We’ve all heard of the quasi-mystical ‘Gun runners’ and ‘illegal gun trade’, but if you’ve ever wondered where those illegal guns could come from, wonder no more.
The Philippine city of Danao has a few manufacturers, making copycat Colts and other 1911s with templates and hand tools. Unfinished though they are, they get handed off to finishers that make these guns look like the real deal. They fire, they’re dangerous, and they’re being imported. At $230 a sale, these illegal guns aren’t all that expensive, but they are massively illegal. They’re even given fake serial numbers and branding to match the real deal. The manufacturers make a barebones living, the shippers get a sizeable chunk of profit, and we get shafted with more gun crime.
If it’s this or starvation for the manufacturers, I can hardly blame them, but I can absolutely blame those who stand to turn a profit from these activities.
Maybe it’s time to do something about it, but what?
According to traffickers, there’s one place where high-quality ghost guns are readily available: The city of Denao, in the Philippeans. Denao has been a hub for gun manufacturers for over a century, but legal gun industry experiences periodic downturns. Many families believe that their survival depends on doing what they know best: Making illegal guns.
[I started doing this when I was 22, now I am 53. And still, all I do, is make guns.]
[THE AMADO FAMILY; ILLEGAL GUNSMITHS]
Hiding in a workshop deep in the jungle, Mr. Amado and his sons make guns to order, and they’re all handmade.
[It’s a widely-known model, the 1911. The most popular one in Danao. It’s a good gun to make.]
Developed and used during the philippean war, this gun earned its name, and it was adopted by the US military in 1911. Relying on scrap metal and simple tools, they use a template and hand-craft using simple tools.
[This pattern applies to various models be it a Combat, a 1911, a mark IV. These parts need to be welded, then you need to file and polish it so it will look the same as this one.]
Working twelve hours a day, together they make five handguns a month.
[For a gun like this, I get paid 5,000 pesos ($115)]
Guns help put food on the table, but they still live in poverty. In the jungle workshop, it’s every man for himself. Amado and his family are on constant alert. They fear that jealous neighbors, their competition, are out to get them.
[It’s envy. Thar’s when they go to the authorities to have you arrested, and then they come for you.]
Weekly raids by the police mean that Amado and his family are forced to run and hide in the jungle, rather than face arrest.
[Bail is 40,000 pesos ($920), where will I get that? It’s bad for us to be arrested, our families can do nothing. They will have nothing to eat.]
For those sucked into illegal gun making, options are limited. To make money, the guns have to move on.
[This is the end result. It should look like this when it’s done.]
This 45 is ready to test-fire. But it has to work perfectly for Lumabon.
[We can now test this for selling. I’m loading 5 bullets.]
Any imperfection in the gun could make it jam.
[It has to fire for the downrown buyer to take it.]
Lumabon tests his own gun without protection. If it misfires, it could kill him. Luckily, his craftsmanship is right on target.
[This gun shoots well and is already good for delivery to Danao.]
The mechanics of the clone Colt 45 appear to work perfectly. It’s ready for its next phase.
[We have contacts downtown who we sell this to, they take this and do everything, including the finishing. They finish the job for us.]
His buyer will put the finishing touches on the gun, but to get paid, Lumabon has to do two things: Get out of the jungle, and get into town without getting busted.
[We are not afraid as long as there is no checkpoint. I will take a motorcycle, ask my friends if there are checkpoints or not, so I can keep going.]
Lumaban gets a warning; there has just been a police raid nearby, so he’s forced to take a detour.
[When there’s a checkpoint, we detour onto another road for Danao]
With the buyer only willing to wait until sunset, he needs to hurry. It’s a nerve-racking business. Spies are everywhere. He’s made it, just in time. The 45 has exchanged hands in its first transaction, but not its last if the gun traffickers do their job. This ghost gun’s opening price: $115. When they come this cheap, for buyers, it’s all about the profit.
[We deliver them when we have stock.]
Edwin is the first link to a large international distribution network that will see clone 45 caliber ghost guns go all the way to the USA. But the smuggling can only begin when he’s got enough of them.
[When orders start coming in for 10 or 20 guns from different places, that’s when I, as the stockholder, send them out.]
Edwin deals in a variety of untraceable guns, but he buys them all unfinished. They’re all missing one vital thing: A serial number.
[Like this 45, it has no bluing, no finishing, no markings.]
He sends them to a network of highly-skilled backyard workers who specialize in making clone guns look legitimate. Most important: Original brand markings, and made-up serial numbers. Guns indistinguishable from the originals get the highest price.
[We sell it here for 10,000 pesos ($230)]
On each sale, Edwin doubles his money. With customers paying Edwin top dollar, he can’t afford to lose any in transit, so he selects his gun mules carefully.
[When transporting firearms, we use women to deliver them.]