Military Wiki

Improvised firearm disguised as a flashlight

An improvised firearm is a firearm manufactured by someone who is not a regular maker of firearms (such as a firearms manufacturer or a gunsmith), and is typically constructed by adapting existing materials to the purpose. They range in quality from crude weapons that are as much a danger to the user as the target, to high quality arms produced by cottage industries using salvaged and repurposed materials.[1][2][3]

Most countries have controls in place that regulate production, sales, and possession of firearms and ammunition (see gun politics for regional information). This means improvised firearms are for the most part illegally produced, which makes their possession and use criminal as well. Improvised firearms are commonly used as tools by criminals and insurgents and therefore often associated with such groups.[4][5]

Other uses for improvised firearms include self-defense in lawless areas, or in poor rural areas for hunting game for food or profit.[6]


Handmade pistol

A crude yet functional homemade firearm made in Delhi, India

File:Covert firearms.jpg

Disguised improvised firearms

The essential part of any improvised firearm is the barrel and chamber. For small, low pressure cartridges, like the common .22 caliber (5.5 mm) rimfire cartridges, even very thin walled tubing will suffice. Author Harlan Ellison describes the zip guns used by gangs in 1950s New York City as being made from tubing used in coffee percolators or automobile radio antennas, strapped to a block of wood to serve as a handle. A rubber band provides the power for the firing pin, which is pulled back and released to fire. The use of such weak tubing results in a firearm that can be as dangerous to the shooter as the target; the poorly fitting smoothbore barrel provides little accuracy and is liable to burst upon firing.[1]

Improvisation with other items

More advanced improvised guns can make use of parts from other gun-like products. One example is the cap gun. A cap gun can be disassembled, and a barrel added, turning the toy gun into a real one; a firing pin can then be added to the hammer, to concentrate the force onto the primer of the cartridge. If the cap gun has a strong enough hammer spring, the existing trigger mechanism can be used as-is, otherwise rubber bands may be added to increase the power of the hammer.[7]

Air guns have also been modified to convert them to firearms. The Brocock Air Cartridge System, for example, uses a self-contained "cartridge" roughly the size of a .38 Special cartridge, which contains an air reservoir, valve, and a .22 caliber (5.5 mm) pellet. Examples of BACS airguns converted to firearms, either by drilling the barrel out to fire a .38 Special cartridge or by altering the cylinder to accept .22 caliber cartridges, have been used in a number of crimes. Blank firing guns can also be converted by adding a barrel.[8]

Cryptic firearms

Some more complex improvised firearms are not only well built, but also use mimicry as camouflage, taking the appearance of other items. Improvised firearms in the form of flashlights, cellular telephones, pens, and large bolts, have all been seized by law enforcement officials. Most of these are .22 caliber rimfires, but flashlight guns have been found ranging from small models firing .22 Long Rifle to larger ones chambered for .410 bore shotgun shells.[9][10]

Repeating and automatic designs

File:Cellphone gun.jpg

Four-shot gun disguised as a mobile phone

While most improvised firearms are single shot, multiple shot versions are also encountered. The simplest multi-shot zip guns are derringer-like, and consist of a number of single shot zip guns attached together. In late 2000, British police encountered a four shot .22 LR zip gun disguised as a mobile phone, where different keys on the keypad fire different barrels. Because of this discovery, mobile phones are now x-rayed by airport screeners worldwide. They are believed to be manufactured in Croatia, and were still being found in Europe as late as 2004, according to a report by Time magazine.[11][12] Although considered complex, but quite simple depending on resources are improvised submachine guns, often made by copying existing designs, or by adapting simple, open bolt actions and leveraging commonly available hardware store parts.[2][13]


A homemade shotgun or tumbera (Argentina), bakakuk[14] (Malaysia), or sumpak[15] (Philippines) is a firearm made of improvised materials like nails, steel pipes, wooden pieces, bits of string, etc. It can be made by "low budget" criminals and is sometimes found in jails.

Repurposed firearms

In cases where some firearms are available, they can be improvised into different types. One such improvised, repurposed firearm is described by Che Guevara in his book Guerrilla Warfare. Called the "M-16", it consists of a 16 gauge sawed-off shotgun provided with a bipod to hold the barrel at a 45 degree angle. This was loaded with a blank cartridge formed by removing the shot from a standard shotshell, followed by a wooden rod with a Molotov cocktail attached to the front. This formed an improvised mortar capable of firing the incendiary device accurately out to a range of 100 meters.[16]

Flare guns have also been converted to firearms. This may be accomplished by replacing the (often plastic) barrel of the flare gun with a metal pipe strong enough to chamber a shotgun shell, or by inserting a smaller bore barrel into the existing barrel (such as with a caliber conversion sleeve) to chamber a firearm cartridge, such as a .22 Long Rifle.[17][18]

3D printers

In 2013 several operable weapons were made with 3D printers, including ones made of plastic on inexpensive 3D printers,[19] and ones made of more durable metal, using industrial 3d printers.[20] While inexpensive 3D printers currently can only produce poor quality weapons, and industrial 3D printers are impractically expensive for most users (and still produce inferior weapons due to material limitations), there is concern that 3D printed firearms may result in proliferation of untraceable firearms in the future, as 3D printing technology improves.


File:Bosniac shotgun.jpg

A crude but effective improvised 12 gauge shotgun used during the Bosnian War

Improvised firearms are often illegal, and are commonly associated with gangs, where they may be used to facilitate violent crime, such as homicide.[1] In other cases, they may be used for other criminal activities not necessarily related to violent crime, such as illegal hunting of game.[6]

Improvised firearms are most commonly encountered in poverty stricken regions with restrictive gun control laws. While popular in the United States in the 1950s, the "zip gun" has become less common because of the greater ease of obtaining firearms on the black market. In India, use of improvised country-made pistols is widespread, especially in the regions of Bihar and Purvanchal. The manufacture of these weapons has become a cottage industry and the components are often manufactured from scrap material, such as gun barrels fashioned from truck steering wheels.[3] In areas like South Africa, improvised firearms are more common. In a study of Zululand District Municipality, South Africa, it was found that most improvised firearms were crude, 12 gauge shotguns, with a simple pull and release firing mechanism; like the .22 rimfire cartridges, shotgun shells also operate at low pressures, making them more suited for use in weak, improvised barrels.[8] Even in the absence of ammunition, home-made powder can be used; such firearms were the subject of a crackdown in the People's Republic of China in 2008.[6]

Improvised firearms are not solely the province of the criminal element, however; they are also used by insurgents. During the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during World War II, the paliuntod, a type of improvised shotgun, was commonly used by guerrillas and the joint American and Filipino soldiers who remained behind after Douglas MacArthur's withdrawal. Made of two pieces of pipe that fit snugly together, the paliuntod was a simple, single shot open bolt design. The shell was placed in the breech of the barrel, which was then fitted into the larger diameter receiver. The receiver was capped at the breach end, and had a fixed firing pin placed to strike the primer of the shell. When the barrel was pulled sharply to the rear, the firing pin would strike the primer and fire the gun.[4][5] These improvised firearms are still in use by both criminals and rebels in the Philippines.[21][22]

Danao City, in the Cebu province of the Philippines, has been making improvised firearms so long that the makers have become legitimate, and are manufacturing firearms for sale. The Danao City makers manufacture .38 and .45 caliber revolvers, and semi automatic copies of the Ingram MAC-10 and Intratec TEC-DC9 submachine guns.[2] In 2004, an "underground weapons factory" was seized in Melbourne, Australia, yielding among other things a number of silenced copies of the Owen submachine gun, suspected to have been built for sale to local gangs involved in the illegal drug trade.[23]

Many improvised firearms have also been used in other countries such as India[24] and Russia [25][26] where they have been used in domestic homicides and terrorism.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Harlan Ellison (1983). Memos from Purgatory. Ace Books. ISBN 0-441-52438-9. , Chapter 4
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Solon foresees export potential in local gun making industry". May 30, 2008. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 India's corner of mystery: Bihar's poor and lawless
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Questions And Answers Page". 
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Homemade Filipino Gun". Smithsonian Institution. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 "Gun briefing backfires in China". BBC News. 18 July 2008. Retrieved January 5, 2010. 
  7. Bruce Barak Koffler (March 1970). "Zip Guns and Crude Coversions. Identifying Characteristics and Problems". Northwestern University. pp. 115–125. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 Vincent J. M. Di Maio, M.D. (1999). Gunshot Wounds. CRC Press. ISBN 0-8493-8163-0. 
  9. "Crypto bolt gun". The Gun Zone. 
  10. Cops on alert for flashlight guns, BY ROCCO PARASCANDOLA, NEWSDAY STAFF WRITER, June 13, 2006,0,5232477.story
  11. "Cell phone guns". 
  12. "Video of cellphone gun firing". Archived from the original on 2005-12-01. 
  13. P. A. Luty (1998). Expedient Homemade Firearms. Paladin Press. ISBN 978-0-87364-983-4. 
  14. Jamili Nais (1996). Kinabalu Park and the Surrounding Indigenous Communities, Malaysia. South-South Cooperation Programme on Environmentally Sound Socio-Economic Development in the Humid Tropics. Retrieved 12 May 2013. 
  15. Small arms survey 2003: development denied. Oxford University Press. 2003. pp. 34–. ISBN 978-0-19-925175-9. Retrieved 12 May 2013. 
  16. Ernesto "Che" Guevara (1961). Guerrilla Warfare. Praeger. 
  17. US Department of Justice, District of Connecticut. "Project Safe Neighborhoods" (PDF). Archived from the original on 2004-07-25. 
  19. Gross, Doug. "Video shows test firing of 3-D-printed handgun". CNN. Retrieved 9 November 2013. 
  20. Gross, Doug. "Texas company makes metal gun with 3-D printer". CNN. Retrieved 9 November 2013. 
  21. Niña Catherine Calleja (June 5, 2008). "3 suspected cattle rustlers killed in Cavite shootout". 
  22. Lizanilla J. Amarga (June 13, 2007). "Communists admit slay of 2 Cafgus, datus". 
  23. Brendan Nicholson, Daniel Ziffer (July 23, 2004). "Submachine-guns found in weapons factory". The Age. Melbourne. 
  24. "Cops blow lid off illegal arms unit". 1 September 2008. 
  25. "Zip Guns in Russia". 
  26. Stanley, Alessandra (January 17, 1995). "Seized Guns in Russia". The New York Times. Retrieved May 5, 2010. 

Further reading

  • Trub, J. David (1993) Zips, Pipes, And Pens: Arsenal Of Improvised Weapons Paladin Press. ISBN 0-87364-702-5
  • Anonymous (1983) Improvised Weapons of the American Underground Desert Publications. ISBN 0-87947-110-7
  • Brown, Ronald (1999) Homemade Guns & Homemade Ammo Breakout Productions. ISBN 1-893626-11-3
  • McLean, Don (1992) Do-It-Yourself Gunpowder Cookbook Paladin Press. ISBN 0-87364-675-4
  • Hollenback, George (1996) Workbench Silencers: The Art Of Improvised Designs Paladin Press. ISBN 0-87364-895-1
  • Métral, Gérard (1985) Do-It-Yourself Submachine Gun Paladin Press. ISBN 0-87364-840-4

External links

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).