Posted by: Allen Hoffmann, JD
May 19, 2015
As has been shown this past week, US authorities don’t mind taking over dark market vendor accounts associated with firearms sales and aggressively perpetuating investigations into the illicit sale of firearms. Invariably, these investigations are likely to spread their tentacles overseas, because even a convicted felon in the states can, in theory, buy a gun on person to person sales site, or at a gun show through a non FFL, person to person sale if they really want to, if they don’t have a local connection who sells them out of the trunk of their car. Don’t mistake my view of the realities of the situation as an anti-gun standpoint – I personally take a more than libertarian view on the issue of firearms ownership, I’m just explaining the commercial realities.
The current investigative action from the U.S. was a proactive one, run by HSI, and technically speaking, firearms being sold in international commerce would be more the BATF’s problem. Its been seen in the past that where things have to be back investigated (ie, a gun is detected overseas at a customs check), the BATF takes the lead – take for example Adam Bunger, also known as “Grass4Cash” and “demonfifa” back on the now defunct BMR marketplace and forums, who was proven to have shipped guns to the UK, Sweden, and, in the shipment which would be his undoing, Australia.
At the end of the day, Bunger will be out of Federal Prison in July of 2016 after a two year sentence, whereas the Australian didn’t even see custody [sidebar – he cooperated, fully, with the police investigation], getting 120 hours community service for the gun import and a $700 fine for possessing ammunition. Not really the return on investment of either investigative shoe leather, or international cooperation and investigation, one would expect from something which ‘seemed’ so big, and was hyped by both the BATF and the Australian Customs authorities.
The interesting gap here is the way in which crossing an international border renders a commodity which is legitimate and plentiful in one jurisdiction illicit and in high demand in another. The gun prices which an almost certainly US based darknet vendor can charge for a firearm are astronomically higher than the prices the price they buy their product for, or for which it could be resold domestically, even in an anti gun jurisdiction such as California or New York. Obviously, they are also charging for their skillset in delivering the firearm safely to another jurisdiction through various customs inspections. So who is doing the buying of these exceedingly high-priced goods?
Sure, there are people who like to collect firearms, regardless of what the laws are like in the relevant jurisdiction, and that’s their choice and risk to take. In the UK, where you’re looking at a mandatory custodial term for possessing a firearm without licensure, its well known that you can just hop on a boat and grab a black powder revolver from France – its known as a ‘tools cruise’, if you believe the mainstream media. But the firearms we see offered in dark markets seldom, if ever, fit the bill of the former description. “CherryFlavor”, a once prolific BMR merchant with a well regarded delivery track record, specialised primarily in Glocks and polymer junk guns like Taurus’ offerings. One of the ‘special orders’ which Adam Bunger took and filled by buying the gun from an FFL, distinct from his usual methods of buying cheap junk person to person, was for a semi auto version of an Uzi pistol. People are buying these guns for either utility or for a fashion statement.
In the end, buyers of guns on the dark web, who want one for a perhaps subjectively legitimate purpose, such as defense of home and hearth, are going to have to part with substantial money for their weapon of choice if they prefer not to make a perfectly serviceable 4 winds shotgun, and invariably, the suggestion is that they are involved with more criminality than just trying to illegally buy a gun is an easy conclusion for investigators to seize upon – one which seems to have been (anecdotally) supported by the Australian end of the HSI investigation, where they seized the princely total of four (count ‘em, four) firearms, but came across two meth labs, meth, meth cooking goodies, and even some steroids as the investigation spread out.
So, what is this HSI investigation all about? Its simple, really. Whilst drugs are, and always will be, semi-mainstream, they are a product which, to borrow from Erich Schlosser, we publicly abhor, privately adore and buy in astonishing amounts. Firearms, in countries where regulation is tight? Not so much, and the assumption is that it will lead to further lines of inquiry both locally and abroad. What exactly does HSI get out of this? This investigation has given potential firearms buyers everywhere pause to stop and consider their next purchase very carefully, because as we all know, on the internet, no-one knows you’re a dog, even if you’re a well regarded seller with excellent feedback.
Actions like this, even if they don’t lead to large scale arrests, help keep markets disrupted. It lets them trumpet their successful investigative prowess, for very little actual effort. Its given them intelligence to feed into the machine at the U.S. end, and it has helped its overseas colleagues who in turn have gotten to trumpet their own investigative prowess by serving them warrants and paths into criminal groups on a platter – back slapping all round, for close to no effort on the part of anyone. UC firearms investigations are here to stay because it brings criminals, large and small, onto the police radar and puts a gigantic target on their head, for basically no time or effort down. A cop’s wet dream, if they could keep doing it forever.