From Legal to Lethal: Converted Firearms in Europe

Nicolas Florquin and Benjamin King

Criminals purchase weapons unable to fire live ammunition legally and at low costs across Europe, converting them into lethal firearms with little to no training or expertise. The Small Arms Survey report From Legal to Lethal: Converted Firearms in Europe provides a detailed examination on the topic.
Users of converted firearms include petty criminals, organized crime groups, and terrorist actors. Certain conversion techniques require some level of technical skills, but converters also make use of online, open-source tutorials to convert weapons relatively easily.
While Europe has faced a range of converted weapons over the past decades, two main types of readily convertible firearms have entered into the illicit arms market in recent years: Slovak-origin acoustic expansion weapons (AEWs)—as used by Amedy Coulibaly in the Montrouge and Hypercacher Paris attacks in 2015; and Turkish-manufactured alarm pistols—currently the most prevalent converted firearm in Europe.
Smuggling these weapons to and within Europe involves:

  • ant trafficking: the movement of small-scale shipments of converted and converted-to-be weapons across borders, typically involving fewer than a dozen firearms per shipment, which are transported in private vehicles, boats, or buses
  • online trade and the use of parcel and postal services: the procurement of deactivated or imitation firearms or their parts and components online, shipped through parcel and postal services

Strengthened European Union regulations and coordinated law enforcement operations have succeeded in reducing some specific sources of converted firearms but these efforts have been mainly reactive, and existing record-keeping systems and statistics do not always allow for the sufficient monitoring of trends to enable early warning of new threats.
The European experience in dealing with the issue of converted weapons is relevant beyond the continent as it is clear that the proliferation of these firearms takes place in other global sub-regions as well.

Translated into Arabic by the EU-LAS project.

Available in:  ARABIC

Keywords: Conversion Illicit trafficking Improvised weapons EU-LAS PMFs