The Global Legal Market in Firearms

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In contrast to the remainder of this book, which focuses rightly on illicit patterns of firearms movement, this chapter considers the development and operation of the legal market in firearms. The rationale for this is clear – almost no firearms are de facto illegal at the time of production. The exception to the first part of this is firearms which are manufactured in a manner which contravenes the law – either because they are manufactured in breach of copyright, because they are made in breach of a prohibition in force, or because they are “craft made” or “artisanal” firearms.

Furthermore, most firearms remain in legally-authorised possession for their entire existence. Some are “diverted” from the lawful to unlawful sphere by accident (theft, loss) others by design (knowingly or negligently transferring firearms in a way that contravenes the law – either because of the transferor’s status or because of national embargoes etc.).

What this means in practice is that almost every firearm that has been trafficked illicitly, was produced legitimately. This legitimate to illegitimate, or what Florquin and King (2018) from the Small Arms Survey calls “legal to lethal” shift happens in a number of ways in addition to diversion, mentioned above. Organised theft of firearms from police, military and government stockpiles, and the illegal reactivation of deactivated weapons will be covered elsewhere in the book.

The purpose of this chapter is to introduce the reader to the legitimate international trade in firearms. An understanding of the size, nature and development of the legitimate market will clarify the context into which the illegitimate market can be placed.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication Firearms: global perspectives on consequences, crime and control
EditorsSimon Sneddon, Helen Poole
ISBN (Print)9780367331177
Publication statusPublished - 19 Nov 2021


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