As observers around the world watched chaos unfold in Paris on Nov. 13, many were struck by the attackers’ use of Kalashnikov assault rifles in the bloodbath. How, given France’s strict gun laws, did the attackers manage to procure military-grade weapons so easily? Where are these heavy weapons coming from?
Those same questions were asked in January, when gunmen armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher killed 12 at the offices of the newspaper Charlie Hebdo, and another armed with a submachine gun and an assault rifle killed four at a kosher supermarket. In 2012, Mohamed Merah used a handgun in his shooting spree that left seven dead over 11 days in Toulouse, but the arsenal discovered in his apartment after his death included a Kalashnikov and several submachine guns. France had tightened gun laws just weeks before the Toulouse attack.
In January, the National Observatory for Delinquency, a French agency created in 2003, said that the choice of weapons used at Charlie Hebdo was not surprising, as illegal-arms circulation in France has increased dramatically over the past several years. Three months before the attacks, French police disbanded an online weapons-smuggling ring, arresting nearly 50 alleged traffickers and seizing extensive weaponry. In 2014 alone, France seized more than 5,300 firearms, 175 of which were military-grade.