Prepared by The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (UICHR)*

On April 3, 2013, after seven years of intense negotiations, the Member States of the United Nations General Assembly, including the United States, voted overwhelmingly (154–3) to adopt a landmark treaty known as the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).  Created to regulate international trade in conventional arms (from small arms to battle tanks, combat aircraft, and warships), it is the first multilateral treaty adopted to control the currently estimated $85 billion global arms trade.  The treaty calls for the international sale of conventional weapons to be linked to the human rights records of purchasers, and to this end obligates States to monitor arms exports and to ensure that weapons not cross existing arms embargoes or end up being used to carry out human rights abuses, such as terrorism, genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes. With UN assistance, States Parties must establish enforceable, standardized arms import-export regulations and are expected to track the destination of exports to ensure that they not end up in the wrong hands.  Not surprisingly, therefore, 23 Member States abstained, among them major arms exporting countries (e.g., China and Russia) and arms importing countries (e.g., India, Indonesia, and Pakistan).  However, only Iran, North Korea, and Syria opposed. To date, 116 Member States have signed the treaty and 11 have ratified it (Antigua/Barbuda, Costa Rica, Grenada, Guyana, Iceland, Mali, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Panama, and Trinidad/Tobago).  It will enter into force 90 days after 50 States have deposited their instrument of ratification, acceptance, or approval with the UN Secretary-General.  To encourage participation, the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs has promised that the ATT will not “interfere with domestic arms commerce or the right to bear arms in Member States; ban the export of any type of weapon; harm States’ legitimate right to self-defense; or undermine national arms regulation standards already in place.” However, despite these assurances and the fact that the regulations called for by the ATT are much like those that exist already in the United States, the Obama Administration has come under fire from gun owners, the National Rifle Association, and the U.S. Senate, two-thirds of which must give its advice and consent before the treaty can be ratified by the President. The critics maintain that the treaty would undermine the constitutional right to bear arms, and claim that it would be ineffective in restricting the flow of arms to major human rights abusers, especially if major arms exporters and importers refuse to sign the treaty.

2 — Number of countries (United States and Yemen), in a survey of 42 jurisdictions (28 countries and 14 sub-national entities) that consider civilian firearm possession to be a basic human right.

5 — Times that it is more likely for a woman in the United States to be murdered by an abusive partner if the partner owns a firearm.

6 — Age of the youngest child who died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012; the shooting, perpetrated by a mentally ill youth, killed 20 children and 6 adults.

9 — Number of countries since 1789 that have included the right to bear arms in their constitution; of these, only 3 still guarantee this right: Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States.

43 — Percentage of Americans that supported stricter gun control measures in 2010—this figure representing a decrease from the 78% of Americans who favored stricter gun control measures in 1990; at the same time, violent crimes decreased from 1.8 million in 1990 to 1.2 million in 2010.

60 — Minimum percentage of human rights violations documented by Amnesty International that have involved small arms and light weapons.

67 — Percentage of gun owners in the United States who own a gun for protection against crime, female gun owners being more likely than male gun owners to own a gun for such protection (74% to 63%, respectively).

82 — Approximate percentage of the world’s arms that are supplied by the top six arms manufacturing countries: United States (44%), Russia (17%), France (8%), Germany (4%), the United Kingdom (5%), and China (4%)—these countries, except for Germany, representing the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

89 — Approximate number of guns owned per 100 people in the United States, the U.S. having the highest rate of gun ownership in the world, followed by Yemen (55), Switzerland (46), Finland (45), and Serbia (38).

174 — Number of countries and territories to which the United States supplied conventional arms in 2008, with 13 of the top 25 recipients being defined as undemocratic governments or governments with a poor human rights record.

6,000 — Number of rounds purchased by the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater gunman who took the lives of 12 people and injured 58 more after purchasing 4 guns—legally―in the days leading up to the shooting.

21,000 — Approximate number of reconstructive surgeries performed at one rape clinic in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 1988–2008 because of guns being used by combatants as “weapons of war” to commit rape—the women thereafter, if not killed, often becoming victims of fistula and incontinence.  

130,433 — Minimum number of persons killed in the Syrian civil war as of Dec. 31, 2013, more than one-third of whom were civilian noncombatants, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights—the European Union having lifted its arms embargo in May 2013, which effectively allowed States to supply Syrian rebels with arms used to carry out human rights abuses.

251,607 — Number of weapons seized and destroyed by the Venezuelan government during 2003–2011 as part of its effort to end illegal firearm usage after estimating that firearms caused 94% of all homicides in Venezuela in 2010.

300,000 — Approximate number of child soldiers who are involved in more than 30 conflicts worldwide, many of them suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder and exhibiting symptoms of major depressive disorder.

526,000 — Approximate number of people worldwide killed by armed violence every year: 55,000 people in armed conflict; 396,000 people as victims of intentional homicide; 54,000 as victims of unintentional homicide; and 21,000 as victims of law enforcement actions.

27,500,000 — Estimated number of people displaced internally at the end of 2010 due to worldwide armed conflict, with millions more having sought refuge abroad―often because of the widespread availability and misuse of weapons that forced people to flee their homes under threat or in fear.

70,000,000 — Approximate number of firearms owned by U.S. citizens; though the United States makes up just 4.5% of the world’s population, it accounts for approximately 40% of the world’s civilian gun owners.                                    

*Copyright © 2014 by The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (UICHR). Prepared by Bessie Dutton Murray Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus and UICHR Senior Scholar Burns H. Weston with the generous assistance of Damian Bakula, Brittany Bermudez, Lisa Castillo, Benjamin Clough, Joshua Despain, Ma Jin, and Isaac Smith, each students at the UI College of Law. For additional facts concerning guns and human rights and further information on human rights generally, please visit the UICHR web site: