Converted Firearms in Europe

Dominique Wright
Sep 6, 2018 · 4 min read

A few weeks ago at the United Nations, I attended a side event called “Legal Loopholes & Terrorism: Converted Firearms in Europe and Beyond.” In it, speakers of the side event had insights on terrorist access to converted firearms in Europe, how legal firearms become lethal, and their effects on society as a whole. The data presented from this meeting came from two highly qualified reports.

One report came from the Small Arms Survey that provides impartial evidence-based analysis on small arms and armed violence. The Small Arms Survey is widely supported by Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and The United States[1]. SAS’s report explains the ongoing problems posed of the conversion of imitation firearms and downgraded firearms. Imitation firearms consist of toy guns, blank firing handguns, and airsoft guns. Imitation firearms are an ongoing concern in Europe because they are easy to modify and they are extremely inexpensive. People can find out how to convert imitation firearms on Youtube by searching a few key words. The conversion process for imitation firearms involves converting an item that is not supposed to be a firearm and through some modifications that do not require much expertise or specialized equipement, the converted firearm is modified to shoot real live ammunition. Moreover, the price of imitation firearms has changed the way criminal markets operate in Europe. The cheap price makes imitation firearms more desirable in criminal markets.

The other typology that raises concern are downgraded firearms. This consists of deactivated firearms, which are originally real firearms, modified to not fire live ammunition and originally real firearms that are modified to only fire blank ammunition. Downgraded firearms are also being reactivated and converted to shoot other projectiles.

Project SAFTE, an international research project funded by the European Commission, found that criminal markets are essential to terrorists obtaining access to converted firearms in Europe[2]. Unlike those in other continents, European criminal markets are closed, meaning they are not easily accessible and criminal connections are necessary for access. To purchase a firearm, trust must be established between the buyers and sellers. They know this because upon seizure, law enforcement officials have found hunting rifles, replica guns, and other guns not suitable for terrorist activities, signifying that all terrorist networks do not have the same access to the same markets with the same availability.

Source: Florquin and King: From Legal to Lethal

Many high profile terrorist attacks have been executed throughout Europe with the use of converted firearms. Mohammed Merah committed a series of 3 gun attacks on French soldiers and Jewish civilians. Killing 7 people and wounding 5 others, Merah shocked people around the world after this attack in 2012. Weapons seized from Merah included a reactivated .45 ACP LLama Max-II pistol made in Spain[3]. The teenage perpetrator of the July 2016 shooting in Munich, Germany, where 9 people were murdered and dozens were left injured after he lured children into a McDonalds, used a reactivated Glock pistol purchased on the dark web to execute the attack [4]. “Amedy Coulibaly, who carried out the Montrouge and Hypercacher attacks, used two reactivated vz.58 automatic rifles — one compact, one sub-compact — and six Tokarev TT 33 pistols” [5].

The glock pistol used in the Munich 2016 attack looked similar to this one. 300 rounds of ammunition were found in his possession after he was killed (Source: Getty Images)

What Can Be Done?

More studies need to be conducted throughout Europe and neighboring continents to ensure that policies are created and implemented in order to prevent the serious dangers that are associated with the conversion of firearms. Although it is hard for an untrained person to differentiate between a real firearm and a converted firearm, policies still need to include converted firearms in order to combat the proliferation of imitation firearms, which can easily be converted into lethal weapons. With regards to the exploitation of loopholes, the reactivation of firearms and the extreme expansion of weapons allow automatic fire power to become a feasible option to criminals.

With respect to the attacks in Europe, we also need to raise more awareness of the dangers converted firearms create. Though these firearms are technically inoperable, terrorists and criminals easily convert the firearms into dangerous weapons that pose a serious threat to society. To make matters worse the illicit weapons market is growing. “The European Union sold production of civilian firearms, their parts and components, and ammunition increased over the period 2007–2015 at an average annual growth of around 2.3%” [6]. The interest in these firearms validate how dangerous these weapons actually are.


[1]Nicolas Florquin and Benjamin King, “From Legal to Lethal: Converted Firearms in Europe,” Small Arms Survey, April 2018,

[2]Nils Duquet, “Triggering Terror: Illicit Gun Markets and Firearms Acquisition of Terrorist Networks in Europe,” Project SAFTE, April 17, 2018.

[3]Nicolas Florquin and Benjamin King, “From Legal to Lethal: Converted Firearms in Europe,” Small Arms Survey, April 2018,



[6] European Commission, “Study in view of a report evaluating the implementation of Regulation 258/2012 (Final Report),” European Union, November 22, 2017,



Dominique Wright

Written by

Dominique Wright is a senior Rutger University. At Nonviolence International she is a Research Analyst that primarily writes about political issues.



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