Find Gun Policy Facts

Armed violence prevention, gun control laws and the small arms trade:

Guns in American Samoa

Firearm regulation in American Samoa is ranked as restrictive,1 particularly in comparison with the permissive gun laws of its parent country, the United States. Private possession of small arms is limited to .22 calibre rifles, and to shotguns no larger than .410 gauge. Handguns, semi-automatic and automatic firearms are prohibited (see Gun Control Law).

Civilian Possession

In American Samoa, 250 gun owners are licensed to possess 250 registered firearms, for a rate of 0.41 guns per 100 population, or one firearm for every 244 people. This ranks American Samoa in the low range of private gun ownership among Pacific island nations.2

In the five years from 1996-2000, the number of firearms registered in the territory decreased from 277 to 255, with shotguns and rifles accounting for 88 percent of the total.3 4 The majority of owners are licensed for hunting and plantation pest control.5 6

Government Guns

Although the nation has no military, and only a handful of its 200 sworn police officers are permitted to carry firearms, state armouries are estimated to hold 58 firearms.7 8 9

Gun Death, Injury and Crime

No published reports are known to quantify gun homicide, suicide and fatal or non-fatal firearm-related injury and crime in American Samoa. In recent years, fatal shootings and cases of serious firearm injury have not been apparent among media reports of armed crime and violence.10 An exception came in July 2010, when a police detective was shot and killed outside the High Court in Pago Pago by an alleged crime family patriarch.11 12

Trafficking and Smuggling

While anecdotal evidence suggests that small arms are occasionally smuggled from American Samoa to the neighbouring independent nation of Samoa, and while law enforcement officers talk of illicit handgun possession in the local fishing fleet, there is no evidence of widespread trafficking in the region.13

In April 2008, the captain of a police patrol boat from Samoa was alleged to have smuggled three guns from American Samoa, in a package addressed to the Samoan Commissioner of Police. One of these was a handgun stolen from American Samoa's police evidence room in the capital of Pago Pago.14 15 16

Gun Control Law

In common with other US Territories in the Pacific and Caribbean, the gun laws of American Samoa are remarkably less permissive than those in the United States. Yet in a regional comparison, American Samoa restricts private gun ownership at a level similar to neighbouring island nations.17 The Territory's main body of firearm legislation is its Criminal Justice Code (1979), Title 46, Chapter 42 — Weapons, with amendments in 1980.

Gun Owner Licensing

It is illegal for any person to possess small arms without a firearm licence. A licence is only granted by police acting for the Commissioner of Public Safety after approval from the Attorney General, on condition that the applicant is not a convicted felon, does not have a history of mental illness, and is not a member of a group advocating the overthrow of the Government of American Samoa or the United States.18

Genuine Reason

Every person who obtains a licence to possess a firearm must, upon the written request of the Governor, provide genuine reason why the firearm may be required. Written endorsement of the applicant’s good character and the stated need for each firearm must first be obtained from the village mayor, county chief, and police. Plantation protection and hunting are the most commonly accepted reasons for ownership. Ownership for self defence is prohibited.5 19

Background Checks

As a US territory, American Samoa is a 'Brady State,' subject to the mandatory pre-purchase background checks of the mainland's Brady Act.20 To obtain a firearm licence, to acquire a permit to purchase and to register a firearm, an applicant must pass background checks with local police, neighbouring islands and with the mainland US FBI.21

Licence Renewal

Firearm licences expire annually on 10 January of the year following their issue. Between the 1st and 10th of January each year, gun owners must submit their expiring licence, together with the annual licence fee, to police acting for the Commissioner of Public Safety. If required, firearms registered in the applicant's name must be produced for examination.22

Permitted Firearms

Licences are only issued for civilian possession of 12-gauge, 16-gauge, 20-gauge and .410 shotguns, and for .22 calibre rifles and their ammunition.18 Machine guns, assault weapons, military-style rifles and carbines, handguns, short barrelled rifles or shotguns, firearm silencers, gas guns and 'explosive weapons' are all prohibited.23 24 An explosive weapon, specifically a gas gun, short barrelled rifle or shotgun, can be kept as a ‘keepsake,’ but only if made inoperable. Machine guns are prohibited, whether fireable or not.24 25 26

Carrying Firearms

Carrying any weapon concealed is prohibited. It is also an offence to carry a weapon into a school, a church or place of prayer, into any election district on election day, into any federal agency or territorial government building, or into any public assembly. Discharging a firearm within 100 yards of any occupied school house, courthouse or church building, along or across any public highway, or within 30 yards of any public road, house, building or airport, is also a criminal offence to.27

Record Keeping

Registration

A centralised register of licensed gun owners and their firearms is maintained by police in American Samoa, despite the lack of any specific requirement in legislation to do so.28

Sale and Transfer

It is unlawful for any person to sell a firearm without a licence issued by police on behalf of the Commissioner of Public Safety.29 Police must also approve any transfer of a firearm or ammunition from one person to another.30

Marking and Tracing

Following every purchase, each firearm is examined by police and compared with the owner's licence. If the weapon lacks a plainly visible and distinctive stamped serial number, it must be marked with letters and numbers designated by the Commissioner of Public Safety.31 32

Collection and Seizure

American Samoa has no clear-cut provision in legislation for firearm amnesties. In 2003, none had been held in recent memory.33 Despite this, the legal powers granted to the Commissioner of Public Safety seem sufficient to allow licence revocation, collection and seizure of firearms and ammunition if required.

Penalties

Possession of a firearm without a licence, possession of a prohibited weapon, and possession of a firearm deemed unlawful on account of the owner's criminal history or other adverse background are all ‘Class C’ felonies.24 34 Unlawful use of a firearm and unlawful transfer of a weapon to any person who is not entitled to possess it are both ‘Class D’ felonies.35 30 Defacing the markings on a firearm is a ‘Class A’ misdemeanour, while possession of a defaced weapon is a ‘Class B’ misdemeanour.36

A comparison of gun control penalties across 28 Pacific jurisdictions puts American Samoa in the mid-range.37

Definitions

The terms ‘firearm’, ‘machine gun’, ‘rifle’ and ‘shotgun’, are legally defined in the Criminal Justice Code.38

Production and Trade

Manufacture

American Samoa prohibits the manufacture of machine guns, explosive weapons, short-barrelled rifles, or shotguns and silencers.24 39 23

Trade Controls

It is unlawful for any person to import a firearm without a licence issued on behalf of the Commissioner of Public Safety.40

Arms Imports

As a deterrent to the proliferation of small arms, American Samoa imposes high customs import duties on guns and ammunition – 150 percent of landed value.41 42 In the financial years 1996-2000, the declared value of firearms and ammunition imported to American Samoa averaged less than US$13,000 per year.43

International Agreements

A territory of the United States, American Samoa is classified as a Non-Self-Governing Territory whose international agreements and diplomatic votes are the responsibility of the US Government.44 Accordingly, American Samoa has not reported independently on its implementation of the United Nations small arms Programme of Action (UNPoA),45 nor has it identified a UNPoA National Point of Contact or a National Coordination Agency for small arms under the terms of this 2001 agreement.46 American Samoa has neither signed nor ratified the 2001 Firearms Protocol to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.47

As a non-member of the Pacific Islands Forum, American Samoa is not a party to the Honiara Initiative,48 49 the Nadi Framework for small arms control in the Pacific,50 nor the Draft Model Weapons Control Bill for the Pacific,51 which is a template designed to encourage progressive harmonisation of gun control laws across the region as member states update their national legislation.52 53

American Samoa exchanges small arms trafficking intelligence with its regional neighbours through the Oceania Customs Organisation (OCO).54

Short References

1.

Newton, George D and Franklin E Zimring.1969.‘Firearm Licensing: Permissive v Restrictive.’ Firearms & Violence in American Life: A staff report submitted to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence.Washington, DC:US Government Printing Office,1 January. (Q22)Full Citation

2.

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. (Q364)Full Citation

3.

American Samoa.2001.‘Law Enforcement.’ American Samoa 2000 Statistical Yearbook.Pago Pago:Department of Commerce,1 January. (Q593)Full Citation

4.

American Samoa.2001.‘Registered Firearms by Type: FY1996 to FY2000.’ American Samoa 2000 Statistical Yearbook.Pago Pago:Department of Commerce,1 January. (Q594)Full Citation

5.

Alpers, Philip and Conor Twyford.2003.‘Genuine Reason: A Snapshot of Pacific Definitions - American Samoa.’ Small Arms in the Pacific.Geneva:Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,31 March. (Q369)Full Citation

6.

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. (Q595)Full Citation

7.

Alpers, Philip and Conor Twyford.2003.‘State Security Forces in the Pacific, 2002.’ Small Arms in the Pacific.Geneva:Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,31 March. (Q365)Full Citation

8.

Karp, Aaron.2003.‘Fewer Blanks: Global Firearm Stockpiles: Firearms of the Pacific.’ Small Arms Survey 2003: Development Denied.Oxford:Oxford University Press,1 July. (Q366)Full Citation

9.

Joyetter Feagaimaalii-Luamanu. 2013. ‘In Spite of Public Concerns, Cops Will Be Given Guns Says DPS Commish.’ Samoa News. 26 November. (N314) Full Citation

10.

Alpers, Philip and Conor Twyford.2003.‘Measuring the Impacts: Crime and justice-related data.’ Small Arms in the Pacific.Geneva:Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,31 March. (Q516)Full Citation

11.

Talamua (American Samoa). 2010. ‘Call to Stop Weapons Smuggling to American Samoa.’ 28 July. (N195) Full Citation

12.

Monica Miller. 2010. ‘American Samoa Cop Shooting Suspect Charged with Murder.’ ABC Radio Australia (Shortwave). 27 July. (N196) Full Citation

13.

Alpers, Philip and Conor Twyford.2003.‘Stockpiles and Trafficking in the Pacific: The illicit small arms trade.’ Small Arms in the Pacific.Geneva:Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,31 March. (Q148)Full Citation

14.

Samoa News. 2008. ‘Samoa Police Commissioner Provides Testimony in Guns Smuggling Inquiry.’ 22 November. (N57) Full Citation

15.

Samoa News (Pago Pago). 2008. ‘DPS Police Investigator Testifies in Samoa Gun Smuggling Inquiry.’ 13 November. (N14) Full Citation

16.

Radio New Zealand International (Shortwave). 2008. ‘Samoa State Lawyers Recommend Criminal Investigation Over Illegal Gun Imports.’ 14 December. (N15) Full Citation

17.

Alpers, Philip and Conor Twyford.2003.‘Pacific Small Arms Legislation: Firearm laws in the Pacific.’ Small Arms in the Pacific.Geneva:Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,31 March. (Q149)Full Citation

18.

American Samoa.1978.‘Licensing Regulations.’ Criminal Justice Code (1978) - Weapons.Pago Pago:Legislative Assembly,13 December. (Q367)Full Citation

19.

American Samoa.1978.‘Licensing Regulations.’ Criminal Justice Code (1978) - Weapons.Pago Pago:Legislative Assembly,13 December. (Q368)Full Citation

20.

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. (Q370)Full Citation

21.

USDoJ.1996.‘American Samoa - A Brady State.’ Survey of State Procedures Related to Firearm Sales.Washington, DC:United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics,1 May. (Q371)Full Citation

22.

American Samoa.1978.‘Licensing Regulations.’ Criminal Justice Code (1978) - Weapons.Pago Pago:Legislative Assembly,13 December. (Q372)Full Citation

23.

Alpers, Philip and Conor Twyford.2003.‘Pacific Small Arms Legislation: Controls on Manufacture and Domestic Trade.’ Small Arms in the Pacific.Geneva:Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,31 March. (Q171)Full Citation

24.

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

25.

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

26.

USDoJ.1996.‘American Samoa - A Brady State.’ Survey of State Procedures Related to Firearm Sales.United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics,1 May. (Q592)Full Citation

27.

American Samoa.1978.‘Unlawful Use of Weapons.’ Criminal Justice Code (1978) - Weapons.Pago Pago:Legislative Assembly,13 December. (Q374)Full Citation

28.

Alpers, Philip and Conor Twyford.2003.‘Pacific Small Arms Legislation: Registration.’ Small Arms in the Pacific.Geneva:Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,31 March. (Q322)Full Citation

29.

American Samoa.1978.‘Transfer Regulations.’ Criminal Justice Code (1978) - Weapons.Pago Pago:Legislative Assembly,13 December. (Q376)Full Citation

30.

American Samoa.1978.‘Unlawful Transfer of Weapons.’ Criminal Justice Code (1978) - Weapons.Pago Pago:Legislative Assembly,13 December. (Q381)Full Citation

31.

American Samoa.1978.‘Marking of Arms for Identification.’ Criminal Justice Code (1978) - Weapons.Pago Pago:Legislative Assembly,13 December. (Q377)Full Citation

32.

Alpers, Philip and Conor Twyford.2003.‘Pacific Small Arms Legislation: Firearm marking requirements in Pacific states.’ Small Arms in the Pacific.Geneva:Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,31 March. (Q160)Full Citation

33.

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. (Q596)Full Citation

34.

American Samoa.1978.‘Unlawful Possession of Firearms.’ Criminal Justice Code (1978) - Weapons.Pago Pago:Legislative Assembly,13 December. (Q378)Full Citation

35.

American Samoa.1978.‘Unlawful Use of Weapons.’ Criminal Justice Code (1978) - Weapons.Pago Pago:Legislative Assembly,13 December. (Q379)Full Citation

36.

American Samoa.1978.‘Possession of a Defaced Firearm.’ Criminal Justice Code (1978) - Weapons.Pago Pago:Legislative Assembly,13 December. (Q382)Full Citation

37.

Alpers, Philip and Conor Twyford.2003.‘Pacific Small Arms Legislation: Selected penalties for firearm offences in the Pacific.’ Small Arms in the Pacific.Geneva:Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,31 March. (Q164)Full Citation

38.

American Samoa.1978.‘Definitions.’ Criminal Justice Code (1978) - Weapons.Pago Pago:Legislative Assembly,13 December. (Q380)Full Citation

39.

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. (Q383)Full Citation

40.

American Samoa.1978.‘Transfer Regulations.’ Criminal Justice Code (1978) - Weapons.Pago Pago:Legislative Assembly,13 December. (Q384)Full Citation

41.

American Samoa.2007.‘Amount of Tax on Certain Items.’ American Samoa Code, Title 11 - Revenue: Chapter 10 - Excise Tax on Imports.Pago Pago:Legislative Assembly,1 March. (Q597)Full Citation

42.

Alpers, Philip and Conor Twyford.2003.‘Gun Control by Import Tariff.’ Small Arms in the Pacific.Geneva:Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,31 March. (Q385)Full Citation

43.

American Samoa.2001.‘Value of Imports by Commodity: FY1996 to FY2000.’ American Samoa 2000 Statistical Yearbook.Pago Pago:Department of Commerce,1 January. (Q598)Full Citation

44.

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

45.

UNGA.2001.‘Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects.’ United Nations General Assembly.New York, NY:UN General Assembly,20 July. (Q18)Full Citation

46.

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

47.

UNGA.2001.‘United Nations Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunition.’ UN General Assembly Resolution 55/255.New York, NY:UN General Assembly,31 May. (Q17)Full Citation

48.

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. (Q574)Full Citation

49.

SPCPC.1998.‘The Honiara Initiative Resolutions.’ Second SPCPC Sub-Committee Meeting on Common Approach to Weapon Control.Honiara:South Pacific Chiefs of Police Conference,19 October. (Q575)Full Citation

50.

SPCPC/OCO.2000.‘Towards a Common Approach to Weapons Control: The 'Nadi Framework'.’ South Pacific Chiefs of Police Conference (SPCPC) and Oceania Customs Organisation (OCO).Nadi, Fiji:Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Secretariat,10 March. (Q576)Full Citation

51.

Baker, Jean.2000.‘Weapons Control Bill: Explanatory Notes.’ Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.Suva, Fiji:Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat,10 March. (Q577)Full Citation

52.

Alpers, Philip.2005.‘Pacific Model Legislation.’ Gun-running in Papua New Guinea: From arrows to assault weapons in the Southern Highlands.Geneva:Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,1 July. (Q167)Full Citation

53.

IANSA.2006.‘National Regulation of Small Arms.’ IANSA Position Paper for the January, 2006 Preparatory Conference (PrepCom) for the July, 2006 UN small arms Review Conference (RevCon).New York, NY:International Action Network on Small Arms,1 January. (Q578)Full Citation

54.

IANSA.2006.‘Reviewing Action on Small Arms 2006: Assessing the first five years of the UN Programme of Action.’ Biting the Bullet 'Red Book' 2006.New York, NY:International Action Network on Small Arms and the Biting the Bullet project,26 June. (Q168)Full Citation