Find Gun Policy Facts

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

Guns in Samoa

In Samoa, private ownership of shotguns and rifles is restricted,1 2 handguns are prohibited,3 4 and all applicants for a firearm licence must show a genuine reason for ownership.5

With 11,995 licensed gun owners and 17,845 registered firearms,6 Samoa has 8.2 lawfully held private guns per 100 population.7 Among 18 island nations of the Pacific, this ranks Samoa with Niue and New Caledonia as having the highest civilian gun ownership rates.6 Although Samoan police do not carry firearms and the nation has no military,8 state armouries are estimated to hold 142 small arms.9

Gun Death, Injury and Crime

In the five-year period 1997-2001, Samoa reported 175 homicides, at an average annual rate of 21.9 per 100,000 population. Of these, ten were committed with a firearm (1.25 per 100,000). Of 23 robberies in the same period, three were armed robberies with a gun.10

In 1995, Samoa reported a lower homicide rate of 8.0 per 100,000 population,11 along with five suicides (3.03 per 100,000). Of these, two were firearm suicides (1.21 per 100,000).12 In that year there were also two unintentional shooting deaths (1.21 per 100,000),13 14 police reported that of eight armed robberies in 1995 only one involved a firearm,15 one person was injured by gunshot in the course of a crime,16 and one sexual assault was committed with a firearm.17 During the three-year period 1999-2001, 16 firearms were reported stolen.1

In an unprecedented political shooting which shocked the nation, a Samoan cabinet minister was assassinated by a lone gunman in July 1999.10 18 In sentencing another gun owner to 12 months in prison for injuring three fellow villagers with a shotgun in 2004, a District Court judge noted that gun death and injury had become 'far too prevalent' in Samoan society.19

Trafficking and Smuggling

Authorities report no evidence of illegal local manufacture,20 illicit sales or distribution of firearms, their components or ammunition,21 and few examples of known illegal imports and exports.22 23

While anecdotal evidence suggests some guns are smuggled to Samoa from the neighbouring US protectorate of American Samoa, and law enforcement officers talk of illicit handgun possession in the Samoan fishing fleet, there is no evidence of widespread trafficking in the region.24

In February 2006, police seized guns in raids on a drug smuggling syndicate in the capital, Apia.25 In April 2008, the captain of a Samoa Police patrol boat was alleged to have smuggled three guns into the country from nearby American Samoa, in a package addressed to the Samoan Commissioner of Police. One of these was a handgun stolen from the police evidence room in Pago Pago, American Samoa.26 27 28

Gun Control Law

Samoa's gun laws are ranked as restrictive, not permissive.29 The principal national firearm law is the Arms Ordinance (1960), with its various Arms Amendment Acts.30 31 32 The Crimes Ordinance covers firearm-related offences and penalties, while the Customs Act regulates weapon imports and exports.30

Private ownership of pistols and revolvers is not allowed, and rifles are more tightly restricted than shotguns.3 33 Requirements for lawful possession of shotguns and rifles include gun owner licensing,34 a permit to purchase,35 and the registration of all firearms.36

In December 2006, public protests forced the abandonment of a new police powers bill to enable officers to carry firearms. Opponents included Samoa's peak body of NGOs, which saw 'no need for local police to be armed.' 37 38

Gun Owner Licensing

Applicants for private possession of long guns must show a genuine reason for firearm ownership which is acceptable under the law. These can include an established sporting purpose or ownership of a livestock farm, but not general protection or private security.39 5

In a 1998 United Nations survey, Samoa reported that licence applicants must provide proof of identity, a photo, curriculum vitae and references, show certification of completed training, undergo a background check, provide information on proposed gun storage, and pay a licence fee.40 Background checks are said to require proof of citizenship and minimum age, and applicants with a previous history of crime, domestic violence or mental illness can be refused a licence.41 As in most Pacific island nations, where these measures are neither spelt out in legislation nor always followed in practice, police do have broad discretion to deny a gun licence to anyone they feel is not a 'fit and proper person.' 42

To buy a gun, successful applicants must show a current firearm licence, and/or a permit to purchase.35

Normally, firearms are not permitted to be in the possession of anyone other than a licensed owner.43 Yet in Samoa, a member of the licensee's family aged 16 or older whose name is approved and entered in the police registry may also use the owner's gun.44

Samoa reports no measures to regulate the storage or transportation of firearms and ammunition, nor to prevent licensed owners from carrying their guns.43

Record Keeping

Samoa Police maintain civilian gun owner licensing and firearm registration records in local registers which are neither centralised nor computerised. Public access to these records is not allowed.34 36 45

In 2003, Samoa Police held records of 10,897 shotguns and 6,948 rifles in its firearm registry, for a total of 17,845 privately held, registered guns.6

Sale and Transfer

Licensed gun owners are permitted to transfer long guns to anyone they understand to hold a valid firearm licence. No record of the transaction or other reporting is required.46 In such cases, the police register of firearms is unlikely to be updated.

Licensed gun dealers are required to maintain detailed sales records and regular reporting cycles.47

Marking and Tracing

Although Samoan law allows for regulation to require a serial number or identifying mark to be recorded on firearms, marking is not yet mandatory.48

Law enforcement personnel in Samoa are trained in firearm identification, but do not employ firearm tracing technology.49

Gun Amnesties

In July 2006, Samoa passed urgent legislation to facilitate amnesties for the surrender of illegal firearms. The parliamentary Opposition called for a national gun ban, with life imprisonment for illegal firearm possession.50 Two months later, 'more than 100' firearms were surrendered to police in the first amnesty. These were added to 'about 50' small arms previously seized by Customs. All were factory-made weapons, and all were destroyed.51

Penalties

Unlawful gun possession, unlicensed dealing, and illegal firearm importation may attract penalties of up to five years in prison. No sanction is specified for illegal manufacture or illegal export.52

In February 2005, while sentencing a 47 year-old man to 12 months in jail for threatening use and unlawful possession of a firearm, a District Court judge warned that the maximum sentence for such offending had recently been increased to five years imprisonment or a $10,000 fine.53

Definitions

Samoa's legislation does not define arms, firearms or ammunition.54 33 It does define a pistol as 'any firearm the barrel of which does not exceed 12 inches in length,' and a shotgun as 'a firearm having a smooth-bore barrel and primarily designed for sporting purposes and to discharge pellets of shot only.' In Samoa, 'unlawful weapons' include 'any pistol, machine gun, rifle, airgun, and any other class of firearm except a shotgun.' Machine guns, rifles and airguns are not defined.55

Production and Trade

Manufacture

Samoa is not a manufacturer of firearms, components or ammunition, and has no capacity to produce arms.56 57 No regulations exist to regulate the manufacture of small arms or ammunition.58 59

Arms Imports

The laws of Samoa prohibit or restrict by type the import of firearms, their parts and ammunition.60 59 Small arms and ammunition are prohibited goods, subject to import licensing. Suspected illegal imports may be seized.61 In a statement to the United Nations small arms Programme of Action (UNPoA)62 Review Conference in July 2006, Samoa stated that the country's suspension of all imports of firearms and ammunition 'continues in force.' 63

Yet in the years 2000-07, Samoa imported small arms and ammunition worth US$171,360. Most came from New Zealand arms dealers, who shipped 84 per cent (US$123,269) of the total. Nearly half this eight-year value (US$78,494, or 46 per cent) arrived from New Zealand and Australia in a single year, 2007. Smaller suppliers included the United Kingdom, Denmark and Fiji. Most shipments were classified as sporting and hunting shotguns, rifles and ammunition.64 65

Arms Exports

The laws of Samoa prohibit or restrict by type the export of firearms, their parts and ammunition.66 59 The Head of State may prohibit the exportation of arms, and of materials that could be used in the manufacture of arms.61 Samoa re-exports only very small quantities of small arms and ammunition.64 67

International Agreements

As a participant in the United Nations Programme of Action on illicit small arms (UNPoA),62 Samoa has never filed a national report. Although a National Point of Contact to the UNPoA has been advised, a National Coordinating Agency has yet to be established under the terms of this 2001 agreement.68 69 Samoa does not involve civil society stakeholders in its representations to the UNPoA.70

In 2009, Samoa had neither signed nor ratified the 2001 Firearms Protocol to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.71

As a member of the Pacific Islands Forum, Samoa endorsed the 1998 Honiara Initiative,72 73 which led to the Nadi Framework for small arms control in the Pacific.74 In a unanimous vote in 2003, the 16 nations of the Forum adopted the resulting Draft Model Weapons Control Bill,75 a template designed to encourage progressive harmonisation of gun control laws across the region as member states update their national legislation.76 77 In 2009, Samoa had yet to adapt its firearm legislation in line with the Nadi Framework.

Samoa exchanges firearm trafficking intelligence with its regional neighbours through the Oceania Customs Organisation (OCO), and has received related assistance from the Pacific Islands Forum Regional Security Committee (FRSC).78 The nation is not a party to any other known international agreements to curb the proliferation of illicit firearms.79 1

International Assistance

In the years 2002-04, to implement the secure storage recommendations of the UNPoA, New Zealand and Australia helped construct and upgrade Samoa's police armoury and ammunition magazines, and provide ongoing staff training in weapon maintenance and management.80 81 82 83 84

In 2002-05, Australia and New Zealand supported all five major small arms-related research projects in the region.85 86 87 88 89

Although Samoa does not involve civil society stakeholders in the UN small arms process, both New Zealand and Australia support Pacific island NGOs to attend regional UNPoA workshops, and include local NGO advisers in their delegations to the United Nations.70

Short References

1.

United Nations.1999.‘Analysis of Country Responses.’ United Nations International Study on Firearm Regulation.Vienna:UN Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Division,30 August. (Q1)Full Citation

2.

United Nations.1998.‘Countries that Prohibit or Restrict the Ownership of Firearms.’ United Nations International Study on Firearm Regulation.Vienna:UN Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Division,1 August. (Q26)Full Citation

3.

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

4.

Capie, David.2003.‘Legislation and Enforcement: Handguns.’ Under the Gun: The small arms challenge in the Pacific.Wellington:Victoria University Press,1 January. (Q161)Full Citation

5.

United Nations.1998.‘Purposes for Which Firearm Possession Permitted.’ United Nations International Study on Firearm Regulation.Vienna:UN Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Division,1 August. (Q40)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. (Q143)Full Citation

7.

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

8.

Alpers, Philip and Conor Twyford.2003.‘Stockpiles and Trafficking in the Pacific: Police Inventories.’ Small Arms in the Pacific.Geneva:Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,31 March. (Q145)Full Citation

9.

Karp, Aaron.2003.‘Fewer Blanks: Global Firearm Stockpiles.’ Small Arms Survey 2003: Development Denied.Oxford:Oxford University Press,1 July. (Q330)Full Citation

10.

Alpers, Philip and Conor Twyford.2003.‘The Impact of Armed conflict on Pacific Island Communities.’ Small Arms in the Pacific.Geneva:Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,31 March. (Q147)Full Citation

11.

United Nations.1998.‘Homicide Rates from Three Different Data Sources.’ United Nations International Study on Firearm Regulation.Vienna:UN Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Division,1 August. (Q72)Full Citation

12.

UNCPCJP.1998.‘Rate of Deaths Caused By Suicide and Suicide Deaths Caused by Firearms.’ United Nations International Study on Firearm Regulation.Vienna:UN Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Division,1 August. (Q53)Full Citation

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United Nations.1998.‘Rate of Deaths Caused by a Fatal Wound Inflicted by a Firearm.’ United Nations International Study on Firearm Regulation.Vienna:UN Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Division,1 August. (Q51)Full Citation

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United Nations.1998.‘Deaths Caused By an Accident Involving a Firearm.’ United Nations International Study on Firearm Regulation.Vienna:UN Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Division,1 August. (Q55)Full Citation

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United Nations.1998.‘Rate of Thefts and Robberies Involving the Use of a Firearm.’ United Nations International Study on Firearm Regulation.Vienna:UN Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Division,1 August. (Q63)Full Citation

16.

United Nations.1998.‘Rate of Persons Wounded by Firearms in the Course of a Criminal Act.’ United Nations International Study on Firearm Regulation.Vienna:UN Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Division,1 August. (Q65)Full Citation

17.

United Nations.1998.‘Rate of Sexual Assaults and of Sexual Assaults that Involved the Use of a Firearm.’ United Nations International Study on Firearm Regulation.Vienna:UN Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Division,1 August. (Q69)Full Citation

18.

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19.

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20.

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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

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

29.

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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

31.

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34.

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35.

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36.

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37.

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38.

Radio New Zealand International (Shortwave). 2006. ‘Samoa Defers Passing of Police Powers Bill.’ 19 December. (N17) Full Citation

39.

Alpers, Philip and Conor Twyford.2003.‘Genuine Reason: A Snapshot of Pacific Definitions.’ Small Arms in the Pacific.Geneva:Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,31 March. (Q346)Full Citation

40.

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41.

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42.

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. (Q155)Full Citation

43.

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44.

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45.

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. (Q157)Full Citation

46.

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. (Q158)Full Citation

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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. (Q159)Full Citation

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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

49.

United Nations.1998.‘Firearms Identification and Tracing Technology.’ United Nations International Study on Firearm Regulation.Vienna:UN Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Division,1 August. (Q49)Full Citation

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51.

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52.

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

53.

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54.

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55.

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56.

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