Methods and definitions

The interactive SALW Guide is based on the Small Arms and Light Weapons Guide (2016), a printed handbook developed by the German Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) Verification Center (BwVC) to educate their field officers on common weapons used in organized violence around the world. It is not an exhaustive list of all SALW around the world.

In order to validate the data in the handbook, the project team at BICC used two methods: a literature review and a structured questionnaire. With regard to the former, the team consulted the 2016 IHS Janes Weapons (Infantry) and the Institute for International Security Studies’ (IISS) Military Balance 2016 as primary sources of data, along with other secondary sources listed among our Information and Data Sources. The team also developed an online questionnaire in English, French and Spanish for all national points of contact for the Programme of Action (PoA) on small arms and light weapons. The questionnaire was distributed in the second quarter of 2016 and responses were received up to the final quarter of 2016. The purpose of the questionnaire was to validate, update or add new data to country data and profiles. The team also sent questionnaires to regional points of contact for SALW control to ensure maximum feedback.

Among other things, the questionnaire asked whether points of contact were willing and able to identify whether a weapon was held by government and/or non-governmental entities. We believe this level of detail on SALW holdings is desirable for understanding not only where, but also by which groups a particular weapon is held.

Government vs. Non-Government Holders

For some users of the interactive SALW Guide, it will be enough to know in which countries certain SALW are held. For others, it might be helpful to understand not only where but also by whom certain SALW are held. This level of detail can provide insight into group capacities for organized violence, as well as the flow of weapons within and between countries.

Government holdings

For the purposes of this Guide, Government holdings refers to weapons held by service branches subordinate to a country's Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior (e.g. Police, Fire brigade), Ministry of Justice (e.g. Prison Service and Security Guards), and/or Ministry of the Environment or equivalent (e.g. Wildlife Protection), etc.

The following are examples of some, but not all, government service branches that provide armed security:

  • Ministry of Defense: Military - Army, Airforce, Navy
  • Ministry of Interior: National Police, State/Provincial Police, Border Control
  • Office of the President: Presidential Guard, Secret Service
  • Ministry of Justice: Prison Service
  • Ministry of Environment: Wildlife Protection

Non-government holdings

By Non-Government holdings, we refer exclusively to armed groups that are not subordinate to a national Government. Within this broad category we include members of private military companies (PMCs) and bodyguards; armed opposition or rebel groups, militias, 'terrorist' or 'extremist' groups who perpetrate violence in a given country (whether or not they are citizens of that country); organized criminal groups (e.g. mobsters, drug cartels) and gangs; and vigilantes who perpetrate violence for ideological objectives (e.g. justice).

It is not without challenge to distinguish Government from Non-Governmental groups, as sometimes the lines are blurred between the two (e.g. national police officers who moonlight as private security guards, or militia groups wearing governmental uniforms). Nevertheless, there is data on some weapons that are held by non-governmental armed groups, and it is our intention to reflect this data in our Guide to the level of detail that is available to us. For some users of this Guide, the data may be either too detailed or not enough, but for others, a simple distinction between governmental and non-governmental holdings may be enough to help indicate patterns of possession, weapons preferences, flows, and capacities for organized violence.