TIME magazine posted this article last Thursday, just in time for the weekend:
When Chérif and Saïd Kouachi attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo on Jan. 7, killing 12 people, they were armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and could easily outgun the police officers who tried to apprehend them with pistols. Their associate, Amedy Coulibaly, had an even greater collection of military-grade weapons.
The size of the trio’s armory has prompted an urgent inquiry into the scale of gun smuggling in Europe, where weapons are smuggled into the European Union from the countries of former Yugoslavia, Albania and elsewhere and then moved without any further border checks to where they will get the best price. Most of the smuggling is carried out by criminal gangs but many jihadists such as Coulibaly are well connected with criminal networks.
Despite the Paris attacks, it seems the weapons are still flowing freely through Europe. Brian Donald, chief of staff for Europol, which coordinates cross-border actions among police forces in the E.U.’s 28 countries, says there have been two “large seizures” of assault weapons in Europe during the past two weeks, but would not give details about where they were, since the investigations were still ongoing. In all, he says police had seized “several vanloads of 30 or 40 weapons at a time,” during the past few weeks, including “AK-47s, Scorpions, handguns and semiautomatic rifles.”
Well, this puts paid to the Gun Control Argument that “the only reason criminals are armed is because police are armed” quite handily. The Charlie Hebdo attack revealed that the “tiger repelling rock” of European Gun Control really wasn’t effective at all, merely a charade that the civilized have convinced themselves was reality.
Many of the weapons circulating in Europe hail from southeastern Europe, where big military arsenals were left abandoned during the collapse of Yugoslavia and the Balkan wars of the 1990s. At least a million other weapons are believed to have been looted during an outbreak of anarchy in Albania in 1997. “There are stockpiles in the Balkans of 2 [million] to 3 million [weapons] left over from the 1990s, available for recycling,” says Donald.
No surprise there – firearms are durable goods. With minimum maintenance a modern firearm will last for a hundred years or more, especially if it’s been warehoused. The Soviet Union made hundreds of millions of rifles & other small arms during the Cold War. When the Iron Curtain fell, much of it went up for grabs. See also, Lord of War
French police believe rifles are on sale in French cities for between €1,000 and €1,500.
This isn’t particularly surprising either – today’s dollar to euro conversion puts €1,000 equivalent to $1134.20 – due to a lack of competition the arms dealers can set whatever price they choose. A typical semi-auto AK in the US ranges from $450 or so to over a grand for the higher end models. Fully automatic ones start at around $20k.
That is not the only source of weaponry. Donald says he fears that the continent might be facing a fresh influx of weapons from North Africa in the wake of the Arab Spring revolts. In August, 2011, Libyan rebels looted large quantities of mortars, tank shells and other munitions when Moammar Gaddafi’s regime collapsed. Although most of those weapons are believed to have filtered across North and West Africa, some could also have made their way to Europe.
The trade in illegal weapons can earn enormous profits for organized criminal gangs — enough to make the risk of capture worthwhile. Donald says recent investigations have found arms traffickers investing about €30,000 in a shipment of Balkan-era weapons, refurbishing them in their garages, then selling them for them for about 10 times the price. “That’s a huge mark-up,” he says.
Supply and demand, capitalism in action. Where there’s drug profits to be made, dealers will arm up to keep (or take) them. Same with human trafficking. Same with any sufficiently profitable enterprise.
As Europe struggles to crack down on illegal weapons, some police recruits face a new training exercise: Go buy a Kalashnikov rifle. Donald says that in “a city in Europe,” which he would not name, “very young officers with no training or experience” were recently told to go find an assault weapon on the streets from an illegal arms dealer. “One came back two hours later with an AK-47,” Donald says. “He bought it for €1,000.”
It looks like Europe’s gun control laws are no more than security theater. The spring riots in France should be especially interesting this year.
The larger question is whether the average European will sit up and take notice & demand the ability to defend themselves, or if the politicians will manage to lull the citizenry back into complacency… until the next event.