Civil Liberties

When Guns Are Outlawed, Vietnamese Entrepreneurs Will Build Some Wacky Boomsticks

If you ban it, they will come


Alcohol-powered fuel-air gun. Photo: Vietnamese police

In Vietnam, it's illegal for civilians to own firearms other than shotguns, and those can be held only under restrictive regulations. The results are what we've seen every place else officials have tried to disarm their suffering subjects: defiance and illegal manufacture and sale of forbidden goods. Despite the law, according to, civilians own an estimated 1.1 million firearms, with 70,000 of them legal shotguns. And there's a lively trade in inexpensive yet powerful airguns, primarily for hunting, reports Tuoi Tre News.

Strictly speaking, not all of the "air guns" illicitly made and marketed in Vietnam are traditional compressed gas weapons. Denied easy access to standard ammunition, innovators in the country have turned to accessible combustibles to produce fuel-air guns. According to Tuoi Tre News:

Air guns have been offered for sale in Ho Chi Minh City and other localities despite the fact that purchasing and owning the items are banned in Vietnam.

The guns are manually made by individuals, mainly for hunting, and cost an average of VND200,000 (US$9) to VND1 million ($46) each, depending on the materials used in the guns.

Some home-made air guns are even sold for around VND10 million ($460).

The 'air' used to power the guns is either alcohol burnt in combustion to create energy, or compressed air.

A Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper journalist contacted a man named Tinh on April 15 and was told, "I can give you a gun priced from VND200,000 to VND2 million."

"An alcohol-powered gun has a qualified gunstock worth VND500,000 [$23]," the man said.

"A good gun barrel costs you another VND250,000," Tinh added.

He said that he could immediately offer a good air gun for VND1 million ($46).

The projectiles are often ball bearings or marbles, and many weapons use electronic igniters.

The guns are generally acquired for hunting, and their lethality is demonstrated by an earlier story about the accidental shooting of a 12-year-old boy. "Instructions for making air guns or marble guns, especially alcohol-fueled ones, are readily available on the internet," Thanh Nien News reported.

In January, I wrote about the equally creative, though more traditionally oriented, illegal market in home-brewed guns in neighboring Cambodia.

Below, fuel-air gun technology gets a workout from an innovator at OurBadScience.