Illegal firearms and ammunition are being advertised over Snapchat, VICE UK has found.
An account that claims to be based in London is advertising the sale of firearms through the app. The account uses Snapchat's story feature to advertise numerous guns, including a Mini Beretta M9, a Colt AR-15, a Smith and Wesson pistol and a Glock, as well as ammunition.
In one of a series of recent Stories found by VICE UK, a person displays a handgun bearing the Beretta logo, alongside the caption "Beretta M9 mini Available". The video has a geolocation sticker in the top right corner – a feature on Snapchat where your location unlocks certain filters to display over images and videos – with the words, "London, Westminster".
In another video, a person wearing purple latex gloves holds a loaded Colt AR-15 in front of a whiteboard with the name of the account and the date – 26/11/19 – written behind it. The person detaches the magazine and displays bullets. The automatic rifle is advertised for sale at £1,500.
The account also advertises a Glock and 9mm ammunition from the American firearms brand Rainier Arms.
Another video shows a Smith and Wesson pistol, with the geolocation sticker "Starbucks, London".
When VICE UK reached out to the person running the account, posing as a potential buyer, the seller said the pistol was for sale for £600 and came with one box of ammo, which could be paid for using BitCoin. Black market prices for small guns can vary from £500 to £1,000.
The account advertises accepting different payment methods: Bitcoin, CashApp, Zelle, Venmo and "bank and card". It also advertises the sale of large quantities of illegal drugs, such as cocaine and cannabis.
VICE UK spoke to multiple experts who cautioned that it is impossible to verify if the firearms and ammunition are authentic based on videos and photos alone. However, they all agreed that the footage and pricing suggest the weapons are real.
Peter Squires, a professor of criminology and public policy at the University of Brighton, said over email: "There are many very realistic looking imitation firearms out there based upon exactly the same production templates as real handguns – it is often difficult to tell simply by looking."
However, Squires added, "The availability of ammunition also suggests they are real. Ammunition is often harder to come by than guns."
David Dyson, a firearms consultant and barrister in the UK, also told us that many of the guns appear real. "The first image of the Glock and ammunition looks real," he said. "The ammunition certainly looks viable, and is in boxes from a genuine manufacturer."
However, it is impossible to confirm the authenticity of all the guns from the images posted to the account. "The images do not show sufficient detail to allow a firm view of the guns," Dyson explained. "There is nothing really that allows an assessment as to whether it is a real gun or a replica."
That said, the prices the guns are advertised at do suggest they are genuine firearms. "The price being asked for [the Colt AR-15] sounds like the price you would ask for outside the USA," Squires told us.
VICE UK also showed photos and videos of the guns to an Airsoft salesperson in London. Airsoft is a type of replica gun that uses compressed gas or a spring-charger to shoot spherical pellets. They were able to verify that the guns and bullets advertised by the account are not Airsoft guns or bullets. Even if the guns are unable to fire bullets, it would still be illegal to advertise them, as the Violent Crime Reduction Act prohibits the sale of "realistic imitations".
VICE UK reached out to the Metropolitan Police – the force responsible for policing in London – highlighting the account, including the implication that the guns were being sold and shipped from London. A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police told VICE that this was "not [an issue] for them", as it was "a national issue" outside their remit and "not specifically a London issue". They declined to offer any further comment.
The sale of illegal goods is in clear violation of Snapchat's community guidelines, which state users should not "use Snapchat for any illegal activities – including to buy or sell illegal drugs, contraband, counterfeit goods or illegal weapons". The videos are particularly alarming considering 77 percent of Snapchat's UK users are reported to be between 18 and 24 years old.
A spokesperson from Snapchat told VICE UK, "Snap is deeply committed to the safety of our community, and our terms of service and our community guidelines prohibit anyone from using Snapchat for illegal activity. Our Discover page features only trusted media brands who are carefully vetted and popular users whose Stories are fully moderated. This means that only a select few are able to find a large audience on our platform." "The design of Snapchat encourages users to interact with their real friends and not strangers," they added. "We encourage anyone who sees illegal content to report it. Our in-app reporting tools are quick and easy to use and our dedicated Trust and Safety team is on hand 24/7 to respond.”
Since being notified by VICE UK, Snapchat has removed the account.
Overall, gun crime in the UK has fallen since 2002. However, according to statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), four police forces in the UK experienced the highest rate of gun crime in a decade between 2017 and 2018. These are West Yorkshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Cheshire.
This is the first reported case of firearms being advertised for sale over Snapchat in the UK, despite many county lines gangs using Snapchat to recruit young people. According to the National Crime Agency, who investigate illegal firearms, "Most of the online trade in illegal firearms takes place on surface web platforms, with a smaller number taking place on the dark web."
When VICE UK pressed the person running the account to verify the guns, they forwarded screenshots of receipts from a shipping organisation called Ocean Logistics Shipping Agency as proof that guns had been sent and received. The receipt showed deliveries from London to Luxembourg, Sweden and Norway, and included dates and a carrier reference number. VICE UK was unable to verify whether the shipping company was real, as contact details provided were either incorrect or provided no response.
"[The sale of guns online has] become the new worry," said Squires, "particularly with people accessing guns through the dark web, and the tendency of American sellers to put them on the dark web and advertise firearms."