This module is a resource for lecturers   


Exercises and case studies


This section contains material meant to support lecturers and provide ideas for interactive discussions and case-based analysis of the topic under consideration. It draws together the various class activities designed to encourage dialogue and participation by students.

Exercise 1

Consider the ways in which influences such as fear, patriotism, insecurity, conflict mentality, masculinity, 'respect' and gun culture might influence the demand for firearms. Refer to examples of each.

Exercise 2

Given the various ways and means, described by Spapens (2007), by which firearms might move from 'legality' to 'illegality', how can law enforcement improve detection of diversion activity and identify diverted firearms, their parts, components, and ammunition? What measures might improve the existing regulations on acquisition, possession, transfer, de-activation and destruction of firearms? What kind of cooperation and assistance can prevent and address the movement of firearms from the legal to the illicit market? Describe two or three examples with which you are familiar taking into account the definitions and provisions of the United Nations Firearms Protocol and the Arms Trade Treaty.

Exercise 3

Consider the available evidence regarding the extent to which illegal firearm supply can be, as several writers suggest, a 'significant independent variable' as regards the production, prolongation, scale and lethality of armed violence. Suggest contexts in which this may have occurred or may still be occurring.

Considering the case examples provided in the Module, and undertaking also additional research, what can you say about the links between illicit firearms and terrorism or organized crime? Can you think of other cases or countries/regions in addition to the ones referred to in the Module where this nexus is of particular concern?

Exercise 4

Having reviewed various dimensions of illicit firearms markets, we may now be in a far better position than Duquet and Goris's 'blind men describing an elephant'. So what conclusions might we draw about the most potentially useful and effective forms of intervention, regulation and law enforcement to control illicit firearms?


Case study 1: Gang jailed for the illicit manufacture and supply of reactivated firearms

During a traffic stop of a minicab in Britain, police officers seized a reactivated 9mm self-loading pistol from inside the vehicle. Both the driver and his male passenger were arrested for possession of a firearm. A police investigation revealed that the two men were involved in a criminal network that was buying old firearms for the purposes of illegally reactivating them at a local workshop. The workshop owner was later arrested after it was found the group was using his skills from the Polish army to reactivate guns. The police also later discovered the involvement of a serving prisoner, who was using an illicit phone to source deactivated firearms, and sell the reactivated weapons to members of his criminal network. The girlfriend of the prisoner was responsible for delivering the deactivated weapons to the workshop, while another prisoner assisted in organizing the sales.

Sentencing, the judge said: "The conspiracy was, in fact, a simple one. It involved the acquisition of de-activated and therefore legal firearms and reactivating them. The reactivated firearms were test fired. The test firings were filmed, and those films must have been intended for promotional use. The firearms were then sold on into the criminal world." The group sourced more than 40 firearms, including an AK-47 style assault rifle, over a six-month period from January to June 2015. In 2016, the criminals received sentences totaling 46 years in jail for the manufacture and supply of reactivated firearms. The police recovered only eight of the reactivated firearms linked to the gang to date, with investigations ongoing to trace the remaining weapons.

Case study 2: In Mexico, Tens Of Thousands Of Illegal Guns Come From The U.S.

From 2009 to 2014, more than 73,000 guns seized in Mexico were traced to the United States, according to a new update on the effort to fight weapons trafficking along the US-Mexico border. The figure, based on data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, represents about 70 per cent of the 104,850 firearms seized by Mexican authorities and submitted to US authorities for tracing.

The data was analysed by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which notes in its report that US police agencies have acknowledged firearms smuggling is fueling violent crime in Mexico.

"Most of the firearms seized in Mexico that were traced and found to be of U.S. origin from 2009 to 2014 came from U.S. Southwest border states," the GAO report says. "While guns seized in Mexico of U.S. origin were traced to all of the 50 States, most came from Texas, California, and Arizona." According to the GAO, many of those guns bought legally in the United States were then smuggled over the border.

National Public Radio's John Burnett reports for our Newscast unit that "about half were long guns, such as the high-caliber AR-15, preferred by cartel gunmen" and "Mexican drug traffickers continue to rely on straw purchasers who legally buy the weapons in the U.S., then transfer them to criminal gangs." The GAO report paints a picture of the challenges officials face as they try to stop the flow of weapons from the United States into Mexico, where laws strictly limit the availability of guns to the public.

In another example, the report says the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has been able to trace the original purchasers of less than half of the 73,684 guns seized and submitted for tracing. The GAO says the agency could not figure out who bought 53 per cent of the guns at retail "because of factors such as incomplete identifying data on trace request forms, altered serial numbers, no response from the federal firearm licensee to ATF's request for trace information, or incomplete or never received out-of-business licensee records." Citing data from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the GAO says, "the agency seized 5,951 firearms that were destined for Mexico in the last 6 years."

Lecturers should seize the opportunity to use more locally specific videos and case studies if available.

Case study 3

Despite the opening suggestion that an understanding of illicit firearms market needs developing in full appreciation of the contexts, cultures and firearms control regimes within which and across which illicit firearms markets operate, and that analysis must reach beyond the level of the unique and particular, much can still be learned by studying specific cases. Here are several that focus on specific aspects of the illicit markets:

  • In 2010, UNODC published 'The Globalization of Crime: A Transnational Organized Crime Threat Assessment' (UNODC, 2010), which contained a section on illicit firearms trafficking. In addition to a general description of the illicit firearms market, it contains two case studies. One already considered concerned illicit trafficking of weapons from the United States to the Mexican drug cartels.
  • Another example concerns the export of surplus former Soviet arms from Eastern Europe to conflict zones in Africa. Countries like Ukraine have accumulated more firearms than required for their military and police forces. A critically important demand factor is the familiarity of the recipients (criminals, terrorist, armed groups) with the Soviet weapons, the relatively low cost of the weapons (compared to other Western models), their reliability and ease of use, and the ready availability of compatible ammunition.
  • One of the most important early studies on the illicit market was by Dreyfus and Marsh using data from Rio de Janeiro. Their goal was to locate criminal diversion points for firearms in Rio. They catalogued over 4000 firearms confiscated by the police in the city. They then traced them to determine the sources. There were several key findings. Over ten different countries had exported a high percentage of weapons to Paraguay, which were then smuggled to Brazil aided by very lax firearms regulations in Paraguay. The study also found that some of them came from licensed gun shops in Argentina, Venezuela and Uruguay where controls on gun shops were inadequate.
  • The article 'Under the Radar: Airborne Arms Trafficking Operations in Africa' (Thachuk and Saunders, 2014) comprises a thorough assessment of the role of air transport firms in the illicit market for firearms. They describe the ingenuity of illicit arms traffickers in Africa:

The airborne arms trafficking operations of networks from former Soviet States transfer weapons and ammunition to areas of conflict in Africa, embargoed African States, or those descending into conflict. These arms traffickers brazenly circumvent international regulations by obscuring their air cargo operations and securing impunity through subornation, fraud, and exploitation of lax regulations. Importantly, they rely on strategic connections in former Soviet States for a steady supply of arms, on States such as UAE for relaxed oversight, and free trade zones for transit, product warehousing, laundering of proceeds, and carefully-cultivated connections with "big men" and/or local fixers in African states for speedy delivery and payment. (Thachuk and Saunders, 2014: 361)

  • An additional source of illicit arms is the surplus created when a war is over, or a country has literally collapsed. An example of the former case is the end of the war in El Salvador in 1991. Despite a successful surrender of weapons by the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) as part of the peace process, there were an estimated 300,000 firearms still in circulation on the black market. Many were in the hands of dealers who had collected them during the war. Others ended up in the hands of gangs leading to a very high homicide rate today. Libya is also a country with huge arms stockpiles. When the regime's collapse came, much of the stockpile left the country as illicit arms. The Conflict Armament Research produced a study investigating cross-border weapon transfers in the Sahel (2016), which describes the outflows and inflows of firearms/SALW after the collapse.
Next: Possible class structure
Back to top