As the Fourth Biennial Meeting of States on Small Arms and Light Weapons was assembling at the United Nations in New York City, a smaller, quieter, but no less resolute group was convening on the same issue. On June 15, 2010, in the Church Center for the United Nations, a diverse mix of people and organizations came together to discuss the cancerous effect small arms and light weapons have on communities around the world. From the smallest municipalities to the international stage, illegal trafficking in everything from handguns and AK-47s to grenades and light rockets is an incalculably devastating phenomenon. The meeting put the horrifying problem of illegal handguns in the United States in the context of the greater global tragedy of gun violence that deserves focused attention and expedient action.  

In collaboration with the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) and the Quaker United Nations Office, the American Friends Service Committee brought together New York City anti-gun violence organizations with UN delegates and international NGOs dealing with the same issue writ large. The meeting, titled The Impact of Small Arms on Our Children and Communities and Effective Violence Prevention, featured presentations from David Jackman of the Quaker United Nations Office; Richard Aborn of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City; Jenny Rountree, representing Mayor Bloomberg and the Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition; and Urantia Ramierez and Christy Bahola, two New York high schoolers whose communities have been deeply impacted by illegal guns. Ms. Ramierez was part of the team that designed AFSC’s 2009 Anti-Gun Violence Mural and Ms. Bahola is a member of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence’s afterschool program “Reaction.” The speakers stressed the importance of mobilization at the grassroots level, the need for practical gun control reform, and the overall malignant effect small arms have on the wellbeing of individuals and communities.

After the presentations the audience broke into small discussion groups and was given a series of questions designed to facilitate discussion on various approaches to community violence prevention. Discussants from a great variety of backgrounds drew on their collective experiences and shared pragmatic and creative solutions to the problem of small arms in their societies.

At this meeting there were close to 70 representatives from Jamaica, Switzerland, Sudan, Chile, the United States, Mexico, Canada, the United Kingdom, Cote d’Ivoire, Sri Lanka, Lebanon, India, South Africa, Sweden, Columbia, the Republic of the Congo, Argentina, France, Ethiopia, and Yemen taking part in the forum. This is the third meeting on small arms AFSC has sponsored in tandem with the Biennial Meeting of States.     

Whether they are being employed by large scale criminal enterprises, paramilitary groups, or the children in our schools, illegal small arms pose a security problem for everyone. The illegal trafficking of these weapons both domestically and internationally, as well as the cultures of violence that lead to their use, cannot be allowed to continue.

The American Friends Service Committee, as part of its on-going focus on gun violence, intends to hold another meeting in two years when the BMS convenes again.  AFSC hopes this year’s participants and partners will return with good news of progress made and a continued commitment to struggling towards a peaceful world.