At this moment an international meeting in New York is trying to solve one of the largest problems of the 21st century, a cause of conflict from gang-wars in Mexico to the civil war in Syria.
It is a plague that destroys human rights, erodes the rule of law, aggravates poverty, destroys communities and empowers the corrupt. The economic cost is hundreds of billions each year. The human cost is tens of thousands of lives.
The problem is the unrestricted flow of conventional weapons, small arms in particular. The solution being negotiated is an Arms Trade Treaty.
There are at least 875 million small arms in the world, shared between the military, law enforcement and civilians. Although about 600,000 are destroyed annually through disarmament and buy-back programmes, seven to eight million new weapons are produced each year.
Some of these guns can work effectively for decades. American troops fighting in Afghanistan have been shot at with British Lee Enfield rifles given to the country after World War I.
Most shooting, however, is done with more modern weapons such as the AK-47, which is so hard-wearing that it is not uncommon for one item to see service in up to five different conflicts.
It is so easy to use that armies can be made of children. It is also cheap. In many conflict zones a modern assault rifle can be bought for less than US$15 ($19).
At least 51 countries produce small arms, of which at least half are illegal.
It is not clear which countries are producing what and how many are being produced. The six biggest declared conventional arms selling countries are the United States, with 32 per cent of the market, Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Russia. The quantity that countries such as, Israel, North Korea and Iran produce and trade is a matter of conjecture.
The trade is driven by the fact that, unlike virtually all other goods in the world, there is no globally agreed standard for the international arms trade. The only universal restraints are imposed by the Security Council when arms embargoes are agreed. These are nearly always too few and too late.
The vast majority of the trade and build up of weaponry happens well before we see mass violations of international humanitarian law - such as the killing of civilians, gross violations of human rights and the denial of democracy.
Until the end of the Cold War, there were few restraints in this area. Both sides provided weaponry on unprecedented levels to whoever was their friend.
Considerations of human rights and compliance with international humanitarian law carried very little weight. If someone was fighting the opposition, the sky was the limit.
After the Cold War considerations of economic benefit and national advantage have come to trump ideological justifications. Either way, the result is the same. Conventional weapons and small arms in particular, find their way into the hands of the wrong people.
The wrong people are those who possess the weapons illegally, or use them wrongfully. Wrongful use means the creation of violations of human rights or international humanitarian law.
This is an important point, as unlike landmines or cluster bombs, conventional weapons and small arms in particular, are not, prima facie, indiscriminate in their impact. It is their wrongful application or acquisition which creates the problem. The problem can now be solved by two steps. The first is being able to safely and securely store all small weapons and track them so that everyone can see who has what and where they got it from. All brokers, both governmental and private, need to be carefully regulated.
The second step is ensuring that no weapons are traded with countries with serious human rights abuses or violations of international humanitarian law. That would mean countries such as Syria could no longer buy weaponry on the open market while shelling their own citizens.
These solutions do not involve the banning of certain types of weapons or interfering with the domestic arms trade and the way a country regulates civilian possession.
What it does involve is denying weapons to people who use them for wrongful purposes. It is a regulation not a prohibition on the trade.
These principles are acceptable to Europe and to a degree, the United States. For the rest of the world there are difficulties. Even New Zealand has difficulties on the issue of monitoring.
Others, like Russia and China, are able to accept the idea of monitoring and tracking but have grave reservations on restraints of trade. A Chinese official told a British journalist, "China practices a policy of allowing people to solve their own problems".
This is a mistake. The crushing of dissent in Syria, the gang-wars of Mexico or the replenished insurgents in Afghanistan are problems for us all.
An Arms Trade Treaty would be the first serious recognition that the community of the 21st century is going to be better than the 20th. Without this foundation, it is doubtful how much of value can be built.
Alexander Gillespie is Professor of Law at the University of Waikato.