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Armed Violence and Guns in Polynesia

As in other island groups of the South West Pacific, guns are of little concern to the people of Polynesia. In comparison to neighbouring Melanesia, Polynesia – like Micronesia – has even fewer examples of firearm proliferation, small arms trafficking and armed violence.

Generally, civilian gun possession rates are low across Polynesia, with fewer than one firearm per 100 people. The exceptions are Niue, Samoa and the Cook Islands, with rates ranging from 6.6 in Cook Islands1, to 8.2 in Samoa2, and a high 19.85 in Niue.3

In five of the ten Polynesian states and territories, gun laws are relatively permissive. Often porous and nowhere comprehensive, Polynesian gun regulation is often a matter of established practice at the policing level, rather than prescriptive legislation.4 The Cook Islands, perhaps the most restrictive state in the sub-region, stopped issuing civilian firearm licences in 1992.5

A genuine reason for civilian firearm possession is required by all jurisdictions, but acceptable reasons are defined in law only in Pitcairn, Tonga and Tuvalu.6 7 8 French Polynesia and Wallis & Futuna list hunting, sport shooting, gun collecting and self-defence as genuine reasons for gun ownership.9 Elsewhere, only sport-shooting, hunting, wild animal control and in some cases fishing are considered suitable reasons to possess a firearm.

Assault weapons are banned throughout Polynesia,10 and the French Territories are alone in allowing private possession of handguns.4 11 Despite such limits not always being laid down in law, most jurisdictions allow only single-shot shotguns and small-calibre hunting rifles.10

No Polynesian state or territory manufactures firearms, but only French Polynesia,12 American Samoa,13 Pitcairn,14 Tonga,15 Tuvalu,16 and Wallis & Futuna12 explicitly prohibit arms production. Elsewhere, gun-making is permitted under licence – a licence never issued, absent the necessary manufacturing capacity.

In Polynesia, international representation on small arms is rare to non-existent. American Samoa, the Cook Islands, the French Territories, Niue, Tokelau and Pitcairn are not UN Member States.17 Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu are inactive in the UN small arms Programme of Action (UNPoA), having neither established a national coordinating body, nor reported on measures to implement the PoA.18 19 Tuvalu has signed, but not yet ratified, and Samoa has signed and ratified the Arms Trade Treaty.20

For information on armed violence and gun control laws in each country and territory of Polynesia, please use the search tools in the left hand column.

Short References

1.

Alpers, Philip and Conor Twyford.2003.‘Stockpiles and Trafficking in the Pacific.’ Small Arms in the Pacific.Geneva:Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,31 March. (Q405)Full Citation

2.

Alpers, Philip and Conor Twyford.2003.‘Lawful Stockpiles.’ Small Arms in the Pacific.Geneva:Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,31 March. (Q144)Full Citation

3.

Alpers, Philip and Conor Twyford.2003.‘Civilian Firearm Ownership in Pacific Nations, 2002.’ Small Arms in the Pacific.Geneva:Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,31 March. (Q388)Full Citation

4.

Alpers, Philip and Conor Twyford.2003.‘Pacific Small Arms Legislation: Domestic and Regional Issues.’ Small Arms in the Pacific.Geneva:Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,31 March. (Q142)Full Citation

5.

Alpers, Philip and Conor Twyford.2003.‘Pacific Small Arms Legislation: Domestic and regional issues.’ Small Arms in the Pacific.Geneva:Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,31 March. (Q411)Full Citation

6.

Pitcairn.2003.‘Special Provisions for Shot Gun Certificates.’ Local Government (Firearms Control) Regulations.Pitcairn:Island Council of Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands,28 March. (Q732)Full Citation

7.

Alpers, Philip and Conor Twyford.2003.‘Genuine Reason: A Snapshot of Pacific Definitions - Tonga.’ Small Arms in the Pacific.Geneva:Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,31 March. (Q464)Full Citation

8.

Alpers, Philip and Conor Twyford.2003.‘Genuine Reason: A Snapshot of Pacific Definitions - Tuvalu.’ Small Arms in the Pacific.Geneva:Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,31 March. (Q929)Full Citation

9.

Alpers, Philip and Conor Twyford.2003.‘Genuine Reason: A Snapshot of Pacific Definitions - French Territories.’ Small Arms in the Pacific.Geneva:Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,31 March. (Q282)Full Citation

10.

Alpers, Philip and Conor Twyford.2003.‘Pacific Small Arms Legislation: Civilian firearm ownership and prohibitions in the Pacific.’ Small Arms in the Pacific.Geneva:Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,31 March. (Q321)Full Citation

11.

Alpers, Philip and Conor Twyford.2003.‘Civilian Firearm Ownership and Prohibitions in the Pacific.’ Small Arms in the Pacific.Geneva:Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,31 March. (Q284)Full Citation

12.

Alpers, Philip and Conor Twyford.2003.‘Pacific Small Arms Legislation: Domestic and regional issues.’ Small Arms in the Pacific.Geneva:Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,31 March. (Q288)Full Citation

13.

American Samoa.1978.‘Prohibited Weapons.’ Criminal Justice Code (1978) - Weapons.Pago Pago:Legislative Assembly,13 December. (Q373)Full Citation

14.

Pitcairn.2003.‘Trading in firearms.’ Local Government (Firearms Control) Regulations.Pitcairn:Island Council of Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands,28 March. (Q734)Full Citation

15.

Tonga.1968.‘Prohibition on the Manufacture of Arms and Ammunition.’ Chapter 39. Arms and Ammunition Act, 1968 [1988 Revised Edition].Nuku'alofa:Legislative Assembly,29 November. (Q483)Full Citation

16.

Tuvalu.1964.‘Prohibition on the Manufacture of Arms and Ammunition.’ Chapter 74: Arms and Ammunition Ordinance 1964 [Revised Edition 1990].Funafuti:House of Assembly,17 February. (Q926)Full Citation

17.

UN.2013.‘Member States of the United Nations.’ UN.org Web Site.New York, NY:United Nations General Assembly,7 April. (Q290)Full Citation

18.

Cattaneo, Silvia and Sarah Parker.2008.‘Reporting, NPCs and NCAs, 2002 to 2008.’ Implementing the United Nations Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons: Analysis of the National Reports submitted by States from 2002 to 2008.Geneva:United Nations Development Programme,1 November. (Q20)Full Citation

19.

Cattaneo, Silvia and Sarah Parker.2008.‘States That Have Never Reported.’ Implementing the United Nations Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons: Analysis of the National Reports submitted by States from 2002 to 2008.Geneva:United Nations Development Programme,1 November. (Q21)Full Citation

20.

UNODA.2013.‘Towards Entry Into Force.’ Arms Trade Treaty.New York, NY:United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs,2 April. (Q7226)Full Citation