Underground Entrepreneur Uses Library to Smuggle Guns to Canada

His enterprising operation illustrates the valuable role porous borders play in undermining restrictive laws.


modified from Haskell Free Library & Opera House/Facebook

You can get a lot of cool things in libraries: books, of course; music; movies; and games are all available at the library I frequent in my town. But Quebec's Alexis Vlachos took the library coolness factor up a notch when he added firearms to the inventory at the Haskell Free Library and Opera House, which straddles the national border between Derby Line, Vermont, and Stanstead, Quebec—not that library officials knew their business model had been expanded.

Vlachos is out of business, at least for the moment, and behind bars. But his enterprising smuggling operation is a wonderful illustration of the opportunities for making a buck that restrictive laws always create, as well as of the valuable role porous borders play in undermining those laws.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Vermont, Vlachos had two colleagues on the American side of the border, Annette Wexler and Jaime Ruiz, who "purchased these handguns from multiple federally licensed firearms dealers in the Tampa, Florida area." Getting the guns into Canada—where the country's stupidly restrictive firearms laws create a business opportunity for those enterprising enough to flout them—took a couple of forms. But:

On at least two occasions, in about March of 2011, Annette Wexler and Jaime Ruiz worked together to stash several firearms contained in small backpacks inside the trashcan of the library bathroom. Wexler then coordinated with Vlachos, who had entered the library from Quebec, to retrieve the firearms from the bathroom. Vlachos then transported the firearms to Quebec, where he sold many of them.

Forget Banned Books Week—this is banned stuff! If only all libraries were so cool. "Hey, could I renew this Glock?"

There's a reason Canadian consumers may be eager for smuggled firearms. Canada's laws regarding firearms are rather draconian—at least for those of us who feel no obligation to ask the government for permission to do things like owning the means for self-defense. Handguns in particular, are "restricted," requiring a license, registration, and inspection by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Even moving a gun from place to place—like to a range or a gunsmith—requires paperwork and legal risks. "Owners are required to have an Authorization to Transport that allows them to move their restricted gun using the most direct route to and from one of five places," Vice reported in 2014. "It's a federal offence to take a restricted gun places other than those approved by the ATT."

For those who can't, or won't, submit to the bureaucratic gauntlet, smugglers like Vlachos offer an important alternative source.

Vlachos seems to be more of an underground entrepreneur than a gun fancier per se. He also made a business of providing affordable cigarettes to Canadian smokers put off by their country's sky-high sin taxes.

"Canadian authorities nabbed Vlachos in February 2015—with a hockey bag full of smuggled cartons of cigarettes," Fox News reported at the time of Vlachos's recent sentencing to 51 months in federal prison. (He was sentenced in the U.S. for exporting guns without a license.)

"Contraband tobacco makes up roughly 30 [percent] of the total Canadian tobacco market," the free-market-oriented Fraser Institute found in 2011. The report largely attributes the booming black market trade to "relatively high and rising tobacco excise taxes." As a result, Investopedia noted in 2010, "cigarettes are almost double the price in Canada than in the States."

And Canada's government hiked federal cigarette taxes yet again this year, boosting opportunities for those willing to smuggle cigarettes from low-tax jurisdictions to consumers across the border.

Smuggling is an effective way of bypassing restrictive laws, but it's not a full substitute for dumping such laws entirely and forbidding government officials to inflict more. There are legal risks, as is clear from Vlachos's prison sentence. The legal risks apply to consumers, too, meaning that end-users are going to be the sort of people who view the law with disdain and aren't terribly fearful of the police. While none of the news reports I've seen about Vlachos describe his buyers, at least a few of them were likely criminals accustomed to dealing on the black market.

But it's unlikely that all of them were criminals. When Canadian federal investigators interviewed 20 men arrested for acquiring guns illegally, they discovered that seven of them "were free and passionate firearm collectors who were ready to acquire through illegal channels if it meant getting a gun that was difficult or impossible to obtain through legal means," according to the Canadian Press. And several of the other interviewees also had no criminal record prior to being arrested for their illicit purchases.

Likewise, while the Fraser Institute found that the illegal tobacco trade was largely supplied by organized crime, you don't get to a point where contraband makes up 30 percent of the cigarette market by selling only to criminals. Clearly, regular smokers unwilling to pay stiff, tax-driven prices are the vast majority of the customers.

So, restrictive laws drive criminal activity to satisfy the demand of customers who are largely everyday people unwilling to do the bidding of grasping, intrusive government officials. The best way to reduce crime, it seems, would be to cut taxes, ease laws, and leave people alone to live their lives as they wish.

But that's an old argument that has never moved government officials. They're always about to find that magic bullet that will stop their subjects from buying and selling popular goods and services that petty officials just don't like. The magic bullet just never materializews. Maybe they should have it smuggled in.

Whatever becomes of Alexis Vlachos himself, rest assured that there is a bright and promising future for people like him. Every draconian law, and every border with a less-restrictive jurisdiction, represents a business opportunity for ambitious people possessing a commendable streak of rebellion in their souls.

And maybe, if we're lucky, and if government officials and smugglers keep up their competitive efforts, the word "library" will someday come to refer to a full-service, smuggled goods emporium.

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  1. porous borders play in undermining those laws.

    Justin Trudeau doesn’t mean goods and services when he talks about open borders.

    1. Nobody knows what he means, least of all himself.

  2. No, see you got it backwards. If you make the lawz tougher and the TAXEZ higher, you stop demand. Right? Cuz gunz and cigz are bad. They just aren’t being tough enough. TAXEZ and tough lawz are good for everyone.

  3. Can you automatically renew the guns online?

    What happens if you don’t return the guns on time?

    1. Are you billed for the damage if you don’t clean the guns?

      1. “If in the first act you have a gun library, then by the end of the second act someone should have checked a gun out of the gun library.”

  4. Yup.
    Prohibition is a wonderful idea.
    Just ask Al Capone, Lucky Luciano and all the drug cartel kingpins.

    1. Prohibition is what the Mafia powerful.

      ‘Make Mafia Great Again’ seems to be the government’s on-going motto.

  5. But it’s unlikely that all of them were criminals.

    Oh no, it’s 100 percent true that they were all Criminals with a Capital-C, and that stands for C-anadian which rhymes with Paladin, and we’re right back to Guns with an illegal G.

  6. I’d like to congratulate Tuccille on finding a bona fide criminal worth defending or at least superficially so. It seems Reason is packed to the gills with writers so hell bent on grinding their axe that they’ll find a sob story for their pet cause and advance the story despite obvious and even self-defeating flaws. I haven’t done a thorough investigation of Vlachos, but a quick Google search and glance through the articles doesn’t indicate that he himself is implicated in several murders and it appears that all the firearms involved were contractually purchased. It’s a breath of fresh air compared to the more typical “Pregnant woman who falls down in prison discovered to have robbed pregnant women.” style stories Reason is becoming famous for.

  7. Canadians are a peaceful, polite people who wouldn’t do such things if violent, uncouth, rude Americans weren’t their neighbours.

    Hence, we need these laws! BECAUSE WE’RE NOT AMERICAN ergo we’re better!

    /Canadian prog logic on these issues.

    1. Americans Canadians are a peaceful, polite people who wouldn’t do such things if violent, uncouth, rude Americans weren’t their neighbours.

      /American prog logic.


      1. That too.

        As long as we’re not American. It’s a formula Trudeau is gonna use against Trump for the election in 2019.

        When you’re unpopular, appeal to that.

      2. Something something preserve something culture.

  8. But it’s unlikely that all of them were criminals.

    Well, technically…

    Which is the thing about using criminality as a stand-in for bad intent. It doesn’t work for libertarians.

  9. Trump should propose a non stop train line from Mexico to the Haskell Free Library. All illegals are welcome to hop on and ride the train to its final destination. Departure exit is on the Canadian side. See how Trudeau likes it when uninvited guests show up and ruin his welfare state.

  10. I once found a .25 behind some books in a used book store. Traded it for an ounce of weed.

  11. Question: Why do Canadians pour oil on their lawns?

    Answer: To keep their guns from rusting.

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