Find Gun Policy Facts

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

Guns in Vanuatu

As in most Pacific island nations, privately owned small arms and gun violence are rare in Vanuatu. The nation’s firearm legislation is ranked as restrictive, and despite some gaps, is more stringent than some of its neighbours. Handguns, automatic weapons and air rifles are banned, with only small-calibre rifles and shotguns allowed for hunting, pest control and sport. Insecure storage of state-owned small arms has been both a cause of concern, and a target of attention for regional neighbours and development donors.

Civilian Possession

In 2002 there were 4,700 licensed civilian firearm owners in Vanuatu, between them holding the same number of registered, legally-held shotguns and rifles, for a possession rate of 2.27 small arms per 100 population. This ranks Vanuatu in the medium-to-low range of private gun ownership among Pacific island nations.1

Government Guns

As a matter of routine, Vanuatu’s 319 sworn police officers are unarmed.2 Their armouries hold around 92 firearms, including at least five .38 handguns, twenty .22 semi automatic pistols, and fifty 9mm semi-automatic pistols.3 4

The Vanuatu Mobile Force (VMF) is a paramilitary corps of 256 personnel.5 2 The VMF controls around 576 firearms,4 including 270 Vietnam War-era 7.62mm self-loading rifles (SLRs), six Sterling submachine guns, 70 light machine gun SLRs, a number of obsolete .303 rifles from World War II, 50-70 Glock and Beretta 9mm pistols, and a number of .38 Smith and Wesson handguns, sourced mainly from Australia. In 2003, most of these small arms were said to be unserviceable, while the VMF was ‘desperately short of small arms ammunition.’ 6

Some assessments of state-controlled storage facilities in Vanuatu have not been positive. One writer found security aboard the Vanuatu Police Force patrol boat RVS Tukoro ‘disturbing,’ noting that: ‘Poorly secured “fridge-like” safes, locked by single padlocks meant that any would-be rebel taking control of this vessel would capture almost all the military ammunition in the country.’ 7 With support from Australia and New Zealand, police and military small arms storage in Vanuatu has since been markedly improved. (see International Assistance).

Gun Death, Injury and Crime

Rates of firearm-related mortality, injury and crime in Vanuatu are not internationally reported. In the five years 1997-2001, local police reported six homicides by any method, of which none were committed with a firearm. Of the 2,187 robberies and 1,180 assaults reported in that period, none involved a gun.8 News media mentions of gun violence are very rare.9

Gun Control Law

Regulation of small arms in Vanuatu is ranked as restrictive.10

Relevant legislation includes the Firearms Act (1987-88) No. 7 [cap. 198]; the Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act (1988) [cap. 54]; the Firearm Regulations, Extraordinary Gazette, Order No. 27, 27 June 1988; the Criminal Procedure Code (1981) No. 21; and the Import Duties (Consolidation Amendment) (1998) No.8.11

Gun Owner Licensing

The Firearms Act (1988) determines firearm licensing in Vanuatu. It is an offence to possess, purchase or acquire small arms or ammunition without a firearm licence issued by local police. Ammunition is regulated by quantity, and it is an offence to possess more than the number of rounds specified with each firearm licence.12

No person under the age of 18 years may possess a gun or apply for a firearm licence.13

Genuine Reason

Applicants must provide ‘good reason’ for possessing a firearm.14 The term ‘good reason’ is not defined in the Act, but in practice the only legitimate purpose for private gun possession is said to be farming.15

Background Checks

A licensing officer may refuse or revoke a firearm licence to any person ‘whom he considers to be of unsound mind or intemperate habits, or for any other reasons unfitted to be entrusted with a firearm.’ 16

Licence Renewal

Licences are valid for a year, and only civilians with membership in a licensed rifle club, or starter-pistol shooters at an athletic meeting may fire a gun or possess ammunition without a licence.17 18

Permitted Firearms

Each licensed gun owner is authorised only to possess the firearm, ammunition and quantity of ammunition specified on his or her licensing application form.12 No person without the special authority of the Commissioner may ‘manufacture, sell, transfer, purchase, acquire or have in his possession’ any automatic firearm. Gas guns, noxious liquid guns and their ammunition are also prohibited.19

The 1988 Firearms Act banned the importation of automatic and semiautomatic firearms; pistols and revolvers of all types, along with all firearms and ammunition of .300, .303, .38, and .45 inch calibres as well as 7.62 and 9mm calibres.20 21 Air rifles, air pistols and airgun ammunition are also banned.22

As a result, only small-calibre rifles and shotguns for hunting purposes are permitted in private possession.

Carrying Firearms

While it is illegal to have a firearm and ammunition in a public place without ‘lawful authority or reasonable excuse,’ this term lacks legal definition, of which ‘proof whereof lies on’ the gun owner.23

Firearm Storage

All firearm licence applicants must ensure the secure custody of any weapon and ammunition, and must take all reasonable precautions to ensure that the firearm is not lost, stolen, or at any time available to any person not lawfully entitled to possess it.24 There are no descriptions of minimum security standards for civilian, police, military or other small arms possession.

Recordkeeping

Every licensed firearm dealer must maintain a register of all firearm and ammunition transactions and produce this register for the inspection of the licensing officer or police.25 As there is no provision in law to allow the private transfer of firearms,26 all sales and other changes of ownership must be conducted and registered with a licensed gun dealer and/or a firearm licensing officer.

Marking and Tracing

There are no provisions in Vanuatu law for the individual marking of firearms.

Gun Free Zones

The Minister of Police may prohibit the possession of firearms and ammunition in any specified area, and may demand that all small arms and ammunition within that area be surrendered to local police.27

Penalties

Penalties for firearm offences in Vanuatu are light in comparison to those imposed by Pacific neighbours.28 Unlicensed possession of a firearm or ammunition may incur a fine not exceeding VT 20,000 (US$190) and/or six months imprisonment. Unlicensed dealing in, or importing of firearms or ammunition is punishable by a fine not exceeding VT 50,000 (US$475) and/or 12 months imprisonment. Manufacturing or dealing in prohibited firearms or ammunition may incur a fine of VT 100,000 (US$960) and/or two years imprisonment.29 No penalty is specified for illegal exportation of small arms.

Endangering life with a firearm and offences of armed violence are punishable by maximum fines of VT 500,000 to VT 750,000 (US$4,750 to US$6,660), and/or ten to 15 years imprisonment.29

Definitions

Vanuatu law provides legal definitions for ‘air weapon,’ ‘ammunition,’ ‘automatic firearm,’ ‘firearm,’ ‘imitation firearm,’ ‘prohibited ammunition’ and ‘prohibited weapon.’ 30

Production and Trade

Manufacture

No firearm may be manufactured, shortened, converted, repaired or tested without a gun dealer’s licence. Unlicensed manufacture and testing of ammunition is also prohibited.31 Shortening the barrel of a firearm to less than 60 centimetres, converting a gun to automatic fire, and creating a fireable gun from an imitation weapon are all prohibited without the written permission of the Commissioner of Police.32

Trade Controls

Vanuatu permits only licensed gun dealers to import firearms and ammunition.33 As a deterrent to small arms proliferation, Customs impose an import duty of 250 per cent of landed value. This became an international trade issue when the United States made the abandonment of this ‘barrier to trade’ a condition of Vanuatu’s accession to the World Trade Organization. Vanuatu declined.34 35

In 2007, Vanuatu imported small arms, parts and ammunition worth US$61,777. Of this declared value, 90 per cent (US$55,496) was for shotgun, rifle and airgun ammunition. New Zealand arms dealers supplied 94 per cent of the total, (US$58,058), with the remainder arriving from Australia and the United States. Previous years showed varying peak suppliers, with small arms and ammunition worth US$23,425 imported from the Philippines in 2005, and US$14,882 from Australia in 2000.36 In the period 1998-2000, declared small arms and ammunition export licences and imports to Vanuatu showed much lower annual figures.37 38

Australia and New Zealand, as major trading partners and donor nations to Pacific island nations, have in recent years become wary of inadvertently fuelling violent conflict in the region by providing arms. In their role as ‘choke points’ for goods exported and re-exported to the Pacific, both nations now closely examine, and in many cases refuse export licence applications for small arms and ammunition. These restrictions have affected Vanuatu.39 40

International Agreements

A member of the United Nations since 1981, Vanuatu has not been an active participant in the UN small arms Programme of Action (UNPoA).41 Its government has never delivered a national report to the UNPoA, and has yet to nominate a National Point of Contact or to establish a National Coordination Agency under the terms of this 2001 agreement.42 43 Vanuatu does not involve civil society stakeholders in its representations to the UNPoA.44

In 2009, Vanuatu had neither signed nor ratified the 2001 Firearms Protocol to the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime.45

As a member of the Pacific Islands Forum, Vanuatu endorsed the 1998 Honiara Initiative, 46 47 which led to the Nadi Framework for small arms control in the Pacific.48 In a unanimous vote in 2003, the 16 nations of the Forum adopted the resulting Draft Model Weapons Control Bill,49 a template designed to encourage progressive harmonisation of gun control laws across the region as member states update their national legislation.50 51 In 2009, Vanuatu had yet to adapt its legislation in line with the Nadi Framework.

Vanuatu exchanges small arms trafficking intelligence with regional neighbours through the Oceania Customs Organisation (OCO), and receives related assistance from the Pacific Islands Forum Regional Security Committee (FRSC).52 The nation is not a party to any other known international agreements to curb the proliferation of illicit firearms.53 54

International Assistance

In the years 2002-04, to implement the secure storage recommendations of the UNPoA, Australia and New Zealand helped construct and upgrade Vanuatu’s police and defence force armouries and ammunition magazines, and provide ongoing staff training in weapon maintenance and management.55 56 57 58 59

In 2002-05, Australia and New Zealand supported all five major small arms-related research projects in the Pacific region, some of which surveyed Vanuatu.60 61 62 63 64

Although Vanuatu 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.44

Short References

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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. (Q604)Full Citation

2.

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. (Q605)Full Citation

3.

Vanuatu.2002.‘An Act to Validate the Purchase of Certain Firearms.’ Firearms and Ammunition Special Purchase Act (2002).Port Vila:Parliament of Vanuatu,31 December. (Q606)Full Citation

4.

Karp, Aaron.2003.‘Fewer Blanks: Global Firearm Stockpiles: Firearms of the Pacific.’ Small Arms Survey 2003: Development Denied.Oxford:Oxford University Press,1 July. (Q609)Full Citation

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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. (Q608)Full Citation

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Capie, David.2003.‘State Stockpiles.’ Under the Gun: The small arms challenge in the Pacific.Wellington:Victoria University Press,1 January. (Q607)Full Citation

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Capie, David.2003.‘State Storage.’ Under the Gun: The small arms challenge in the Pacific.Wellington:Victoria University Press,1 January. (Q610)Full Citation

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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. (Q841)Full Citation

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Pacnews / Asia Pulse. 2000. ‘Deputy PM Threatens Security with Firearm.’ 8 August. (N84) Full Citation

10.

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

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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

12.

Vanuatu.1988.‘Possession and Licensing Requirements.’ Firearms Act 1988 [Cap 198].Port Vila:Parliament of Vanuatu,28 March. (Q617)Full Citation

13.

Vanuatu.1988.‘Prohibition on Persons Under the Age of 18.’ Firearms Act 1988 [Cap 198].Port Vila:Parliament of Vanuatu,28 March. (Q612)Full Citation

14.

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Alpers, Philip and Conor Twyford.2003.‘Genuine Reason: A Snapshot of Pacific Definitions - Vanuatu.’ Small Arms in the Pacific.Geneva:Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,31 March. (Q615)Full Citation

16.

Vanuatu.1988.‘Requirement for a Firearm Licence.’ Firearms Act 1988 [Cap 198].Port Vila:Parliament of Vanuatu,28 March. (Q613)Full Citation

17.

Vanuatu.1988.‘Licence Renewal, Cancellation or Revocation.’ Firearms Act 1988 [Cap 198].Port Vila:Parliament of Vanuatu,28 March. (Q618)Full Citation

18.

Vanuatu.1988.‘Licence Exemptions.’ Firearms Act 1988 [Cap 198].Port Vila:Parliament of Vanuatu,28 March. (Q619)Full Citation

19.

Vanuatu.1988.‘Prohibited Weapons.’ Firearms Act 1988 [Cap 198].Port Vila:Parliament of Vanuatu,28 March. (Q620)Full Citation

20.

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

21.

Vanuatu.1988.‘Notice of Ports and Places of Import.’ Firearms (Statutory Orders) 1988 [Cap 198].Port Vila:Parliament of Vanuatu,27 June. (Q873)Full Citation

22.

Vanuatu.1988.‘Prohibition on Possessing, Acquiring, Purchasing etc. of Air Weapons.’ Firearms Act 1988 [Cap 198].Port Vila:Parliament of Vanuatu,28 March. (Q622)Full Citation

23.

Vanuatu.1988.‘Carrying Firearm in Public.’ Firearms Act 1988 [Cap 198].Port Vila:Parliament of Vanuatu,28 March. (Q616)Full Citation

24.

Vanuatu.1988.‘Possession Requirements.’ Firearms Act 1988 [Cap 198].Port Vila:Parliament of Vanuatu,28 March. (Q623)Full Citation

25.

Vanuatu.1988.‘Requirement for a Firearms Dealer's Licence.’ Firearms Act 1988 [Cap 198].Port Vila:Parliament of Vanuatu,28 March. (Q624)Full Citation

26.

Alpers, Philip and Conor Twyford.2003.‘Pacific Small Arms Legislation: Private Sales and Transfers.’ Small Arms in the Pacific.Geneva:Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,31 March. (Q634)Full Citation

27.

Vanuatu.1988.‘Prohibition of Firearms in Certain Areas.’ Firearms Act 1988 [Cap 198].Port Vila:Parliament of Vanuatu,28 March. (Q625)Full Citation

28.

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

29.

Vanuatu.1988.‘Firearm Offence Penalties.’ Firearms Act 1988 [Cap 198].Port Vila:Parliament of Vanuatu,28 March. (Q626)Full Citation

30.

Vanuatu.1988.‘Interpretation.’ Firearms Act 1988 [Cap 198].Port Vila:Parliament of Vanuatu,28 March. (Q627)Full Citation

31.

Vanuatu.1988.‘Manufacture and Dealer Licensing.’ Firearms Act 1988 [Cap 198].Port Vila:Parliament of Vanuatu,28 March. (Q628)Full Citation

32.

Vanuatu.1988.‘Converting Firearms.’ Firearms Act 1988 [Cap 198].Port Vila:Parliament of Vanuatu,28 March. (Q629)Full Citation

33.

Vanuatu.1988.‘Firearm Import Licensing.’ Firearms Act 1988 [Cap 198].Port Vila:Parliament of Vanuatu,28 March. (Q632)Full Citation

34.

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. (Q633)Full Citation

35.

Grynberg, Roman and Roy Mickey Joy.2000.‘The Accession of Vanuatu to the WTO. Lessons for the Multilateral Trading System.’ Journal of World Trade, 2000.London:Kluwer Law International,1 January. (Q875)Full Citation

36.

Marsh, Nicholas.2014.‘Database of Authorised Transfers of Small Arms and Light Weapons.’ NISAT Small Arms Trade Database.Oslo:Norwegian Initiative on Small Arms Transfers,22 December. (Q16)Full Citation

37.

Alpers, Philip and Conor Twyford.2003.‘US Small Arms and Ammunition Export License Approvals, Pacific, 1998-2000.’ Small Arms in the Pacific.Geneva:Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,31 March. (Q303)Full Citation

38.

Alpers, Philip and Conor Twyford.2003.‘Declared Small Arms and Ammunition Imports, Pacific Countries, 2000.’ Small Arms in the Pacific.Geneva:Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,31 March. (Q631)Full Citation

39.

Alpers, Philip and Conor Twyford.2003.‘Stockpiles and Trafficking in the Pacific - Trade Within The Region.’ Small Arms in the Pacific.Geneva:Small Arms Survey, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva,31 March. (Q874)Full Citation

40.

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41.

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42.

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45.

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54.

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