The arms market and its impact on human rights

CELS and the INECIP submitted a joint report to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to help develop legal standards to guide the design and implementation of State regulations to protect human rights in the production and marketing of firearms.

The State of Mexico petitioned the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to interpret Inter-American norms in order to determine the obligations of companies that produce and market firearms, and of States to ensure the right to life and integrity of persons in relation to the production and sale of these weapons.

We appeared with the INECIP (Instituto de Estudios Comparados en Ciencias Penales y Sociales) before the Court and contributed to the Advisory Opinion on “the activities of private arms companies and their impact on human rights.” Specifically, we provided information on the firearms market in Argentina and their role in the circulation of violence in our country.

We also proposed the development of public policies to monitor and control the arms market; measures to restrict and control access to and use of firearms; specific measures to prevent gender-based violence involving firearms; and initiatives to prevent and investigate the illicit arms market.

The purpose of the report is to contribute to the work of the Court in defining legal standards to guide the design and implementation of administrative, legislative and judicial measures for the protection of human rights with respect to the production and marketing of firearms.

What is happening in Argentina?

In Argentina, access to firearms by citizens is an exception and not a right. This restriction is based on the understanding that the circulation of firearms is a risk factor. Therefore, the objective of the ANMaC, the National Regulatory Authority, is to reduce the circulation of firearms in civil society and to prevent the effects of armed violence (Art. 4 of Act 27192).

There are 1,749,121 registered firearms in Argentina and 1,088,512 registered users. But more than 70% of those reported by the ANMaC as “legitimate users” actually have expired credentials.

In 2022, only 248,826 individual users (including members of the armed or security forces) had a valid credential. This represents only 22% of the total number of registered users. This situation is not only an administrative violation, it’s also a criminal offense that is rarely prosecuted or sanctioned.

Most firearms are manufactured in a legal environment, given the practical difficulties of establishing illegal factories. However, a large proportion of them end up in the illegal market.

As with any irregular market, we can only approximate the quantity of firearms in circulation. According to estimates, 3.9% of Argentine households have firearms, which implies that there may be between three and four million firearms in Argentina.

The diversion of weapons belonging to the police is a way to feed the illegal market. The government of Santa Fe province reported the seizure of 2,190 weapons used by criminal gangs in the first eight months of 2020. Between 2014 and 2019, 502 handguns and long guns were stolen and/or misplaced by the police, according to the Provincial Weapons Registry (REPAR). This information refers to police arsenals that are not assigned to a specific officer and that are in storage or in stocks that end up in illegal circuits as a result of robberies or corruption.

What are firearms used for in Argentina?

According to data from the National Ministry of Security, in 2022 one out of every two intentional homicides in Argentina was committed with a firearm.

Seventy-six percent of intentional homicides in Argentina in 2021 did not involve other crimes. These situations occur in contexts of interpersonal conflicts: fights between acquaintances, relatives, neighbors, partners or ex-partners, among others.

In the province of Santa Fe the situation is even more dire: firearms are used in 80% of homicides.

In the cities of Rosario and Santa Fe, 1,100 people were reported injured by firearms in 2021 and nearly 15,000 calls were made to the 911 Emergency Response Center reporting events involving firearms (firearm findings, threats, armed persons or shots fired).

Firearms are also used to perpetrate gender-based violence in its various forms. In general, women and sex-gender dissidents do not own firearms (as 97% of registered users are men), but they suffer disproportionately from their consequences: 1 in 4 femicides are committed with firearms.

According to official reports, at least 6.5% of the femicides committed in 2022 were committed by a member of the security forces: in half of the cases, firearms were used and almost all of them were their regulation weapons.

Responsibilities of States and companies

Firearms are designed to increase the capacity for harm. Their presence increases the likelihood that any conflict will end in injury or death.

States have the obligation to guarantee the rights to life and personal integrity and the responsibility to prevent violence involving firearms. Therefore, it is their duty to develop public policies aimed at restricting and controlling access to and the use of firearms, and also to develop measures aimed at monitoring and controlling the arms market in each country.

The manufacture and marketing of firearms, ammunition and explosives are in many cases carried out by private national or foreign companies. These activities have a direct impact on the effective exercise of the rights to life and personal integrity. Businesses have a duty to prevent, mitigate and respond to adverse human rights impacts directly related to their commercial activities, and States have a responsibility to enforce these obligations.