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17.4.2021 : 22:44 : +0200

Recent Publications

  • Diversion of Arms and Ammunition in Peace Operations: Observations based on Missions in Sudan and South Sudan, September 2015. Research Note No. 54, Armed Actors (also available in French and Spanish).

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  • There and Back: Trajectories of North African Foreign Fighters in Syria, July 2015. Security Assessment in North Africa Issue Brief No. 3 (also available in Arabic).

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Armed Actors








A variety of actors, including state security forces, civilians, private security companies, armed groups, and gangs, use small arms. The quantities and sophistication of the weapons they possess can differ widely, however. Similarly, armed actors do not exercise the same levels of controls over their armaments, resulting in varying levels of threats to human security – whether illegitimate firearm use or unplanned ammunition depot explosions. Analysing small arms-related concerns through the lens of the actors holding them therefore brings policy-relevant nuances to the discussion. 

The Small Arms Survey documents firearm holdings, both in quantities and types, among armed actors at the global, regional and country levels.  Specific attention is also paid to the internal policies – including stockpile management and security procedures – put in place by armed actors to regulate their possession and use of arms, as well as to the extent that such controls help prevent illegitimate and accidental firearm use. Given the dearth of information on such entities, the Survey has devoted particular attention to researching non-state actors. Efforts have included estimating civilian firearm ownership across the globe, undertaking regional and country-specific mappings of armed groups and gangs, and evaluating security programmes aimed at armed actors.

The Small Arms Survey 2014 focuses on the complex relationship between women and guns, highlighting the violence that still targets women (and girls) in many places, as well as women’s roles in security promotion.

State Security Forces

State security forces—militaries and law enforcement agencies—hold about one forth of the global small arms stockpile. The diversion of state-owned weapons to unauthorized or controversial entities, the excessive use of force and firearms by state agents, as well as deadly explosions at large ammunition depots are some of the issues raised by state held weapons. 


Private ownership of firearms, both legal and illegal, accounts for about 75 per cent of the global small arms stockpile. The extent to which the availability of firearms to the general population influences levels of armed violence is subject to a heated debate. Levels of regulation and control vary greatly, as civilians are able to procure fully-automatic firearms in several countries.

Private Security Companies (PSCs)

While private security companies (PSCs) are falling under increased scrutiny due to the roles they have played in Afghanistan and Iraq, their holdings and use of arms remain insufficiently documented, especially in countries considered to be at peace. Some PSCs have been involved in the illegal acquisition and possession of firearms, have lost weapons through theft, and have used their small arms against civilians.  

Armed Groups

Armed groups possess less than one per cent of the world’s small arms, but some have access to sophisticated types of weaponry, including portable anti-aircraft missiles. Due to armed groups’ involvement in the vast majority of contemporary armed conflicts, the extent to which their use of small arms contradicts international humanitarian law is another important concern.


Gangs are estimated to control less than two per cent of the world’s small arms, but often find access to military-style automatic firearms. Gangs are key protagonists in non-conflict-related armed violence, which every year claims more casualties than traditional armed conflict.

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