TIME europe

European Police Face Being Outgunned by Jihadists With Assault Rifles

Firearms seized from a gang of arms smugglers displayed at Federal Police headquarters in Brussels in 2011.
Firearms seized from a gang of arms smugglers displayed at federal police headquarters in Brussels in 2011 Thierry Roge—Reuters

Police pistols are no match for assault rifles like those carried by the Paris gunmen

When Chérif and Saïd Kouachi attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo on Jan. 7, killing 12 people, they were armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and could easily outgun the police officers who tried to apprehend them with pistols. Their associate, Amedy Coulibaly, had an even greater collection of military-grade weapons.

The size of the trio’s armory has prompted an urgent inquiry into the scale of gun smuggling in Europe, where weapons are smuggled into the European Union from the countries of former Yugoslavia, Albania and elsewhere and then moved without any further border checks to where they will get the best price. Most of the smuggling is carried out by criminal gangs but many jihadists such as Coulibaly are well connected with criminal networks.

Despite the Paris attacks, it seems the weapons are still flowing freely through Europe. Brian Donald, chief of staff for Europol, which coordinates cross-border actions among police forces in the E.U.’s 28 countries, says there have been two “large seizures” of assault weapons in Europe during the past two weeks, but would not give details about where they were, since the investigations were still ongoing. In all, he says police had seized “several vanloads of 30 or 40 weapons at a time,” during the past few weeks, including “AK-47s, Scorpions, handguns and semiautomatic rifles.”

The Kouachis had rifles and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. On Jan. 8, Coulibaly fatally shot a policewoman with a Scorpion submachine gun in the Paris suburb of Montrouge. The day after that, he used a 7.62-mm Tokarev rifle, a Soviet-designed weapon, to kill five hostages in a kosher supermarket in eastern Paris. His posthumous video also showed him with a Kalashnikov AK-47. Earlier this month, a Belgian newspaper reported that Coulibaly had bought most of the weapons from a Belgian criminal for €5,000 (about $5,647). Coulibaly, a French-born Muslim with Malian parents, made the deal near the Brussels Midi train station, a major railway hub that connects Western Europe’s biggest cities, after taking out a €6,000 loan from the French financial services firm Cofidis using false information about his income, which went unchecked.

But although the police quickly traced the weapons source in the Paris attacks, stopping criminals and other jihadist cells in Europe from acquiring assault weapons for further attacks might not be so easy, according to police officials.

Many of the weapons circulating in Europe hail from southeastern Europe, where big military arsenals were left abandoned during the collapse of Yugoslavia and the Balkan wars of the 1990s. At least a million other weapons are believed to have been looted during an outbreak of anarchy in Albania in 1997. “There are stockpiles in the Balkans of 2 [million] to 3 million [weapons] left over from the 1990s, available for recycling,” says Donald.

French police believe rifles are on sale in French cities for between €1,000 and €1,500. Earlier this month, Philippe Capon, head of the French police union UNSA, told Bloomberg News, “The French black market for weapons has been inundated with eastern European war artillery and arms.” A French police source told TIME that the weapons from the Charlie Hebdo attack came from the Balkans.

That is not the only source of weaponry. Donald says he fears that the continent might be facing a fresh influx of weapons from North Africa in the wake of the Arab Spring revolts. In August, 2011, Libyan rebels looted large quantities of mortars, tank shells and other munitions when Moammar Gaddafi’s regime collapsed. Although most of those weapons are believed to have filtered across North and West Africa, some could also have made their way to Europe.

The arms traffickers have flourished in the absence of well-financed antiweapons units in Europe, where law enforcement has for years tended to plow money into stopping drug-dealing and other crimes. “We don’t fully understand the scale of the problem because we have not had specialized units,” says Donald, referring to law-enforcement agencies in different E.U. countries. “It is a question of priorities. Any police officer will tell you it [resources] is a constant struggle.”

The trade in illegal weapons can earn enormous profits for organized criminal gangs — enough to make the risk of capture worthwhile. Donald says recent investigations have found arms traffickers investing about €30,000 in a shipment of Balkan-era weapons, refurbishing them in their garages, then selling them for them for about 10 times the price. “That’s a huge mark-up,” he says.

As Europe struggles to crack down on illegal weapons, some police recruits face a new training exercise: Go buy a Kalashnikov rifle. Donald says that in “a city in Europe,” which he would not name, “very young officers with no training or experience” were recently told to go find an assault weapon on the streets from an illegal arms dealer. “One came back two hours later with an AK-47,” Donald says. “He bought it for €1,000.”

TIME U.S.

Watch How the AK-47 Came to Be ‘Made In America’

In early 2015, a U.S.-based company got the green light to start producing what is perhaps the world's most recognizable assault rifle

TIME Aviation

The TSA Seized a Record Number of Guns in 2014

TSA: How to Travel by Commercial Airflight With A Firearm
After filling out a brief disclosure form, commercial air flight travelers are allowed to transport unloaded firearms in locked, hard-sided cases as checked luggage only, as can be seen in props provided by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at Dulles International Airport on Wednesday, June 11, 2014, in Washington, DC. The Washington Post—Getty Images

Security agents found six per day on average

The Transportation Security Administration kept especially busy in 2014: A record high of 2,212 guns were seized from carry-on luggage, marking a 22% increase over 2013 numbers.

The TSA found an average of more than six firearms per day, the agency said Friday, and of those seized, 83% were loaded. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport saw 120 guns seized, the most of any airport.

Passengers who try to bring firearms onto a plane in their carry-on bags can be arrested and criminally charged.

TIME Know Right Now

Know Right Now: AK-47 Rifles to Be Manufactured in the U.S.

These Russian rifles are about to get a little more American

The official United States distributor of Kalashnikov AK-47 rifles has announced it will be producing them domestically after sanctions on Russia prevented them from being imported.

Watch today’s Know Right Now to find out more about these (soon-to-be) American-born rifles.

TIME celebrities

The Gunmaker That Supplied Liam Neeson for Taken 3 Is Now Boycotting Him

TKN3-002 —  Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills in TAKEN 3.
Photo: Sam Urdank—20th Century Fox

The actor said the U.S. has "too many" guns

The firearms maker that provided guns for Liam Neeson’s movie Taken 3 says it’s cutting ties with the series and the actor following his recent comments about guns.

While talking last week about the Paris terrorist attacks, Neeson told Dubai’s Gulf News it’s a “disgrace” that there are “too many” privately owned guns in the United States. “Every week now we’re picking up a newspaper and seeing, ‘Yet another few kids have been killed in schools,'” he said.

PARA USA now says it “regrets” working with Neeson and providing firearms for the movie.

“Comments made by [Taken 3‘s] Irish-born star during press junkets reflect a cultural and factual ignorance that undermines support of the Second Amendment and American liberties, the company wrote on its Facebook page last week. “We will no longer provide firearms for use in films starring Liam Neeson and ask that our friends and partners in Hollywood refrain from associating our brand and products with his projects.”

[BBC]

TIME States

Missouri 5-Year-Old Fatally Shoots Baby Brother

He found the gun lying near the bed, local sheriff said

A nine-month-old boy died Monday after his 5-year-old brother shot him in the head.

The Missouri infant was reportedly in a playpen when his older brother fired a loaded gun that he found near the bed, Nodaway County Sheriff Darren White said, local media KCTV reports.

The boys’ mother told 911 dispatchers her son had been shot with a paintball gun.

When the emergency crew arrived, they discovered he had been shot with a .22 caliber magnum revolver. The shooting, authorities say, was an accident.

[KCTV]

TIME Crime

Michigan Governor Vetoes Gun Bill Over Domestic Violence Concerns

Rick Snyder
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder addresses the media during a news conference in Detroit, Friday, Nov. 7, 2014. Gov. Snyder vetoed two gun bills Thursday over concerns they could lead to domestic violence. Carlos Osorio—ASSOCIATED PRESS

Would have allowed the subjects of personal protection orders to carry concealed weapons

Citing domestic violence concerns, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed two bills on Thursday that would have allowed people subject to personal protection orders the ability to obtain a concealed weapon permit.

The bill included some measures that the Republican governor supports, including doing away with county concealed weapon licensing boards and moving those responsibilities to police departments and county clerks.

But in a letter explaining his veto, Gov. Snyder said that the measures would do away with current law that automatically denies concealed carry permits to the subjects of personal protection orders. These civil orders are issued by courts to protect people threatened or harmed by another person, and are often used in domestic abuse cases.

“Victims of domestic abuse may not know to ask the court for a specific restriction on the subject’s ability to purchase and possess firearms,” Gov. Snyder wrote, adding that one of the Senate bills would remove blanket protection in cases where court-ordered protection does not specifically address firearms.

(Read next: The 1919 Theory That Explains Why Police Officers Need Their Guns)

TIME Law

NRA Suing Pennsylvania Cities on Gun Laws; Mayors Vow Fight

nra leadership forum
NRA members listen to speakers during the NRA Annual Meeting of Members at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston on May 4, 2013 Johnny Hanson — AP

The lobby group has set its sights on Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Lancaster for passing firearms ordinances against in violation of state law

Armed with a new state law that opponents denounce as a gift to the gun lobby, pro-gun groups are rapidly scaling up their attack on municipal firearms ordinances throughout Pennsylvania, with the National Rifle Association filing suit over gun-control measures in three cities.

Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Lancaster have “openly defied” a 40-year-old state law that forbids municipalities from regulating firearms, said Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action.

The cities said they will fight the NRA, contending the local regulations are a sensible way to address deadly gun violence.

“This should be a wake-up call for citizens across Pennsylvania,” Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said. “We’re not taking away anyone’s right to own a gun — or 10 or 20 guns. What we’re saying is when a gun is lost or stolen, you’ve got to report it. Too many people are being killed in the streets of Pittsburgh and other cities with stolen guns.”

Pennsylvania has long barred its municipalities from approving ordinances that regulate the ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of guns or ammunition. But scores of cities and towns ignored the prohibition, and gun-rights groups complained the local measures were difficult to challenge because judges have ruled that plaintiffs could not prove harm.

Under a state law that took effect last week, gun owners no longer have to show they have been harmed by an ordinance to win in court. The new law also allows organizations like the NRA to sue, and successful challengers can seek legal fees and other costs.

Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Lancaster are fighting the new law in court, arguing lawmakers didn’t follow constitutional procedure for passing legislation.

“It is unconstitutional, it never should have been passed, and it breaks with more than 200 years of history in Pennsylvania, by allowing organizations without standing the ability to sue,” Peduto said.

Under threat of litigation from several smaller gun-rights groups, more than 20 Pennsylvania municipalities already have moved to repeal their firearms ordinances instead of defending them in court. Another group, Houston-based U.S. Law Shield, sued the capital of Harrisburg on Tuesday over its gun laws.

The NRA suit filed Wednesday against Philadelphia targets seven ordinances, including ones that require owners to report lost or stolen firearms; prohibit guns from city-owned facilities; and ban weapons possession by people subject to protection-from-abuse orders or who are found to pose a risk of “imminent harm” to themselves or others.

Philadelphia officials have long said its measures are needed to combat gun violence that claims hundreds of lives each year. In 2010, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court tossed city ordinances that limited people to buying one gun a month and banned assault weapons, but the NRA — deemed to lack standing — lost its bid to get other city gun laws thrown out.

If the city’s bid to overturn the new state law is successful, “then the NRA would not have standing to file the suits that it has filed today,” said Mark McDonald, spokesman for Mayor Michael Nutter.

In the small city of Lancaster, meanwhile, the NRA is challenging an ordinance that requires gun owners to tell police when a firearm is lost or stolen.

Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray, one of the named defendants, denounced the NRA lawsuit as “pathetic” and said the city’s attorney had determined its ordinance could withstand legal scrutiny.

“The NRA is a New York-organized corporation that is based in Virginia and they are suing us in Lancaster because we are asking people to report stolen firearms,” he said. “I have a difficult time getting my arms around that.”

Cox, the NRA official, said local laws “do not make people safer” and, in a statement, accused officials of “politically grandstanding at taxpayers’ expense.”

The NRA plans to go after other municipalities whose gun ordinances are barred by state law, said the group’s attorney, Jonathan Goldstein.

“We expect every municipality to repeal ordinances that are pre-empted. If other folks don’t get on board with what the law requires, they can expect to hear from us in due course,” he said.

TIME Crime

The Number of Police Officers Killed by Firearms Jumped by 56% in 2014

Police salute during the playing of the U.S. National Anthem outside the Christ Tabernacle Church at the start of the funeral service for slain NYPD officer Ramos in the Queens borough of New York
Police salute during the playing of the U.S. national anthem outside the Christ Tabernacle Church in New York City at the start of the funeral service for slain New York Police Department officer Rafael Ramos on Dec. 27, 2014 © Mike Segar— Reuters

Total officer deaths also rose

The number of U.S. law-enforcement officers killed by firearm-related incidents jumped by 56% in 2014, an annual report has found.

According to the report, released by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) on Tuesday, 50 officers were killed by firearms, up from 32 in 2013.

In total, there were 126 officer fatalities throughout the year, a 24% increase from 2013 when 102 officers were killed.

After firearms, traffic-related incidents were the second leading cause of officer deaths in 2014, killing 49 officers.

With ambush attacks resulting in 15 deaths this year, NLEOMF chairman Craig Floyd expressed concern that antigovernment sentiment in the country was influencing individuals to carry out attacks on police officers.

“Enough is enough. We need to tone down the rhetoric and rally in support of law enforcement and against lawlessness,” he said.

TIME Guns

2-Year-Old Boy Accidentally Shoots and Kills Mother in Idaho Walmart

Woman was carrying a concealed gun in her purse

A 2-year-old boy in an Idaho Walmart accidentally shot and killed his mother on Tuesday, authorities said.

The woman, 29, was shopping in the Hayden, Idaho, store with the boy and three other children when he reached into her purse and discharged the concealed weapon, the Associated Press reports. They were in the northern Idaho town to visit relatives. The store was closed following the shooting.

Kootenai County sheriff’s spokesman Stu Miller said the shooting “appears to be a pretty tragic accident.” Miller said the boy had been in the shopping cart when he grabbed the small caliber handgun, which discharged once. Miller added that his mother, whose identity has not been released, had a concealed weapons permit.

The woman’s husband was not inside the store when the shooting occurred, Miller said. He arrived shortly after the shooting, and the children have been taken to a relative’s home.

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