Exploration 2E: Widespread Availability of Weapons


Whereas Exploration 2D presented issues related to limits set by international humanitarian law (IHL) on certain weapons, in Exploration 2E students study the problem of unregulated availability of small arms and light weapons around the world. They examine the impact of these weapons upon civilians, and proposals for coping with related problem.

This course is two 45-minute sessions.


  • To recognize that one of the major threats to civilians in armed conflicts today comes from small arms and light weapons
  • To consider how the easy access to weapons and ammunition by a variety of groups makes it more difficult to ensure respect for IHL
  • To understand that governments have a responsibility to control the availability of weapons
  • To consider ideas for action at the local, national and international levels for reducing uncontrolled availability and misuse of weapons

Key Ideas

  • The widespread availability and misuse of small arms pose a threat to civilians and make it more difficult to ensure respect for IHL.
  • A comprehensive approach is needed to address the problem. This includes measures to restrict the availability of weapons, to decrease their misuse and to reduce the vulnerability of victims.


Plan to assign “Taking action: Some examples” (to be used in step 5) as homework at the end of your first class session.

In the Methodology Guide, review teaching methods 1 (Discussion), 6 (Using stories, photos and videos), 7 (Writing and reflecting), 8 (Interviewing), 9 (Small groups) and 10 (Gathering stories and news).



Questions a Photo Raises |15 minutes

Give students a few minutes to study the photo in “Questions about what you see.” Tell them to focus on the details as well as on the photo as a whole and then to write down two or three questions about what they see.

Have students share some of their questions, and write them down where all can see.

[For example: Who is he? Why does he have a gun? How did he get the gun? What is he thinking or feeling? What will he do with the gun?]

Ask students to choose one question from among all that have been listed about the boy. Have them write down as many answers as they can in five minutes.

Possible question:

  • What kinds of weapons could have caused such destruction?

  • 2

    Small Arms = Big Problem | 10 minutes

    Explain to students that the term ‘small arms and light weapons’ or just ‘small arms’ is used to describe weapons that can be handled by a single person or a small group. Assault rifles, machine-guns, mortars, grenade launchers and portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns are examples of such weapons.

    Then introduce the subject of the proliferation of small arms by having students reflect on the following statement:

    The death toll from small arms dwarfs that of all other weapons systems – and in most years greatly exceeds the toll of the atomic bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In terms of the carnage they cause, small arms, indeed, could well be described as ‘weapons of mass destruction.’

    – Kofi Annan, Millennium Report of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, 2000

    Give them a few minutes to write down their thoughts. Then ask a few students to share their ideas with the rest of the class.

    Possible question:

  • In images from recent armed conflicts, what small arms and light weapons have you seen being used against people?

  • 3

    Who Has These Weapons? Why? | 20 minutes

    Present the idea of a ‘concept wheel’ with a question in the centre and answers on the spokes.

    concept wheel

    Lead the class in suggesting answers to put on the spokes of the concept wheel for the following question:

    Who has these weapons?

    The class could develop a wheel that looks something like this:

    Concept Wheel sample

    Throughout this activity, students can draw ideas from their earlier writing about the photo and the statement of Kofi Annan used in step 2.

    Have the class work in small groups to develop concept wheels for the following question:

  • Why do they have these weapons? [For example, security reasons, hobby, fighting, profession, committing crimes, earning money, community pressure, fear, tradition, status]
  • Reconvene the class and have the groups use their work to contribute to a concept wheel for the whole class.

    Possible questions:

  • What are the legitimate uses of these weapons?
  • What uses of these weapons are not legitimate?

  • 4

    What Impact Does This Situation Have on People’s Lives? | 15 minutes

    Have students read “Voices on the human costs of unregulated arms availability,” and ask them to develop a third concept wheel on human costs, listing the ways in which the widespread availability of arms may affect people’s lives and their livelihoods.

    Then discuss the humanitarian impacts that they have identified. (Students may add ideas to all three concept wheels during this discussion.)

    [For example: civilian casualties, public security, criminality, violence against children, economic development, health and health care, humanitarian aid]

    Possible questions:

  • Why are weapons easily available in many parts of the world?
  • What impact does the unregulated availability of weapons have on different groups (e.g. children, women, men)?
  • What effect might the widespread availability of weapons have in countries or in regions where no armed conflict is taking place? In what ways? [For example: armed violence in the form of criminality; risk of violence spreading to other areas; threat to economic development; countries supporting armed conflict or violence elsewhere; the growing role of arms producing and exporting countries]

  • 5

    How Can the Problem be Tackled | 25 minutes

    Point out to students that there is no simple solution. In fact, three key issues have to be dealt with:

    Weapons the need to deal with the issue of their AVAILABILITY

    Users the need to prevent the MISUSE of weapons

    Victims the need to reduce the VULNERABILITY of victims

    In this exploration, ‘misuse’ refers to any use of weapons in violation of IHL and human rights law.

    Ask students to develop ideas on how these three issues should be tackled. Distribute the worksheet “Who can/should do what?” to help them.

    Using the same structure as the worksheet, record the ideas that students propose where all can see.

    Have students draw on “Taking action: Some examples” to look for ideas that have been tried and to stimulate them to think of additional ideas.

    After they have suggested a number of ideas, ask the class to identify those that could be implemented in each of the following situations:

  • Before armed conflict (preventive measures when there is a risk of armed conflict);
  • During armed conflict;
  • After armed conflict has ended;
  • Beyond armed conflict
  • [For example in places where no armed conflict is taking place, but that are affected by other forms of violence; countries that produce or trade in weapons.]


    Close | 5 minutes

    Using “Taking action: Some examples,” ask students to identify actions taken at:

  • International Level
  • Regional level
  • National level
  • Local level