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Study on Gun Violence in Europe Signals Alarming Trends: Even Demand for Weapons of War is Rising


The decline in fatal gun violence in Europe that had started a few years ago has come to a halt in 2021. A slight increase has even been noted in some countries, such as Sweden.


Armed clashes between drug criminals and the increased illegal availability of firearms can lead to increased and even terroristic gun violence. This is apparent from an extensive European study, Project Target, which the Flemish Peace Institute coordinated.

Project Target examines the impact of the illegal arms trade on firearms violence in Europe. That study was needed as policymakers from several European countries are frantically searching for policy responses to shootings and disturbing evolutions in the illicit firearms trade.

Using dozens of examples from all over Europe, the study shows, among other things, how a constant flow of cheap weapons is radically transforming the illegal firearms market and possibly making it more profitable. Often, an influx of converted or reactivated weapons ends up in the wrong hands from Central and Eastern Europe, Turkey, or via postal parcels with parts from the US. But 3D printing also seems to be becoming increasingly important.

“Illegal purchase of a firearm is becoming easier and closer to home, according to our research,” says Nils Duquet, director of the Flemish Peace Institute. “Even for smaller criminals, the supply is more often than before sufficient to arm themselves. Moreover, mutual competition between drug criminals is becoming increasingly fierce. That sets in motion an arms race in which even heavier weapons are grabbed by whoever is higher on the ladder. The demand for real weapons of war, often from the Balkans, is also increasing as a result.”

Drug crime and related gun violence is a common thread throughout the investigation. But attention is also paid to domestic violence and the impact of the illegal arms trade on terrorism. Every year in our country, on average, about 5,500 illegal firearms are seized, and 23 firearms murders are committed. That means that one-fifth of murders are committed with a firearm.

“Work is underway within the EU on a structural, proactive approach to the illegal firearms trade,” concludes Duquet. “But many blind spots and problem areas require more capacity, information sharing, research and sound regulations. This report is the first piece of the puzzle for that.”

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