What Future for Arms Control?
IN RECENT years governments worldwide have discussed ways to combat the illegal trade in small arms. The subject has been considered by the United Nations General Assembly. Reports have been prepared, recommendations made, and resolutions adopted. Critics point out, however, that focusing solely on the black-market trade means that the biggest dealers in arms—governments themselves—are free from scrutiny.
There is, in fact, a hazy line between legal and illegal sales of weapons. Many illegal weapons were once sold legally. Weapons initially sold to the militaries or to police departments are frequently stolen and fed into the black market. Further, it is not unusual for weapons to be resold to a secondary recipient without the knowledge or permission of the original seller. An article in the journal Arms Control Today states: “National governments especially will have to go beyond their support for cracking down on the illegal trade in light weapons and examine their own role in the current legal weapons trade.” Though many hope that the nations will eventually crack down on the small arms trade, one journalist noted: “With the five permanent members of the [United Nations security] council alone responsible for more than 80% of the world’s arms trade perhaps we should not hold our breath.”
Adding to the problem of controlling the flow of small arms and light weapons is that such weapons are relatively easy to produce. While the manufacture of complex weapons such as tanks, planes, and warships is limited to only about a dozen countries, over 300 manufacturers in some 50 nations now produce light weapons. The large and growing number of firearms manufacturers not only expands national arsenals but also multiplies opportunities to feed arms to militias, insurgent groups, and criminal organizations.
Hotly Disputed Issues
Thus far, much of our attention has centered on the use of small arms in war-torn countries. Yet, gun-control issues are hotly disputed in relatively stable lands where there is no war. Those who advocate strong gun-control laws assert that more guns lead to more murders. They argue that in the United States, where controls are lax and guns are plentiful, there is a high per capita murder rate, but in England, where there is strict gun control, there is a low murder rate. Opponents of gun-control legislation are quick to counter that in Switzerland most people have easy access to guns, but homicide rates are low.
To complicate matters further, studies suggest that the United States has a nongun murder rate higher than the total murder rate of many European countries. Yet, there are other countries with nongun murder rates higher than the total murder rate in the United States.
It is common to use—and misuse—statistics to bolster a particular point of view. And in the arena of gun control, it appears that for every argument, there is a seemingly plausible counterargument. The issues are complex. Experts generally agree, however, that many factors, apart from gun ownership, influence homicide rates and crime.
The powerful National Rifle Association in the United States frequently remarks: “Guns don’t kill people; people do.” According to this view, a gun, though designed to kill, doesn’t kill by itself. A person has to pull the trigger, intentionally or by accident. Of course, some would argue, guns make it easier for people to kill people.
Beating Swords Into Plowshares
According to the Bible, the problem of people killing people will not be solved by merely removing guns from the hands of those intent on murder. Crime is a social problem, not simply a hardware problem. The real solution involves changing the attitudes and disposition of people themselves. The prophet Isaiah was inspired to write: “[God] will certainly render judgment among the nations and set matters straight respecting many peoples. And they will have to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning shears. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war anymore.”—Isaiah 2:4.
This is not as farfetched as some may think. Isaiah’s prophecy is being fulfilled today among true Christians worldwide. Their symbolic conversion of weapons into implements of peace reflects a deep inner desire to please God and to live at peace with others. In time, under God’s Kingdom everyone on earth will live in total peace and security. (Micah 4:3, 4) Guns will not kill people. People will not kill people. Tools of death will be obsolete.
[Pictures on page 10]
‘They will beat their swords into plowshares’