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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.
Inspector McCoomb, like the Australian Shooters Journal, concluded the ban “has failed.”
The situation in other countries was much the same. Canada pulled a similar numerical sleight of hand when the government responded to widespread resistance to a new firearms registration law by dropping its estimate of the number of gun owners from 3.3 million in 1998 to 2.4 million in 2001. Gary Mauser, a firearms policy expert affiliated with the Fraser Institute, an independent research organization with offices in Calgary, Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver, countered with his own estimate that the actual number of gun owners stood at 4.5 million through those years. They weren’t disappearing from the Great White North; they just weren’t complying with the registration law.
Again and again, governments have encountered massive resistance to their efforts to identify gun owners and track gun ownership.
Csaszar points out that, after Austria prohibited pump-action shotguns in 1995, only 10,557 of the estimated 60,000 such guns in private hands were surrendered or registered.
And when Germany imposed gun registration in 1972, he says, owners complied by filing the appropriate paperwork on 3.2 million firearms. This was a bit awkward, since estimates of civilian stocks were in the 17-20 million range.
The low level of compliance with registration laws gives a good idea of where many of the world’s illegal guns come from, but it isn’t the whole story. If people are keeping firearms in defiance of their governments’ wishes, they obviously want to own guns no matter what the powers-that-be intend. And as has proven true in so many cases, demand usually provides its own supply.
Small Arms Survey reports that, for Europe, illegal guns tend to flow from East to West. In need of the hard cash that black market dealings can provide, and suspicious of state power after decades of heavy-handed rule, Eastern Europe has become a major source for manufacturing and distributing illegal weapons—and of overall defiance of gun restrictions.
In central and eastern Europe, quiet resistance to over 40 years of socialist rule created a pervasive culture of non-cooperation with public authorities. When communism collapsed, leaving power to be inherited by weak and disorganized democratic regimes, innumerable opportunities arose for people to acquire and hide personal guns. It is no wonder that in much of the region registered guns appear to be the exception.
If skepticism toward the wisdom of disarming at the request of the current pack of politicians drives the supply side of the equation in the East, it may also explain demand in the West. After all, within living memory, most of Europe has been under the control of one nasty regime or another, whether home-grown or imposed from outside. Communist governments were the last to fall, but as recently as the early 1970s, Greece, Portugal and Spain suffered under dictatorships.
Whether or not that's the explanation for mass resistance to gun laws in Europe, there’s no doubt that the black market is thriving. Drawing from Hungarian media reports, World Press Review reported in July 2001 that the Odessa mafia had shipped 13,000 tons of guns to Croatia and Bosnia. That impressive shipment included 30,000 Kalashnikovs, 400 remote-controlled ground missiles, 50 launching stands, and 10,000 antitank missiles.
A black market that can supply embargoed armies with missiles has no difficulty feeding the civilian appetite for pistols and rifles.