This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia
A red and yellow poster hangs from the side of a house in Cipacing, a small village in West Java, which reads: “STOP THE PRODUCTION OF ILLEGAL WEAPONS.” This might seem like an odd request, until you discover Cipacing is the nation’s manufacturing hub for air rifles.
Generally speaking, guns are a rarity in Indonesia; anyone who wants to own a rifle or pistol must first become members of the Indonesian Shooter’s Association. But regulations are significantly more lax for hunters and athletes, or anyone who's happy to fire bullets with springs and not gunpowder, and for the past century Cipacing has serviced these customers.
One such resident is 55-year-old Dedi whose family has been making air rifles for three generations. According to him Cipacing had always been known for its blacksmiths, but in the 1890s the colonial government kick-started a diversification into gun manufacturing by recruiting residents to repair Dutch rifles—specifically Steyr and SigSauers.
Slowly, local craftsmen graduated from repairing guns to building their own. They became known for producing a style of weapon known as a dorlok, which was a long-barrelled air rifle designed to load single bullets at a time. And in the years following Indonesia’s Independence in 1945, Cipacing became known as the go-to place for anyone who wanted to purchase a gun on the cheap, without the regulatory hassle.
During the New Order period stretching from the 1960s to 1990s, military officers and politicians regularly ordered air rifles from Cipacing. Indonesian National Armed Forces commander Edi Sudrajat, former Minister of Industry Fahmi Idris, and former Commander Generals of the Special Forces Command Danjen Kopassus and Prabowo Subianto were some of the town’s most loyal customers. In one year alone Subianto ordered some 500 airguns for firearm training.
In Dedi’s case, his family specialised in gun barrels fitted with a spiralled inner-groove that spun projectiles as they were ejected. When he graduated from vocational school in the 1970s, Dedi’s father asked him to join the family business.
“At that time, Cipacing residents even had a slogan ‘artos milari bedil’ or ‘guns are money-makers,’” Dedi explains. “This was due to the large amount of gun purchases from all over Indonesia.”
Their best-sellers back then were spring-loaded air rifles, which is a weapon that’s come to be identified with Cipacing. They used to sell them in bulk for Rp300,000 (around US$20) until the town began accepting purchase orders from terrorist groups—a mistake the town is only just coming back from.
As a Sumedang gun manufacturer named Usep* explained, “We started getting a lot of orders from terrorist groups around 2002.”
Police subsequently raided the town's factories in 2013, 2016, and 2017. The 2013 sting operation led to the arrest of the manufacturing community’s leader—who turned out to be a middleman for the Abu Roban network. This is a terrorist cell affiliated with ISIS that launched an attack on a police station in Pamulang in 2013.
At that time Usep didn’t discriminate between buyers. He sold to regular, security-minded citizens and terrorists alike, until a judge declared him guilty of assisting a terror organisation and gave him three years in prison.
Usep doesn’t want to make the same mistake again, and says he now only accepts orders from people buying air rifles for sport.
This too seems to be the sentiment around most of Cipacing. Gun makers who once previously sold to everyone and anyone now say they’ve now got a more thorough screening process, and the town is losing its reputation for ethics-free commerce. As Usep summarised rather simply: “I regretted making illegal guns so I’ll do something legal now.”
*Name has been changed at the interviewee’s request.