Police Scotland said gangs are increasingly using guns as a “commodity”, as well as to gain “kudos” among their rivals.
At a briefing at the Scottish Crime Campus at Gartcosh, Lanarkshire, senior officers warned about the increasing danger of crime groups supplying Islamic terrorists.
Earlier this year, Police Scotland’s Operation Hairsplitter foiled an attempt by organised criminals to murder former loyalist leader Johnny “Mad Dog” Adair.
Assistant Chief Constable Ruaraidh Nicolson said there was growing concern about similar criminal gangs supplying those intent on carrying out acts of terrorism.
He said: “It’s worth highlighting [Operation] Hairsplitter, where the supply of firearms in terms of terrorism was by organised crime [groups].
“At this moment in time, with the threat level being at ‘severe’ one of the things we’re concerned about is that weapons in the hands of organised crime make their way to terrorists or potential terrorists.
“That’s why it’s really important we understand what firearms look like in Scotland and how they’re coming into Scotland and that we stem that flow as much as we can.”
Police say firearms arriving in Scotland are often purchased over the “dark web” and can be sent through the post. There are also concerns over decommissioned weapons being reactivated relatively easily by crime groups.
Detective Chief Superintendent Gerry McLean said: “A firearm is a firearm. Whether it’s in the hands of an organised crime group, or a potential terrorist – it’s a concern.”
“The motivations behind organised crime haven’t changed. It’s about profit. They either come by or seek power as a consequence of that.
“What they’re dealing in is commodities. Principally, that’s controlled drugs. But if there were a sea-change tomorrow in terms of their ability to profit from another commodity, then they would be quite quick to move into that.
“Other commodities we see are people move through human trafficking, but also firearms as well. It’s pretty significant in terms of the weapons that are being moved around Scotland, just used as a commodity – often not with any motivation to harm someone per se. If you are a crime group with firearms, with weapons, you will hold some kudos within your wider peer group.”
According to the latest figures from Police Scotland, there are currently 220 organised crime groups operating across the country, comprising more than 3,900 individuals.
Mr Nicholson added: “You really need to think of them as a business. They will have a chief executive, they will have a finance director, they will have an accountant, legal advice and support.
“The number of groups ebbs and flows. Some will be dismantled, some will merge.
“The most important thing from my perspective is that we’re absolutely focused on the highest level of organised crime.”