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Targeting gun violence & trafficking in Europe

To assess the impact of illicit firearms trafficking on gun violence, this research looks at the scope, characteristics and contexts of firearm violence, and also the scope and nature of firearms trafficking in Europe since the new millennium. Nils Duquet, Dennis Vanden Auweele and Marieke Liem created a framework in which they described in detail how illicit firearms trafficking has varied impacts on gun violence in seven countries: Belgium, Estonia, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Serbia and Sweden.

Nils Duquet, Dennis Vanden Auweele and Marieke Liem
13 December 2021
Download the report here

Their research indicates that illicit firearms trafficking already significantly impacts both lethal and non-lethal gun violence. If these new sources and forms of trafficking render firearms more available, we can safely assume that they will increase gun violence. There is thus a need for effective policy choices and resolute measures. Project TARGET has attempted to map this issue and so, hopefully, will have contributed to the prevention of violence in the EU. 

What firearms are being trafficked?

Concluding remarks include via which way firearms are trafficked and what kind of firearms are involved. Trafficking in military-grade, reputable firearms occurs either as direct smuggling (most often from the Western Balkanks) or indirectly through weapon reactivation (often involving certain Central European countries). This causes these firearms to become more accessible to criminals, especially to those higher up on the ladder in the drug milieu. This problem is observed particularly in the Netherlands, where we note the usage of high-quality firearms, such as Glock pistols (accounting for 20% of shootings) and automatic rifles, especially Kalashnikov-type rifles and Škorpion sub-machine guns (more than 10% of shootings). These firearms would not be available to criminals in the Netherlands without them being trafficked from other countries.

Because of the use of such high-quality firearms, shootings in the criminal milieu in the Netherlands are particularly injurious and lethal. These firearms have also been noted at increasing levels in other countries: Sweden, Denmark, Belgium and France, which could bring out a spiral of more lethal violence in these countries. In addition, the increased trafficking in (easy-to-reactivate and reactivated) deactivated firearms, in particular from Slovakia, in the mid-2010s has increased further the availability of high-quality firearms, including automatic rifles, among criminals across Europe.

Trafficking can also involve less powerful and durable firearms, which usually involves the illicit trade in (converted) blank-firing firearms. Throughout Europe, seizures of blank-firing weapons, such as gas pistols and alarm weapons that may or may not have been converted, have been increasing during the past decade. These are frequently used by lower-level criminals, particularly armed robbers, as a way of threatening or injuring their victims. While they have proven to be not particularly lethal in their pre-conversion form, these firearms are a more serious security risk when they are converted into live-firing firearms. Some brands and types of blank-firing firearm are more easily converted into live-firing firearms than others. While most of these, now, require some sort of license or declaration in most European countries, the diffuseness of regulations in this respect can create trafficking streams between different countries. What is more, Turkish-made blank-firing weapons are sold in large quantities in countries such as Bulgaria and are subsequently distributed across Europe in large numbers. The flow of these firearms is creating the opportunity for lower-level criminals to acquire deadly weaponry easily and at a low cost. Similar difficulties emerge with regard to the proliferation of Flobert-calibre firearms: most European countries by now require some sort of license or declaration for them to be possessed, although they are noted to be trafficked into Europe from Turkey.

More information can be found here.

Project TARGET

Commissioned by the European Committee, Project TARGET provides the very first baseline study into the impact of the illegal arms trade on gun violence in Europe. Different forms of firearms trafficking are making firearms more available to criminals in some European countries. Even countries that have done well historically in managing their legal stockpiles of firearms and combating illicit firearms now have to deal with armed criminals because of gun trafficking. 

Project TARGET is co-funded by the European Union’s Internal Security Fund.

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