The data in this report is derived from country submissions when possible,
and estimates when necessary. Estimates are extrapolated from each country’s
identified procurement, highest modern personnel totals, and strategic doctrine.
Except where noted, the military small arms and light weapons data
presented here is not official, comprehensive, or conclusive; it is for general
evaluation and comparison only. The complete methodology used here is described
in Chapter 2 of the Small Arms Survey 2006.
Small arms are state-owned handguns, submachine guns, rifles, shotguns,
and light and medium machine guns. Firearms are civilian-owned handguns,
submachine guns, rifles, and shotguns. Long at the forefront of international small arms issues, public debate and
activism in South America have largely focused on matters surrounding civilian
firearms, estimated here to total between 21.7 and 26.8 million. The reasons
for this civilian preoccupation are principally linked to chronic gun violence.
South America has 14 per cent of the global population, and roughly 3.5 to 4 per
cent of the world’s civilian firearms, but it suffers from roughly 40 per cent of
all homicides committed with firearms.
Military small arms are rarely part of public debate, largely because of a
strong culture of national security secrecy in South America. But military
small arms policy has attracted much closer scrutiny in recent years, especially
as military small arms and light weapons are diverted to criminals and
guerrillas, fuelling insurgencies and civil violence. This report focuses primarily
on issues surrounding surplus military small arms and light weapons in
the region. Law enforcement and civilian firearms inventories and issues are
recognized here as well, to ensure a balanced overall perspective.
The region’s military establishments do not have a strong record of identifying
or eliminating their surplus small arms, light weapons, or ammunition.
South America holds some of the world’s largest military small arms and
light weapons surpluses. Military inventories are not exceptionally large in
absolute terms, but they are a major element in global surplus problems. Among
the 12 independent countries of South America, there are an estimated 3.6
million military small arms as of 2007, 1.5 per cent of the global total. Of these,
approximately 1.3 million, more than one-third, are surplus.