Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Biting The Silver Bullet 12: Unconventional Firearms & Firearm Components

By Sanjay Soni

All your questions about guns answered – Part II

In my last article we discussed different types of guns and how they work. In this article we will do a more detailed analysis of a gun at the component level, to better understand how they work.

But before we do that, let us take a look at some unconventional firearms.

‘Other’ Types Of Firearms

In addition to the categories of firearms listed in the earlier article, this category encompasses various types of firearms which may overlap with those mentioned but are deserving their own classification.

Firearms in this last generic category may borrow features from the commonly accepted category, but their modality of production or modification makes them very difficult to be identified and traced. Weapons in this category also represent a legal challenge, either not being legally covered, especially in what concerns new technologies, or their transfer and possession is at the edge of the law, or takes advantage of existing legal loopholes.

Craft Production & Rudimentary Arms

There is a category of weapons which are custom designed and made. These are called ‘craft weapons’. Essentially, the practice consists of weapons and ammunition being fabricated by hand in relatively small quantities. Artisanal in nature, they can range from pistols and shotguns to the more advanced assault rifles, and also include very expensive design weapons used in sport shooting, hunting, and other areas.

In contrast to the craft or artisanal production, there are also the generically called rudimentary arms. These arms are generally homemade and are more likely to be found in criminal contexts. Rudimentary arms are essentially arms manufactured by parts or components that were not originally designed to be parts of a firearm or made out of parts from other firearms. You would have heard of the rudimentary arms industry in some parts of India which turns out weapons known as the ’Katta’. These are quite unreliable and numerous instances of them blowing up during firing and injuring the user abound.

Katta – Illegal Handmade Pistol

Gunsmiths and handcraft production can be found in all regions. ‘The artisanal firearm industry is especially widespread and developed in countries like USA, UK, Australia, Pakistan, India and some African countries like Nigeria, Burkins Faso and Ghana, with some gunsmiths reportedly able to produce assault rifles.’

‘The Peshawar district in Pakistan (one of 22 districts in the North-West Frontier Province) is reportedly home to 200 workshops producing a wide range of inexpensive small arms, including revolvers and shotguns’. The most famous craft production site is in the city of Darra in Pakistan as presented in the video The Gun Market of Pakistan.

3D Printed Firearms

An area of concern for policymakers and law enforcement officials is the 3D printed firearm. This is a new phenomena which has emerged due to the notable advances made in the field of 3D printing. In essence, the firearm is manufactured by building layer upon layer of plastic, for example, creating various complex and solid objects.

The Liberator, a single-shot gun, is an example of such technology.

Policy discussions have intensified, at national and international level throughout the world, around the use of modern technology such as 3D printed arms, their potential impact on security, and the legal responses to them.

3D Printed Gun 

3D printed guns have some qualities that make them more attractive to criminals. The material of these arms is difficult to detect by current detectors and scanners. These firearms are easy to destroy after a crime, making it almost impossible to recover the murder weapon. They are also untraceable. Taken together, these features make 3D printed weapons the perfect weapons for high profile crimes, once the technology advances enough to make them safer and more technologically advanced.

The technological development and the availability of cheap CNC machines and 3D printers will make the production of 3D firearms far simpler and more difficult to regulate. The real problem is not so much the 3D printer but the fact that the blueprint for the firearms can be easily and openly accessed through the Internet.

As far as the legal regime for these arms is concerned, there seems to be a gap in both domestic and international legislation. No international legal instruments explicitly refer to them. Some countries have started to capture this new phenomenon in its domestic law: In the United States, the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988 states that ‘any firearm that cannot be detected by a metal detector is illegal to manufacture…’ In practical terms, 3D printed firearms would need a metal plate inserted. 

In the United Kingdom, the Firearms Act of 1968 ‘bans the manufacturing of guns and gun parts without government approval.’ 

Unlicensed Copies

The unlicensed copies are encountered in situations when manufacturers either:

  • Produce a larger number of firearms that they are allowed to produce under their license
  • Or they produce firearms other than those they have a license to produce

Small Arms Survey estimates that ‘530,000 to 580,000 military small arms are produced annually either under license or as unlicensed copies.’ This is a form of illicit manufacturing. 

These unlicensed firearms are not registered, and they usually end up on the illicit market, being sold at a fraction of the price of the original firearm. Lack of registration or serial number duplication makes these weapons very difficult to trace using conventional tracing methods through identification of firearm type, serial number, model and manufacturer.

Replica & Imitation Firearms

A replica firearm is a device that is manufactured to resemble an existing design of a firearm but is not intended to fire. Typically, replica firearms are manufactured for firearm collectors, especially collectors of antique firearms.

An imitation firearm is a device that is not a real firearm, but is designed to look exactly or almost exactly like a real firearm (very realistic toy guns, or moulded guns either in rubber or metal). 

Although technically unable to fire projectiles, both replica and imitation firearms have the capacity to intimidate since they can easily be mistaken for real firearms. There are many such imitation firearms available in India that look and feel quite realistic. They fire gas powered pellets which can cause tissue damage if hit at close range.

Deactivated & Converted Firearms

A deactivated firearm is any firearm that was modified in such a way that it can no longer fire and expel any form of projectile. Usually, the deactivation process has to be permanent, such as filing the firing pin. Because these deactivated firearms do not fall under the same regulations as the activated firearms, they are often purchased by criminal organizations who either remove the deactivation systems or convert the weapons with spare parts and these reactivated firearms then enter the illicit market.

Conversion is a process that modifies a non-lethal (e.g. blank or gas weapon) into a lethal weapon that is further pushed into the illicit market. I have seen examples of such weapons made by Anti-national elements in the state of Chhattisgarh, India. These have been effectively used against the police and anti-terrorist forces.

Modular Firearms

Modular weapons are produced with components that are interchangeable in a way that can change or improve the characteristic of a firearm. In addition, changing essential components like the barrel, extractor/ejector, firing pin etc. will make ballistic identification extremely difficult, if not impossible.

One good example in this range is the Glock pistol, which, although not conceived as a modular weapon, bears the modularity characteristics and can be easily transformed from a semi-automatic pistol into a fully automatic sub-machine gun with 50 or 100 rounds magazine, scope, silencer, shell recovery system and other modular parts.

Glock modular kit 100 rounds automatic. 
Fully Automatic Glock silenced conversion kit

Concealable Firearms

The term refers to firearms that have the resemblance of harmless items, but that can be lethally fired. The pen gun, the phone gun, or the flashlight gun are good examples. Concealable firearms can be legally produced or can be crafted in an illicit way. Although firearms that are legally produced are registered and theoretically can be traced, the main danger resides in their physical characteristics that makes them difficult to be recognized as a firearm, hence identification and detection possibilities are drastically reduced.

Concealed phone gun
Magpul FMG9 Foldable Machinegun

Firearms Kits

A kit weapon is usually made from a series of parts and components. In most situations the kit provides the components that require additional machining for full completion. Machining the kit for firearms completion requires high level of technological skills.

1911 80% Build Kit 5″ GI .45 ACP

Firearms parts and components

In addition to understanding the classification of firearms, we will now look at the parts of the firearm and how they operate.

Main components of a firearm

For the practitioner, key aspects of firearm identification include major components like the working mechanism, both external and internal.

Firearms can comprise of hundreds of parts and components. The more common parts include the barrel, magazine, hand guard, pistol grip, trigger and the trigger guard. All firearms have a receiver, which is comprised of springs, levers and pistons.

It is important to differentiate between the key components of a firearm, and the other parts and components. The key components of a firearm are those that are essential for the proper functioning and identification of a firearm. Since replacement of these components can impact the proper identification of a firearm, their trading and manufacture is also regulated.

A key part of any firearm is the barrel. The projectile or bullet travels through the barrel by way of an explosive charge (propellant). The barrel is linked to a receiver, which houses the operable parts of the firearm, including a magazine which holds the ammunition. 

Part/componentDescriptionExample
BoltThe bolt is a mechanical part of a firearm [mostly semi-automatic pistols] that blocks the rear chamber while firing but moves aside to allow another cartridge to be inserted.
BreechThe essential part of the firearm that holds the firing mechanism where the cartridge is inserted.
Breech blockThe movable part of the firing system that seals the moment of firing, preventing gases from escaping. Most modem small firearms use a bolt.
ChamberThe portion of the barrel or barrel extension which supports the cartridge case while it is in firing position.
ClipA device which contains several cartridges that is fed into the magazine of a firearm.
CylinderThe cylinder is a cylindrical, rotating part of a revolver that contains multiple cartridge chambers.
MagazineA magazine is the ammunition storage and feeding device of a firearm within or attached to a repeating firearm. Magazines can be removable or integral to the firearm.
SlideA majority of semi-automatic pistols have a slide which generally houses the firing pin and the extractor, and serves as the bolt. It is spring-loaded to chamber a fresh cartridge provided that the magazine is not empty.
TriggerThe trigger is the mechanism that actuates the firing sequence of the firearm
General anatomy of a revolver
General anatomy of a semi-automatic pistol
General composition of a rifle
General composition of a sub-machine gun

For example, changing a firearm barrel will make it impossible to identify a bullet fired with the same weapon, since the markings of the new barrel are different from the markings of the original barrel. Also, the new barrel may have a different serial number or no serial at all, creating difficulty in the physical identification of the firearm. 

In the next article we shall look at the different types of bullets and their functions.

Sanjay Soni is the Managing Director of Hughes Precision Manufacturing Pvt. Ltd., India’s first small caliber manufacturer in the private sector. An MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, he has been involved with the ammunition industry in India and abroad since the last 8 years.


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