The Flemish Peace Institute is an independent
institute for peace research at the Flemish Parliament.

Firearms and Drugs: Partners in Transnational Crime

Publication date: 18/03/2024

The multifaceted links between illicit drug trafficking and illicit firearms present a global challenge
requiring a clear understanding and integrated responses.

Download the report “Firearms and Drugs: Partners in Transnational Crime” in full and find out more. 

Global drug trafficking acts as a key driver for the use of illicit firearms as well as their illicit
manufacturing, proliferation and trafficking. The long life cycle of firearms provides opportunities
for diversion of firearms from legal possession into illegal possession. Drug criminals
across the globe profit from such diversion opportunities and the affiliated firearms trafficking

While drug trafficking is characterized by a global reach and firearms trafficking is generally limited
to a regional dimension, significant interlinkages arise between both types of trafficking
through the actors, routes and modi operandi used by the traffickers. Arms trafficking methods
have often been pioneered by drug traffickers.

Despite the largely non-violent dimension of the illicit drug trade, as most illicit drugs transactions
and trafficking occur without violence, the linkages between firearms and drug trafficking
can trigger, facilitate and intensify violence. Access to trafficked firearms tends to increase the
use of violence in drug markets across the globe, with more lethal casualties and higher levels

Drug-related gun violence is a global phenomenon and can occur at any point within the drugs
lifecycle. Significant geographical differences can be observed in gun violence related to the
production and trafficking of large quantities of drugs, which reflect to a certain extent the
global distribution patterns of the various types of drugs. Drug-related gun violence connected
to local consumer drug markets, on the other hand, can be observed across the globe.

Gun violence related to drug trafficking can have devastating spill-over effects on local communities
and, geographically, in the broader region in which drug trafficking occurs. The interlinkages
between firearms and drug trafficking can fuel armed conflict and terrorism by facilitating
the funding and acquisition of weapons by non-state armed groups and terrorists
through drug trafficking criminal networks and activities.

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