Why, Where and How People Get Guns Illegally: 2010 Government Study

TheGunBlog.ca — Following are excerpts from a 2010 report to the Canadian government on why, where and how people get guns illegally.


  • No connection between licit or illicit firearm acquisition/possession and public safety.
  • Study based on interviews with 20 incarcerated and non-incarcerated respondents in Quebec.
  • Respondents got guns illegally (1) for self-protection, and (2) to avoid excessive restrictions, prohibitions and paperwork.
  • Respondents generally didn’t get guns illegally to commit violent crime.
  • See Facts and Stats to learn about the millions of Canadian hunters, farmers and sport shooters of all ages who own and use firearms legally.

Study Details

  • Title: Identifying Illegal Firearm Market Acquisition Patterns – Final Report
  • Prepared for: Public Safety Canada, Firearms and Operational Policing Policy Division
  • Date: September 2010
  • Authors: Carlo Morselli, Sévrine Petit, Mathilde Turcotte, Claudine Gagnon
  • Methodology: Interviews in Quebec with 20 respondents, identified as R1 to R20. Of the respondents, 13 had been incarcerated, 7 were free. The authors recognized they used a “small and nonrepresentative sample.”

What’s Here

  • The following are excerpts from the report of almost 25,000 words.
  • The headings and comments in bold are by TheGunBlog.ca.

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Why, Where and How People Get Guns Illegally

Where People Get Guns Illegally

  • They don’t get guns from stores. “Informal channels of acquisition were indeed the norm.”
  • They don’t get guns from a single source. “Multiple channels of acquisition were in place for most of the respondents. Intermediaries were prominent actors in most transactions.”
  • They get guns by chance. “Opportunistic transactions were prevalent across all respondents’ experiences.”
  • They get guns for protection, and for collection. “Protection was an important motivation for some respondents, particularly amongst the more serious offenders in the sample, but not as prominent as it was in past research. Instead, several respondents explained that they often acquired their firearms because they realized that it was a good deal, because they were passionate collectors and ready to invest in serious guns, or simply because they were attracted to the style, look, and feel of the weapon.”

Why People Get Guns Illegally

  • “Most researchers agree that the main motive for acquiring firearms illegally is self-protection.”
  • “Committing a crime was not the most important motivation for acquiring a firearm, but at least one research program scrutinized this matter a little further.”

Excessive Regulation Drives ‘Good Guys’ to the Black Market

  • “Some of the free respondents, such as R9 and R14, explained that their decision to acquire guns through illegal channels was simply to avoid the bureaucratic constraints of getting a gun legally.
  • “R9 said that the idea of buying illegal firearms never crossed his mind before his contact showed him how much quicker and easier it would be to by-pass official controls.
  • “R14 explained that he could not be bothered with the paperwork and the permits that were required to own and carry guns. He never really wanted any ‘fancy’ guns, but he did want to avoid the hassles of having to complete the forms and waiting for permission.”

Reflections on Regulations — What’s the Point?

  • “R7 explained that the strict gun controls were the reason why he would destroy every gun that he acquired: ‘It’s like I said before, they’re all in the river, especially the ones since 2000. Since 2001, they really tightened up on gun controls. The sentences are the same, but they no longer offer reduce sentences for firearm possession. Now you get a major sentence for having an illegal gun. Rather than getting caught selling a firearm that was already used, I rather not take the risk and just throw if off the Jacques Cartier Bridge.’”
  • “R17 described how acquiring firearms beyond the law was facilitated by his biker connections: ‘You know, at first, getting a gun isn’t easy. It’s a little like getting drugs. It’s not like on TV where anytime a guy wants a gun, he gets one. But, I was never really unable to get a gun—at least not after I joined the organization. At first, it was guys in the organization who supplied me. When I became part of the organization, I would ask the guy who was responsible for guns (the sergeant at arms).’
  • “Aside from the organized crime link, the personal experiences shared by the respondents do not allow us to confirm much. R4 felt it was difficult: ‘It’s not easy to get a gun. It’s a world that’s pretty closed. But if you’re involved in organized crime, it’s easier because you’re always around loads of guns.’
  • “For R6, the ease of acquiring a firearm was linked directly to the simplicity of past opportunities: ‘It was always easy for me because I never looked for guns—I always received offers—how much easier can it get?’”