Jordan’s gun industry booms on Syrian spillover fears

By Mussa Hattar  /  AFP, AMMAN

Sun, Jan 19, 2014 - Page 14

Firearm prices in Jordan have soared 10-fold since the war in Syria erupted in 2011, but more people than ever are buying guns for protection against a possible spillover of the violence.

The number of licensed weapons stands at 120,000, but there are more than 1 million unlicensed guns in the kingdom of 7 million people, the Jordanian Ministry of the Interior estimates.

According to a study by the Jordanian Society for Political Sciences, 25 percent of Jordanians own guns — legally and illegally.

“The conflict in Syria makes people feel unsafe. They do not know what is coming in the future,” said Seri Nasser, a social sciences professor at the University of Jordan. “Jordanians buy guns to protect themselves because they think that security services are incapable of meeting their expectations.”

The war has taken a toll on the kingdom, which is home to more than 500,000 Syrian refugees, most of them in the north, where frustrated Jordanians say they have almost become a minority.

Some have repeatedly complained that the refugees are burdening the country’s scarce resources and competing with them for jobs, while others say they fear the rise of Islamist power in Syria.

“Since violence started in Syria three years ago, demand for weapons has become very high,” Abu Samaan told reporters at his gun shop in the capital, Amman.

“People are scared and they want to protect their lives and property,” said the 68-year-old, clad in an olive camouflage uniform.

The gun dealer, who has been in the business since the late 1960s, added that “customers are mainly looking for automatic weapons.”

Prices of some weapons have rocketed 10-fold, with a Belgian-made M9 Browning pistol leaping from 200 Jordanian dinars to more than 1,800 dinars (US$282 to more than US$2.250).

Similarly, the cost of a Spanish-made Star M9 pistol went up from 200 dinars to 2,000 dinars, while the price of an Italian-made M7 Beretta pistol rose from 120 dinars to 1,000 dinars.

“Very high demand, particularly for automatic weapons, which have become almost scarce in the market, has led to sharp increase in [the] prices of weapons in general,” Abu Samaan said.

Given the tidy profits to be made, smuggling has become big business in Jordan, as has the illegal sale of weapons.

“There are 95 licensed gun shops in Jordan, but it is difficult to determine the number of other arm dealers, particularly with the current high level of smuggling,” a security source said.

In the view of Rasmi Abdullah, a 47-year-old hunter, the Syrian conflict is the main factor driving Jordanians to buy weapons.

“The war has seriously affected people. Fearing violence will reach Jordan, they feel the need to buy guns for self defense,” Abdullah said as he visited Abu Samaan’s shop to stock up on ammunition.

Smuggled Turkish-made pump-action shotguns and tactical M7 pistols are favored because of their relative cheapness, he added.

For example, shotguns go for 600 dinars, while the price of an AK-47 automatic rifle has soared from 200 dinars two years ago, to more than 3,000 dinars now.

Last month, Jordanian border guards said that arms smuggling between Jordan and Syria has increased by 300 percent, adding that they have foiled hundreds of trafficking attempts, while Jordan’s military state security court is examining several related cases.

Concerned at the rapid weaponization of the kingdom, Amman has banned the issuing of licenses and the renewal of permits to carry firearms. It has also stopped giving permits for the opening of new gun shops.

Yet this has not stopped a thriving trade via Facebook, where thousands of people are trying to sell and buy weapons on a firearms classifieds site.

“The Syrian crisis has created new and different kinds of burdens, including arms trafficking,” Jordanian Minister of Information Mohammad Momani said. “But Jordan’s armed forces are capable of controlling the situation and the government is closely monitoring any illegal activities.”

Police last week said they swooped on an illegal weapons-making operation in the city of Irbid and made several arrests.

Jordan has also jailed dozens of men convicted of trying to enter Syria to fight alongside rebel forces.

“There are hundreds or maybe thousands of Muslim extremists fighting in Syria. Most of them are Jordanians, so whether they win or lose, people here want to be ready,” resident Abu Omar said as he examined handguns at a shop in the Jordanian capital.

The shop owner agreed.

“The high prices will not stop people from buying weapons as long as the situation in Syria remains dangerous and unpredictable,” he added.