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Relational Dynamics of Illegal Firearm Transactions

NCJ Number
Canadian Journal of Criminology Volume: 44 Issue: 3 Dated: July 2002 Pages: 255-276
Carlo Morselli
Date Published
July 2002
22 pages
This study examined the qualities of the social ties between individuals involved in illicit and consensual gun transactions.
The relational link between the acquirer and the gun source is explored, along with how variations in such personal network characteristics influence opportunities to obtain firearms as well as shaping the procedural design of transactions. The data were obtained from a series of face-to-face interviews conducted with 21 incarcerated adult men between March 1995 and August 1995. The transaction events occurred within the Montreal region between 1982 and 1995. Results show that illicit firearm transactions occurred in a variety of circumstances, such as cash purchases, bartering, and borrowing. The most frequent type of transaction was the straight cash purchase. Other commodities were often accepted as suitable exchanges for firearms in the illegal transactions. Bartering drugs seemed to be a common transactional device within criminal circles. The borrowing of firearms took place within acquirers’ personal cells and intimate zones. Guns were obtained within very business-like circumstances, through deals involving spur-of-the-moment trades, or simple “lend-outs.” Patterns may be identified across all distinctive transactions with regard to the type of contacts used to obtain illicit guns. Most of the individuals knew where to go from the onset, were already in contact with the right people, and were familiar with the procedures for acquiring a firearm within clandestine circles. Preventing illicit firearm transactions from occurring within the personal network is a difficult task. Deciding to acquire a firearm by illegal means was less a matter of choosing between legitimate and illegal options than it was of getting a gun in the simplest and most reliable way possible. Future firearm policies should take social networks into account. Decreasing general availability of firearms may have an immediate or long-term influence in increasing illicit firearm prices; however, such changes will only be effective in transactions where price is a component. 15 notes, 28 references