Military-class arms are illegal in France, but experts see influx from conflict zones, countries with looser regulations
January 9, 2015 3:10PM ET
by Colette Davidson
PARIS — The AK-47s and rocket launcher apparently used in this week’s attacks in France have raised the question of how such weapons are getting into a country with strict gun laws — and where they are coming from.
The Wednesday massacre at Paris’ Charlie Hebdo office, which left 12 dead, and Friday’s Montrouge shooting of a police officer and hostage situation at Porte de Vincennes were all carried out with weapons that are illegal in France.
In France individuals, except for certified collectors, are prohibited from owning military-class arms. Those hoping to possess a handgun or hunting rifle in France must pass a stringent background check and a mental health evaluation and must obtain a license.
While semi- and fully automatic firearms are illegal in France, they have become increasingly common in recent years. The Paris-based National Observatory for Delinquency, a government body created in 2003, reports that the number of illegal weapons in France has been steadily increasing by double-digit percentages for the last several years.
In October 2014, raids of several homes in four corners of France revealed stashes of hundreds of weapons, including assault rifles, machine guns and automatic pistols. Forty-eight people were arrested in what was discovered to be a major Internet weapon-trafficking ring, with its headquarters thought to be in Paris.
Most of the arms found on the black market in France and other Western European countries hail from countries with a proliferation of guns and loose or poorly enforced regulations or are trafficked from conflict zones, according to experts.
“One of the reasons we see a lot of Kalashnikovs and AK-47s on the black market is because Russia has just upgraded the Kalashnikov, and that has created massive stockpiles of the older models,” said Kathie Lynn Austin, an expert on arms trafficking and the director of the Conflict Awareness Project, an international nongovernmental organization dedicated to investigating major arms traffickers.
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