Where Guns Go: A Visual History of a Global Trade

Google Chrome Experiments

In all the talk of gun control, people like to throw around about America’s heavy arms trade. Want to know what it actually looks like? Google has an in-depth interactive showing a history of the legal small arms trade.

Google’s Ideas team collaborated with the Igarape Institute to make the visualization, which only tracks small arms. They used data from 1992-2010 about the legal arms trade from the Peace Research Institute Oslo, according to Google’s blog.

In the interactive, you can toggle between years at the sliding bar right below the globe. The arched lines connecting arms trades between countries will appear thicker or thinner based on the amount of trade, with orange lines representing military weapons and ammo and blue lines representing civilian weapons and ammo. As you can see, the United States has thick ties to Europe’s arms trade.

You can also see just military imports/exports or just civilian ones using boxes on the lower right of the interactive. A graph below the globe–shown by clicking the graph button–shows general trends in imports and exports. One interesting find: Graphical difference between military weapon imports to the United States versus civilian weapon imports. While military imports to the U.S. have gone up and down a bit sporadically in the past decade, civilian weapon imports have had a clear upward climb.

Robert Muggah, a research principal at Igarape Institute, explained in a video that the data is important because even the illegal gun trade starts with legal transactions. In turn, the legal trade affects violence. “What I’ve found is that a majority of people are being killed not by bombs but by guns and bullets.”

Explore the interactive here.

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Serena Dai