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Small Is Dangerous

A study – recently carried out by defence experts – has revealed that small arms cause 90% of civilian casualties in the modern world.
Experts opine that the growing availability of small arms leads to the increase in the number of conflicts in different parts of the globe and also hampers the smoother rebuilding and development of conflict-ridden areas, apart from causing casualties. As per the study, there are nearly half a billion military small arms around the world and around 300,000 to half a million people are killed by them every year.
In an article – titled ‘Small Arms Cover-up; The Problem of Proliferation’ and published in January 2001 edition of ‘Le Monde diplomatique’, Philippe Riviere had said that hand guns, pistols, sub-machine guns, mortars, landmines, grenades and light missiles were commonly considered as small arms. According to the author, these low maintenance, highly portable, concealable and relatively cheap arms are easily available in any country.

The UN Department for Disarmament Affairs, too, has admitted that the use of small arms and light weapons not only affects the human rights situation, but also promotes a culture of violence. The UN expressed serious concern over the increasing use of small arms even by the civilians in relatively peaceful countries, like the US. In the first quarter of 2018, there were eight school shootings in which a gun was discharged and victims were either injured or killed in the US.
Unlike nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, there are no international treaties or other legal instruments for dealing with these weapons, which States and also individual legal owners rely on for their defence needs,” stated the UN department while explaining the scenario. It also traced the historical roots of the problem, saying in a report that many nations, including the US, the erstwhile Soviet Union and their allies, were flooded with small arms during the Cold War. Even after the end of Cold War, the small arms still remained there and helped fuel political and ethnic differences into conflicts.

Although the UN and many of its member states are trying hard to address the issue, the deteriorating political and security situation in various regions makes it difficult for them to solve the problem. Some experts believe that the glorification of snipers by the defence strategists has encouraged civilians to purchase small arms. People will have to realise the fact that snipers are professionals and they usually target ‘enemies’, and not innocent civilians or pupils. Moreover, there is a difference between small arms and rifles made for snipers. Ranges, great targeting capabilities, fire power and penetration are the main characteristics of a best sniper rifle, and an intense training course can only make a good shooter the deadliest sniper.
Let’s explore some interesting facts about sniper rifles and their users.
The word ‘sniper‘ has its origins in Snipe, a bird, and was first used way back in 1770. It seems that the recoil-operated, semi-automatic anti-materiel ‘Barrett M82’ rifle – with a range of greater than 4km – was the first firearm designed especially for precision shooting or for snipers. The US and the Swedish Armed Forces used the Barrett M82 rifles in the 1980s.


British Super Sniper Craig Harrison, using a L115A3 Long Range Rifle, created a world record in November 2009, as he consecutively struck two Taliban machine gunners south of Musa Qala in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province at a range of 2,475m. Later, Harrison said that the environmental conditions were perfect for long range shooting – no wind, mild weather and clear visibility. A Canadian Special Forces sniper broke Harrison’s record for the longest confirmed kill shot in May 2017, as he gunned down an ISIS militant from 3,540m in Iraq.

Craig Harrison

Snipers usually shoot between heartbeats, although its effect is small (but effective). Defence experts believe that it’s extremely difficult to shoot between heartbeats during a war. In combat, soldiers are usually high on adrenaline and their hearts are hammering away at 120bpm. As a result, shooting between heartbeats is impossible, they explain. Actually, snipers try to use breathing to control the heart rate and to shoot between breaths. Also, a sniper has to consider the wind speed, temperature and humidity while targeting the object.
Snipers play an important role in modern warfare, as the use of snipers reduces the cost of a war. They work in teams, with a very specific job to do and each team has (at least) two members – a sniper and a spotter. It’s also very difficult for snipers to know the condition of their ‘targets’ after the shooting. Snipers are ‘silent assailants’… people in their vicinity don’t even hear the noise when snipers do their job. Usually, their main targets are top officials of the enemy camp.
Lyudmila Mikhailovna Pavlichenko – a Soviet sniper in the Red Army during WWII – is regarded as one of the best military snipers of all time and the most successful female sniper in history. She gunned down 309 ‘enemies’.


Finnish sniper Simo ‘Simuna’ Häyhä was one of the most successful male snipers in the world. Häyhä – who had reportedly killed 505-542 men during the 1939-40 Winter War – was nicknamed “White Death” by the Red Army. It was the highest recorded number of sniper kills in any major war. Mike Plumb – a Columbus SWAT sniper – shot the small .38 revolver out of a person’s hand from 78m away without causing any harm to the person, who was ready to commit suicide, on August 16, 1993.


During the WWII, the Red Army had nearly 2,000 female snipers. French film director, screenwriter and producer Jean-Jacques Annaud directed ‘Enemy at the Gates‘ in 2001. It’s a war film based on William Craig’s 1973 nonfiction book ‘Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad‘. The story describes the events surrounding the Battle of Stalingrad in the winter of 1942-43.The main character of the film is a fictionalised version of great Soviet sniper Vasily Zaytsev, who was engaged in a duel with a Wehrmacht sniper school director, Major Erwin König.


US Army’s Staff Sergeant Brian Moran rightly said: “The object of this training is to teach students that being a sniper can be a difficult and dirty job. These are the conditions that snipers will often find themselves in.
However, we cannot (and should not) compare a sniper with a civilian having a small firearm. The Donald Trump administration’s proposed plan to raise the age limit on buying certain assault rifles from 18 to 21 can’t combat school shootings. The global community needs to take serious steps in order to address the issue properly.

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