Private security company (PSC) firearm holdings merits greater scrutiny, the Small Arms Survey (SAS), a think tank on the subject, says. In a research note released ahead of their annual survey, the SAS says arms held by PSCs may represent but a small fraction of total civilian stockpiles, “yet
the more interesting question is how they relate to certain state security sector holdings…
“Moreover, oversight and transparency regarding their stockpiles is often slim at best. In many
countries, official standards for the management and safeguarding of PSC weapons, as well as for the training of PSC personnel, are non-existent. Confidentiality of internal PSC procedures also makes an evaluation of industry standards and performance particularly difficult,” the research note adds.
They note the private security industry has come under considerable international scrutiny due to the highly publicised role it has played in Afghanistan and Iraq. “Attention has mostly focused on questions concerning governmental oversight and these companies accountability. Comparatively, little has been written on the types and numbers of firearms held by PSCs, especially in countries considered at peace.”
PSCs are defined as legally registered business entities that provide, on a contractual basis, security or military services regardless of whether they operate in situations of conflict. “Information on PSC arms holdings is scarce and lacks precision. States that maintain firearm registration systems do not always distinguish between civilian- and PSC-held firearms. In some countries, PSC employees can carry their personal weapons while on duty, further complicating accounting. In other cases, personnel have been reported to carry illegal—thus unrecorded—firearms. These different factors make it particularly challenging to draw a comprehensive picture of PSC firearm holdings.
“Available reports suggest that generally not all PSC staff carry firearms in countries considered at peace. PSCs in Latin America appear to be more armed than in other regions, but ratios remain systematically below one firearm per employee. A survey of the industry in Europe reveals that the proportion of PSC personnel that is authorised to be armed is about 40% in Bulgaria, just under 25% in Slovenia, Spain and Turkey, and below 10% in Croatia, Germany and Sweden.
“The fact that PSCs exercise a variety of functions, many of which do not necessitate weapon use – such as risk analysis and security advice – explain these relatively low levels of armament. Moreover, PSC personnel who are permitted to carry firearms often do not each have their own
weapon, nor do they always carry one. Guns may be stored in a central armoury and shared
by employees from shift to shift. Conflict-affected areas such as Afghanistan and Iraq experience much higher levels of PSC firearm holdings. In such settings, industry sources argue that maintaining weapon capabilities at least equal or superior to potential attackers’ is crucial.
“In practice, this translates into PSCs being armed at levels comparable to state security forces, as reports of more than three firearms per PSC personnel in Afghanistan illustrate. In contrast, law
enforcement personnel worldwide hold an estimated average 1.2 firearms per officer, while the military generally keep more than one and sometimes as many as ten weapons per soldier.
“Significant differences exist across settings when it comes to the types of weapons used by PSCs. A number of countries actually prohibit PSCs from using firearms on their territory, including the Bahamas, Denmark, Japan, Kenya, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, and the UK. A survey of the industry across 34 European states reveals that the vast majority of PSCs are only allowed to use handguns (pistols and revolvers). Smoothbore firearms (such as shotguns) are authorised in few countries, and almost all European countries prohibit PSCs from using automatic firearms. Fully automatic firearms are also banned from PSC use in Argentina, Brazil, Guatemala, Peru, and South Africa. Exceptions include Angola, where PSCs continue to use AK47 assault rifles. In Turkey, PSCs may use MP5 submachine guns and G3 rifles for the protection of oil refineries, oil wells, and power plants. PSCs operating in Afghanistan and Iraq also operate a wide variety of weapons, including 9mm handguns, 7.62mm assault rifles, as well as general-purpose machine guns.”