Over at Reason Magazine (h/t Instapundit) there is a lengthy piece by J.D. Ticcille who describes his experience in attempting to become the first member of his family to legally own a firearm in New York City--and how his frustrations with the system led him to purchase, cheaply and easily through the black market, a semi-auto AK-47 that is wholly illegal in New York. From there, he notes that in the United States, and throughout Europe, when governments have enacted registration and buy-back schemes, such schemes are often met with massive civil disobedience, and create a black market for the very arms they seek to prohibit. The results are that, in the cases cited by Mr. Ticcille, are states and nations where the newly designated illegal firearms vastly outnumber the legal firearms. He writes, in part:
Well, says the Small Arms Survey, a research outfit established by the Swiss government, the United Kingdom, with just shy of 1.8 million legal firearms, has about four million illegal guns. Belgium, with about 458,000 legal firearms, has roughly two million illegal guns. In Germany, the number is 7.2 million legal guns and between 17 and 20 million off-the-books examples of things that go “bang” (a figure with which the German Police Union very publicly agrees). France, says the Survey, has 15-17 million unlawful firearms in a nation where 2.8 million weapons are held in compliance with the law.The author goes on to discuss the rise of black markets, including a specific incident involving the Odessa Mafia importing 30,000 tons of weapons into Europe, including anti-tank missiles. Ticcille's conclusion:
Even those numbers may understate the case. While the 2003 Small Arms Survey report put the number of legal guns in Greece at 805,000 and illegal guns at 350,000, just two years later, the Greek government itself nudged those figures up, just a tad, to one million legal guns and 1.5 million illegal ones.
So New Yorkers aren’t alone in being armed to the teeth outside the law.
It’s not that governments haven’t tried to grab those guns. One government after another has implemented schemes for registration, licensing, and even confiscation. But those programs have met with … less than universal respect.
In a white paper on the results of gun control efforts around the world, Gun Control and the Reduction of the Number of Arms, Franz Csaszar, a professor of criminology at the University of Vienna, Austria, wrote, “non-compliance with harsher gun laws is a common event.”
Dr. Csaszar estimates compliance with Australia’s 1996 ban on self-loading rifles and pump-action shotguns at 20 percent.
And even that underwhelming estimate gives the authorities the benefit of the doubt. Three years after Australia’s controversial ban was implemented, when 643,000 weapons had been surrendered, Inspector John McCoomb, the head of the state of Queensland’s Weapons Licensing Branch, told The Sunday Mail, "About 800,000 (semi-automatic and automatic) SKK and SKS weapons came in from China back in the 1980s as part of a trade deal between the Australian and Chinese governments. And it was estimated that there were 1.2 million semi-automatic Ruger 10/22s in the country. That's about 2 million firearms of just two types in the country."
Do the math. Two million illegal firearms of just two types, and only 643,000 guns of all types were surrendered …
The Australian Shooters Journal did its own math in a 1997 article on the “gun buyback.” Researchers for the publication pointed out that the Australian government’s own low-ball, pre-ban estimate of the number of prohibited weapons in the country yielded a compliance rate of 19 percent.
But maybe success is in the eye of the beholder. After the expected mountains of surrendered weapons failed to manifest themselves, then-Australian Attorney General Darryl Williams’s office revised its estimate of total firearms in the country to a number lower than its pre-ban estimate of prohibited firearms, and declared victory.
So, by imposing restrictions on one type of product, governments have driven people to the black market where all forbidden products and services are available, and likely increased the wealth and power of active sellers in that market.
If you were trying to enrich and empower the folks who thrive beyond the reaches of polite society, you couldn’t come up with a better plan.
Hmmm … but those guns come from somewhere, right? Before black marketeers turn them into illicit commodities to be sold alongside cocaine and tax-free cigarettes, they have to be manufactured. So, what about putting tighter controls on the companies that make these killing machines and cutting off the supply?
Good luck on that.
In 2007, Suroosh Alvi, a co-founder of Vice magazine, pulled a few family strings in Pakistan to gain access to the turbulent Northwest Frontier Province. Specifically, he wanted to see the gun markets that are feeding a steady supply of arms to Afghanistan. More specifically, he wanted to see just how modern firearms were being cranked out in wholesale lots under the most primitive conditions imaginable. His opening comment in the resulting video documentary—“I’ve seen kids making guns with their bare hands in caves”—only barely overstates what he presents. Thousands of 9mm pistols, knock-off AK-47s, machine guns, and anything else you can imagine are manufactured there over wood fires with hand tools—and so is the ammunition to match.
Pakistan isn’t alone. Danao, in the Philippines, has a thriving underground gun-manufacturing industry that is reputed to employ as much as 20 percent of the local population. Starting decades ago with crude revolvers, the “paltiks” turned out by the backyard gunsmiths of Danao now include working replicas of modern assault weapons manufactured with basic technology.
Just how do you shut down underground craftsman who don’t seem to require much more than their skills, some scrap metal, and access to Third-World tools that barely begin to compare to the equipment in the garages of many Western suburbanites?
That’s a rhetorical question. The evidence suggests that underground manufacturers will step up to meet any demand that arises.