Most people probably expected, like me, to hear that the Islamist terrorists in the Paris attacks had gotten their guns in France.
On Tuesday, however, French authorities announced their suspicion that the guns had come from outside the country. The provenance of the guns appeared to be connected to the broader ring of terrorists thought by the French to still be at large.
Today’s news about the police raids in Belgium indicates that some of the suspects, including the two who were killed in an attempted Charlie Hebdo-style slaughter, were linked to the terrorists in the Paris attacks.
And it turns out that the Paris terrorists got their guns in Belgium too. The accomplice, Amedy Coulibaly, reportedly bought them, along with the grenade launchers, from an underworld arms dealer in Brussels. According to International Business Times:
The area around the [Midi train terminal in Brussels], which serves as the Eurostar’s Belgian terminus, is known as a hub for illegal weapons sales.
But how can that be? It’s totally illegal to buy and sell guns that way in Belgium. Guns are very strictly controlled in Belgium, are available only by permit, and are allowed only in certain types. Civilians are not allowed to possess military weapons, automatic firearms or their ammunition, concealable firearms, silencers, laser sights, or high capacity cartridges. Private possession of fully automatic weapons is prohibited. Private possession of “semi-automatic assault weapons” is prohibited. Private possession of handguns (pistols and revolvers) is permitted only with special authorization.
Special authorization is very difficult to get. Private sales are prohibited; all legal sales go through licensed gun dealers. There is a national gun registry on which all firearms owners must register their guns.
Belgium famously overhauled the national gun law in 2006, after a “right-wing extremist” committed two racially-driven murders using a gun. In the years since, authorities seemed to be aware that the 2006 gun law wasn’t suppressing the underground arms trade or keeping guns out of the hands of criminals; in 2011, when another man – with an extensive criminal history – went on a rampage and killed five people, news reports were full of laments about illegal gun trafficking in Belgium.
The 2011 perp, Nordine Amrani, had in fact been found in 2007 with 9,500 “gun parts” in his home – raising suspicions, I suppose, that he hadn’t kept abreast of the new gun law. In 2011, the police report had this to say about his armament:
Amrani was armed with an automatic assault rifle, a hand-gun and four grenades and police found nine magazines in his bag.
All of which items were absolutely and totally illegal for him to have, period. Belgian lawmakers were concerned that they would have to consider drastically tightening the gun laws again.
Home Affairs Minister Joelle Milquet…expressed alarm over an increasing number of weapons available illegally.
Naturally, bloggers have had a bit of fun tracking Belgium’s woes with illegal guns in the years since the 2006 gun law overhaul (e.g., here and here).
The Flemish Peace Institute put considerable work into a study of Belgian gun ownership in the years 2006-10, coming up with a somewhat humorous figure of 5% of households acknowledging gun possession – a dramatic drop from the 11.4% in 2005, and the 15.6% in the early 1990s.
But since the authors concluded by admitting that no one really has any idea how many guns there are in Belgium, the post-2006 percentage is of limited value. The thought does intrude, meanwhile, that survey respondents after 2006 were saying whatever would keep them out of jail.
Yada yada. “Tough” gun laws in France, “tough” gun laws in Belgium, and terrorists who armed themselves with automatic weapons and grenade launchers in Belgium and transported them to France to conduct attacks. Shock, shock.
Law enforcement professionals can’t possibly have been surprised by this. They know where the illegal gun sales go down in Brussels, after all. They know these things are happening all over Europe, in spite of all the “tough” gun laws. Anyone who cares to educate himself on the matter knows that “tough” gun laws don’t prevent terrorists or other criminals from arming themselves.
“Tough” gun laws just keep the law-abiding citizenry disarmed. And that is a problem whose dysfunction is growing by the day.