In the far, far away land of Developmentia, the field of security in developing countries has a long and venerable history. Security for Development or S4D as the field has come to be known attracted many researchers and practitioners alike in attempts to address the issue of keeping people safe in marginal or failed states. The body of knowledge grew slowly because security is an integrated issue that demands a holistic, systemic approach.

A few years ago however, popular newspaper The Economyth drew international attention to a Smith & Wesson-funded study that established a correlation between the sales and manufacture of handguns and crime reduction. The researchers had discovered that having a thriving small arms sales and manufacturing industry is strongly correlated with a decrease in murder rate. Roughly every 10% increase in gun ownership accounts for a 1% decrease in the murder rate.

Within the space of a few years, development organisations had virtually discarded the term Security4Development and opted for the punchier and obviously more relevant Guns4Development (G4D). S4D began to look distinctly old-school and people questioned what impact where they having anyway with their broader, systemic analyses of security issues. Guns were changing the state of play and everyone including aid agencies, foundations, and especially gun manufacturers rushed to get on board.

A body of case studies and anecdotes grew. Anthropologists documented cases ranging from farmers in Africa defending themselves from attacks to fisherman in India successfully fighting off marauding fish thieves. Virtually everyone had a “taxi driver story” to tell about how their driver had saved his family’s life with his gun.  Gun impact became legendary. A famous Nobel prize-winner claimed that “the quickest way out of personal danger in developing countries is a handgun.”

Guns4Development workshops abounded with practitioners developing new tools to increase gun impact on safety. Telescopic sights, xenon projectors, quickdraw holsters… there was no limit to the innovation the people brought to gun practice. Everyone was excited.

Gun manufacturers began to fund education and innovation programs to support work on their particular brand of handgun.  Partnerships between gun manufacturers and development agencies abounded.

As attention grew, gun manufacturers began to offer development-oriented bullets that offered specific benefits for poor people. Inexpensive bullets that allowed people to fire more often. Bullets with more stopping power, tracer bullets, paint bullets, you name it. Development agencies leapt on board and soon the sub-field of Bullets4Development or B4D was coined.

The Global Institute funded Bullet Incubator Programs to stimulate the development of new and more useful bullets. By now an entire ecosystem of handgun manufacturers, retailers, bullet developers, aid programs, and research had grown up around G4D.

And so the quest goes on to this day to find that most important development bullet of all, the silver bullet.

Disclaimer:  This is a flight of whimsy and should not be probed deeply but it does touch on a thread of unease I have.  I am definitely in the queue of people who ought to be read this parable at bedtime.  Mea culpa.

Posted by Steve Song

@stevesong local telco policy activist. social entrepreneur. founder of @villagetelco #africa #telecoms #opensource #privacy #wireless #spectrum #data