Assessing network patterns in illegal firearm markets


This study presents the results from a qualitative survey of 20 incarcerated and nonincarcerated illicit firearm market consumers in Quebec. Its general aim is to identify key acquisition patterns for illegal firearms. The interview sessions confirmed several general patterns emerging from past research. Illegal firearm acquisitions generally took place through informal channels. Opportunistic transactions were prevalent across all respondents’ experiences. The presence of key point sources were discussed across the interviews, but to a much lesser extent than the high volume of friends, family members, and close contacts who were more likely to supply firearms. Point sources, and particularly those operating off Native reserves near Montreal, were also more difficult to access for inexperienced acquirers. That such reputed suppliers were not as prevalent across respondents’ experiences was not simply due to the difficulties to access them, but largely because respondents were already well exposed to a variety of channels for acquiring firearms. An analysis of respondents’ personal networks revealed that only a few respondents had closed networks that were limited in suppliers and that most were able to acquire illegal firearms through open or brokered networks that put them into contact with a multitude of suppliers (in open networks) or a reliable set of intermediaries (in brokered networks). This was the case for both free and incarcerated respondents in the sample. That open and brokered networks were more prominent suggests that even if key point sources are removed from the market by law-enforcement efforts, consumers will be able to adjust rather quickly by turning to any of the channels that are accessible to them.

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    The four respondents who only reported one transaction were excluded from this analysis.


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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Carlo Morselli.

Additional information

This study was funded by Public Safety Canada’s Firearms and Operational Policing Policy Division. I thank Suzing Hum for her help and comments on previous drafts and Sévrine Petit, Mathilde Turcotte, and Claudine Gagnon for their assistance during the fieldwork stage of the research.

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Morselli, C. Assessing network patterns in illegal firearm markets. Crime Law Soc Change 57, 129–149 (2012).

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  • Personal Network
  • Juvenile Offender
  • Structural Hole
  • Closed Network
  • Illegal Market