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U.S. Programs and Assistance To Combat Illicit Trafficking in Arms

Fact Sheet
Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
May 27, 2009


The destabilizing accumulation, illicit trafficking, and use in criminal activity of small arms and light weapons is a major obstacle to economic development and security in the Western Hemisphere. On April 17, 2009, President Obama announced his intention to enhance cooperation with nations across the region and offered technical assistance to trace illicit firearms and control, store, or destroy excess national stockpiles. The U.S. Government provides programs and assistance to foreign governments to increase technical and physical capacity in order to strengthen hemispheric security. Some of these programs are explained below:

  • Stockpile Destruction

The Department of State provides technical and financial assistance in the destruction of surplus, obsolete, and illicit stocks of small arms and light weapons.  Destruction can generally be accomplished using local infrastructure.  This program may also provide technical and financial assistance to support modest security infrastructure improvements.

  • Physical Security and Stockpile Management

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) provides technical assistance to governments in the form of on-site Physical Security and Stockpile Management assessments and seminars.  U.S. experts visit host nation facilities to assess a state's procedures and infrastructure at the operational level and then orient stockpile managers to international best practices, allowing them to develop their own effective procedures.  This three-to-five-day program is conducted within a host country and is specifically tailored to meet that state's security needs.

  • Tracing Requests

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' (ATF) National Tracing Center (NTC) eTrace system enables law enforcement agencies to trace U.S. origin firearms that have been used in or suspected to have been used in criminal activities.  The eTrace system enables law enforcement agencies to send trace requests directly to the NTC and receive the trace results back by Internet.

  • Export Control and Related Border Security Assistance

The Export Control and Related Border Security Assistance (EXBS) program is managed by the Department of State to help prevent proliferation of certain weapons systems and related items, by assisting foreign governments to establish and implement effective export control systems that meet international practices.

  • End-user Checks

Through the “Blue Lantern” Program, the Department of State conducts pre-license and post-shipment checks on the end-user(s) and end-use(s) of small arms and light weapons exported from the U.S. via commercial channels.  Such inquiries and site visits help ensure the security and integrity of defense trade between U.S. and overseas partners, while preventing illicit diversions.

  • Law Enforcement Training

Through International Law Enforcement Academies (ILEA’s), training courses are offered on classification, identification, ballistics, tracing of seized weapons and investigative techniques.  Courses are designed to build the capacity of law enforcement officials to identify illicit small arms trafficking and strengthen their interdiction skills.

  • Registration or Importation of Firearms into the United States

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) regulates the firearms industry and controls the importation of all firearms, ammunition and defense articles into the United States.  ATF also registers firearms classified under the National Firearms Act (machine guns, short-barreled rifles and shotguns, and silencers).  ATF provides assistance and information regarding the importation of firearms into the United States.

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