Google’s Interactive Rendering of Global Small Arms Trade (VIDEO)

In a collaborative effort with the Igarape Institute, Google’s ‘Creative Lab’ put together an interactive graphic that tracks the global small arms trade. 

The graphic uses data from Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) small arms database and displays how the import and export of arms and ammunition has evolved over the years, country by country, from 1992 to 2010.

arms tradeIn addition to showcasing Google’s new open platform for geographic visualization WebGL Globe, which is designed to animate complex datasets, the idea behind the interactive is to shine a light on the 8.5 billion dollar small arms industry, which is exclusive to weapons such as pistols, revolvers, rifles, light machine guns and ammunition. 

Users can explore data points by zooming in and out of the globe, clicking on any country to readjust the view, and using the histogram tool at the bottom to see trading patterns over time.

For the researchers, one of the more surprising revelations was the fact that ammunition makes up half of the small arms trade, a statistic that remains “underexplored by policy makers,” according to a Google blog.

Other bits of info that appear on the graphic were disclosed at a summit hosted by Google Ideas last month where Robert Muggah, a research director with Igarape, presented.  According to Muggah, civilians control 74 percent of the small arms in circulation. 

“Civilians in Afghanistan, Yemen and the U.S. are among the most heavily armed on the planet,” Muggah said in his presentation.

The remaining 23 percent of the weapons are possessed by militaries across the globe and approximately three percent are controlled by law enforcement.  Less than one percent are in the hands of “bad guys,” according to Muggah. 


If you have some time, watch the 30-plus minute video bleow.  It was interesting.  Muggah makes some cogent points.  One in particular struck me, the notion that the illicit trade of weapons and the legal trade of weapons are often portrayed in binary terms, when, in reality, the truth is much more complicated, i.e. there are degrees of legal transactions and illegal transactions given the numbers of variables involved.  I’m not sure I totally agree with that idea, but it’s an interesting way of examining the situation.    

The panel also had some compelling thoughts on how technology can stymie illicit transactions, solutions that – for the most part – did not call for traditional gun control or measures that would infringe upon the rights of responsible gun owners. 

Along those lines, one panel member suggested that the industry become more transparent.  If a deal goes bad or if the weapons end up in the wrong hands, the paperwork and the order forms should be publicized so that the global community becomes more aware of those players and international dealers who seek to traffic weapons illegally.  Currently, it appears that bad deals go unreported.

Unfortunately no one overtly acknowledge the real cause of gun violence, the fallible human being and what appears to be his chronic inability to coexist peacefully with his neighbors.  But, at least, no one argued for confiscatory policies that would disarm law-abiding citizenry.

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