Beat the gun: The high stakes battle to break the chain of firearms smuggling


Firearms are not only a commodity, but they are also a tool for criminals. It is no longer only drug traffickers, who try to protect their valuable contraband, but also other perpetrators who are arming up. Migrants frequently claim that smugglers are armed, especially along the Western Mediterranean and the Western Balkan routes.  

An increased level of violence among irregular migrants has been reported. There have been several instances recorded when migrants and people smugglers have used weapons against police officers and border guards: a threat that will likely increase in relevance in the future. 

2022 in perspective 

In 2022, border authorities seized numerous weapons during border checks – primary cold arms or prohibited pepper sprays and stun guns, but also firearms and ammunition. All types of borders were affected. These attempts typically involved persons smuggling prohibited weapons intended for either personal use or protection rather than being associated with large-scale arms trafficking. 

Due to the war in Ukraine, large quantities of, among others, military grade weapons are uncontrolled there. With the intensifying proliferation of firearms, explosives and ammunition, more and more of these unregistered firearms and military equipment will likely enter the illegal market. 

Frontex law enforcement experts: “Collected data and shared intelligence indicate that it is early to warn about a high-impact immediate risk of Ukraine-emanating weapon diversion on our external borders. Operational mitigation measures are being put in place in an Action Plan under the guidance of the Deputy Executive Director for Operations, to support our European countries and our neighbours in Ukraine and Moldova.” 
New technologies 
Even if most attention is focused on firearms coming from crisis regions, not only crime groups but also smugglers will most likely take advantage of the opportunity and can be expected to continue to exploit existing loopholes. 

Technological developments, including 3D printing, make it unnecessary to smuggle complete weapons, as individual parts are much harder to detect. So-called ghost guns, untraceable privately manufactured firearms, are made from unregistered, illegally manufactured parts and components that can be legally purchased on external markets. 

Looking forward 

Illegal firearms are an enabler for other criminal activities, such as drug trafficking, and increase the threat they pose to the EU’s internal security. Moreover, once they start being illegally circulated, firearms pose a lifetime risk due to their longevity. 

Besides the general threat caused by the illegal possession of weapons, the impact of this phenomenon is demonstrated by recent attacks against border guards and the past use of such contraband for acts of organised crime and terrorism. 

Read more in our latest Risk Analysis Report  

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