Authorities in Belgium have grown increasingly concerned about firearm importation. Specifically concerned about weapons entering the country through the postal service and illegal online trade. This elevated concern follows the Flemish Peace Institute’s recent study on illegal firearm trade in Belgium.
One news site reported that the general concern started after an event in 2016. They referred to the case of a Belgian computer scientist who met a US darknet firearms vendor/UC. He “easily” ordered an AK, a Glock, ammunition, and a silencer from said vendor. The computer scientist successfully ordered the guns and illegal ammo. Then law enforcement officers in Belgium caught the buyer when the package landed.
The Flemish Peace Institute’s study likely drove the majority of the current discussion though, many news headlines revealed. One of the more popular results focused on the drastic increase in illegal weapons in Belgium. The Institute found that nearly 25 percent of the weapons in the country were illegal. And they were guns that civilians never legally owned or needed such as fully “automatic weapons with silencers and night vision.”
These illegal weapons were “almost exclusively” owned by criminals and terrorists, news sites explained. No information on who, other than criminals and terrorists, owned illegal guns. Possible example: one recent case involved a Belgian weapon vendor who “was no more than the wrong person in the wrong place.” The prosecution disagreed. Despite his belief that he was not a criminal, his case revealed the depth of the illegal firearm market in Belgium.
A researcher of illegal arms trafficking and member of the Flemish Peace Institute named Nils Duquet said that “the Internet is very difficult to control.” This statement was made in reference to Europol’s belief that online firearm trade will only expand. The researcher explained that monitoring the internet was an overwhelming task:
“[Y]ou have the dark web where all sorts of illegal goods are freely available, such as drugs, child pornography, and also firearms. Along with the usual internet where weapons are simply offered for sale on forums or websites. It is very difficult for the police to follow all of that and monitor arms deals that go through the Internet.”
Crime records show that in three years, Belgian law enforcement recorded 85 weapons deals that started on the internet. In every case, the suspect used the mail system—a factor that, with the hidden online sales, created more concern. “It is particularly worrying that in this way it is easier for people without criminal connections to obtain illegal firearms and that they do not even have to physically move,” Duquet said.
Europol expects this trade to expand. And with continued growth comes an increased level of concern. As seen in Germany after the Munich attacks, weapons were one of law enforcement’s top priorities when investigating darknet crime. The Flemish Peace Institute recommends Belgium work at an EU level for harmonization and good firearms legislation.