Deloitte: Poland enters the phase of economic expansion

The divergence of economic moods in Poland...

Two Years On: War in Ukraine and Its Global Impact

On February 24, 2022, a full-scale Russian...

Firearm Availability, Not Regulations, Linked to Rise in Terror Attacks

SECURITYFirearm Availability, Not Regulations, Linked to Rise in Terror Attacks

Legislation regulating access to firearms does not influence the number of terrorist attacks in a given country, according to researchers from Leuphana University in Lüneburg, Germany, and Metropolitan University in Prague. A stronger correlation has been found with the number of firearms available on the legal and illegal market. This explains the large number of attacks in the United States, which accounts for 40 percent of the world’s firearms held by civilians. Experts warn that the number of firearms is also increasing in Europe, partly due to the ongoing war in Ukraine.

According to the Global Terrorism Database, the use of firearms in terrorist attacks is increasing and such attacks are the deadliest. Every such event intensifies the discussion about tightening regulations to limit terrorists’ access to both legal and illegal weapons.

“I was surprised that there isn’t much scientific research or publications on this topic. I expected at least several dozen, if not several hundred, articles analyzing the correlation between firearm legislation and its availability and the occurrence of terrorist acts. I was surprised that there aren’t as many. This was the first impulse to start our research,” says Prof. Oldrich Bures from Metropolitan University in Prague, director of the Centre for Security Studies.

In a study published in the journal “Terrorism and Political Violence”, the researchers used the Global Terrorism Database, which records data on terrorist attacks. They compared it with the results of a study on firearms, the Small Arms Survey, which determines how many firearms are held by civilians around the world. In 2017, this number was 857 million, compared to 650 million in 2006. In 2017, there were 133 million firearms in military arsenals and 23 million with law enforcement agencies. The United States accounts for 40 percent of the firearms held by civilians, which means there is more than one firearm per citizen.

The researchers then looked at legislation regulating access to firearms worldwide. The laws in different countries were found to be very diverse, from very restrictive, like in Japan, to liberal, like in Serbia. They used this data to conduct an analysis covering the period from 2015 to 2019, checking whether the regulations fulfilled their purpose.

“Legislation regulating control of access to firearms essentially has no impact on preventing acts of terrorism. Instead, we identified a very strong predictor of terrorism, which is the total number of firearms in circulation in a given country. Basically, the more firearms there are, the easier it is for terrorists to obtain them and carry out an attack. This confirms the results of previous studies on gang violence in North America, according to which the number of firearms in circulation is the most important indicator of the occurrence of acts of violence,” says Dr. Alex Burilkov from the Centre for Democracy Research at Leuphana University in Lüneburg.

This is particularly visible in the case of so-called “lone wolves”, individuals who carry out acts of terror on their own, without links to organized groups or terrorist cells. The analysis showed that only in unstable countries engulfed in conflict does strict control of access to firearms limit attacks by lone wolves; however, it does not deter organized attacks. Furthermore, restrictive laws only slightly influence the type of weapon chosen for an attack. According to Prof. Oldrich Bures, assault rifles like the AK-47 are often chosen as they are easy to handle, available and cheaper than alternative options. Organized groups rely on explosives, which allow them to reach certain targets, seldom opting for weapons of mass destruction.

“The AK-47 rifle and explosive charges have long been the favorite weapons of terrorists and are used in many attacks, so it’s not a new phenomenon. As for the reasons, which are documented in the literature, semi-automatic weapons are very effective in killing a large number of people in a short time. Compared to other options, firearms are relatively easy to handle, which is very important, especially for so-called lone wolves, who do not need to be trained in acquiring and building complex explosive charges. The easier the weapon, the better for those who actually use it,” explains an international relations expert from Metropolitan University in Prague.

In countries struggling with an increasing number of attacks using firearms, ideas are emerging on how to limit access to them, both legally and illegally. In the former case, it usually relates to appropriate regulations concerning who can acquire a firearm, how easily, what checks need to be passed in case of a desire to purchase, what type of firearm can be bought. It is also possible to regulate issues related to the circumstances of using a firearm, carrying it and storing it. In the case of the illegal market, actions are taken to stop smuggling and close distribution routes.

“There is also the issue often discussed in Europe of how to prevent the reuse or reassembly of firearms previously deprived of their functional features, which can be sold legally on various online platforms, rebuilt and resold by collectors,” says Prof. Oldrich Bures. “The question of whether these actions have any effect at all was one of the most important ones we put forward, and our conclusions are unfortunately pessimistic. Perhaps so-called buybacks, attempts by government authorities to limit the overall number of firearms in circulation and decrease the supply, could contribute to changing the situation.”

Serbia is one of the European countries with the most firearms per capita. In the first half of this year, following two shootings at a school and in a village that killed a total of 19 people, it declared an amnesty for handing in illegal weapons. Citizens of this country handed in about 80,000 pieces of short and long firearms and 26,000 different types of explosives. Authorities in Serbia announced controls aimed at disarming the country, introducing penalties and confiscations for illegal possession or improper storage.

Terrorists can acquire weapons from illegal sources, buying them on the black market or smuggling them from the Western Balkans and Western Asia. Data cited by the European Commission suggests that in 2013, global annual revenues from the illegal arms trade amounted to between 125 and 236 million euros. This is roughly one-fifth of the legal arms trade.

“Another factor is simply theft, which occurs in marginalised urban communities, such as in Belgium or France, where a lot of weapons are in circulation due to organized crime and gang violence. Weapons are stolen and sold. This is also evident in many urban areas of North America,” notes Alex Burilkov.

Another route is through legal channels. This is common among European right-wing extremists. They get access to firearms either through membership in shooting clubs or simply buy them if the country’s law allows it.

“For example, the perpetrator of the attack in Hanau, Germany, had three legally owned firearms, and the fourth, which he used during the attack, he rented from a shooting club. Despite sending numerous manifests to the Hesse authorities, in which he referred to his plans, he was never subjected to a psychological examination,” says the international relations expert from Leuphana University.

In right-wing extremist circles in German-speaking countries, there is another path that is significant. This involves collecting antique firearms, usually by older men.

“In this way, every few months in Germany, and even Switzerland, police arrest right-wing extremists motivated by fascism or the principles of the ‘sovereign citizens’ movement. They find hundreds of fully functional firearms stored in utility rooms that could be used in an attack,” says Alex Burilkov.

The availability of firearms on the market increases with their influx due to armed conflicts. This was the case in the Balkans at the end of the 90s. From this region, a large influx of weapons was observed in other European countries.

“The source of concern is currently Ukraine, where recently a lot of various types of weapons have appeared and when the active phase of the conflict ends or a ceasefire is agreed, there is a high likelihood that some of the weapons will be shipped out of Ukraine and appear on the illegal market, mainly in Europe. This is one of the things we want to analyze in the future as part of the continuation of the current research,” concludes Prof. Oldrich Bures.

In war-stricken Ukraine, there is a regulation that allows civilians to receive firearms from the Police. It is distributed in the front-line districts bordering Belarus, as well as in Kyiv and the Kyiv region.

Check out our other content
Related Articles
The Latest Articles