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Firearms trafficking

A threat to the safety of citizens in any country, the criminal misuse of firearms also poses a wider threat to global security, peace, stability and development. Firearms are easy to conceal and transport, and offer lucrative profits to criminals trafficking in illicit small arms and light weapons. No country is unaffected by firearms violence.

Each year, firearms are used in more than 245,000 homicides worldwide (excluding war-torn countries). This is only a small percentage of all crimes committed with firearms, which are widely used to threaten and support other criminal acts such as terrorism.

Many recent global terrorist activities show the use of firearms as a weapon of choice by terrorist groups. It is therefore imperative to identify firearms traffickers in order to stop the firearms supply. To this end, firearms investigations should focus on:

  • Identifying and prosecuting the traffickers;
  • Considering all crime-related firearms as potentially being part of a larger scheme, not isolated pieces of evidence.

Supporting crime prevention and response

INTERPOL has developed several tools to assist law enforcement agencies to address firearms crimes. Tracing the history and ownership of all recovered illicit firearms and comparing ballistics evidence of recovered cartridge casings and ammunition can provide valuable investigative leads linking crimes that have been committed in different jurisdictions or countries.

  • The INTERPOL Illicit Arms Records and Tracing Management System (iARMS) is the only global law enforcement platform for the international and record keeping of illicit firearms, including lost and stolen firearms, and for information exchange and cooperation between law enforcement agencies on terrorism and other firearm-related crimes.

    iARMS data supports the detection and investigation of criminal firearms trafficking and smuggling routes, enabling law enforcement agencies to curb crime by cutting off the supply of illicit firearms to criminals and terrorist networks.

  • The INTERPOL Firearms Reference Table (IFRT) is an interactive online tool that provides a standardized methodology to identify and describe firearms, increasing the likelihood of successful tracing on cross-border investigations by ensuring the accuracy of firearm identification. 
  • The INTERPOL Ballistic Information Network (IBIN) is the only large-scale international ballistics data-sharing network in the world, providing intelligence to law enforcement agencies through the centralized connection, storage and cross-comparison of ballistics imaging to uncover connections between crimes in different countries that might otherwise remain undetected.

INTERPOL has also developed a Firearms Recovery Protocol to provide guidance to law enforcement authorities when recovering a firearm or expended ammunition cartridge. The protocol has both a law enforcement and forensics component, with the ultimate goal of both parties sharing information to solve cases of firearms trafficking.

Facilitating information exchange

National, regional and international actions to identify and eradicate firearm-related crime rely upon the prompt and timely communication of relevant information by law enforcement agencies and, in particular, effective international firearm tracing. These activities require close cooperation between a broad range of organizations such as police, forensics teams, customs, border protection agencies and regulatory services.

Training and capacity building

INTERPOL works with partners and stakeholders to give them the tools to respond effectively to the challenges of transnational firearm-related crime. Training courses and related reference materials aim to enhance the skills of law enforcement officers to combat firearms crimes, particularly illicit firearms trafficking, and raise awareness of the benefits and use of INTERPOL’s tools.

INTERPOL takes an inter-agency approach, and provides intercultural, bilingual training as appropriate.

Analysing crime data

Criminal intelligence analysis is recognized by the law enforcement community as a valuable tool that can support operational police activities and provide timely warning of threats. INTERPOL develops and disseminates research and analysis on firearm-related crime trends and techniques, as well as intelligence on firearm trafficking routes and methods.

International alert system

INTERPOL’s unique system of notices is used to alert member countries to imminent firearm-related threats.

  • An Orange Notice can be issued to warn police, public entities and other international organizations about potential threats posed by disguised firearms which they may not detect under normal circumstances.
  • A Purple Notice can be issued to share information about specific firearms, their parts and related objects, as well as modi operandi for firearm-related crime including firearm trafficking.

John Hageman, INTERPOL Firearms Programme Coordinator, on INTERPOL's policing capabilities