD's ultimate objective is to establish itself as the premier research center on small arms in the United States--the North American node of the international small arms community on par with the Small Arms Survey in Switzerland, the Bonn International Center for Conversion in Germany, the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa, and the Centre for International Security and Cooperation at the University of Bradford in the United Kingdom.