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Toulouse gunman puts spotlight on France's growing illegal gun trade

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Mr. Merah, a 23-year-old self-proclaimed jihadi of Algerian descent, claimed that he gunned down three soldiers on March 11 and 15, and four members of the Jewish community, including three children, in an attack of a Jewish school on March 19. He was killed by police in Toulouse on March 22 after a 32-hour standoff. 

According to prosecutor François Molins, Merah’s weapons included a Sten machine gun, a Colt Python pistol, a shotgun and an Uzi submachine gun. He used one of his three .45-caliber pistols and the Uzi submachine gun for the killings, according to investigators, as reported by French media.

Thierry Coste, a pro-gun lobbyist, says Merah couldn’t have bought these weapons from a legal gun dealer.

“… He could only supply himself on the black market or from crime organizations, that’s clear. Not only was the purchase illegal but also the ownership,” says Mr. Coste, the secretary general of the William Tell Committee, a coalition of hunters, sporting shooters, weapon collectors and gun dealers and manufacturers. 

Two million people legally own guns in France, according to the group. Coste says gun laws are so strict that it is easier for criminals to buy guns illegally than trying to do so legally. The William Tell Committee campaigns for simpler, but not looser, gun laws.

In addition to the comparative ease of obtaining a gun illegally, arms sold on the black market in France are not prohibitively expensive. 

Artale of the SGP FO police union says a Kalashnikov machine gun can be purchased for about €1,000, or $1,300, which he says is extremely cheap for criminals who make money from other illegal businesses such as drug dealing.

Ange Mancini, France’s intelligence national coordinator, said Saturday on French TV channel BFM-TV that Merah told police during the standoff preceding his death that he bought €20,000 worth of weapons, or about $26,500.

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