Gun control: MEPs clarify licensing rules and safeguards

14 Jul 2016 12:18 PM

EU countries will have to introduce stronger controls on “blank-firing” guns, to prevent them being converted to fire live ammunition, under Internal Market Committee amendments, voted on Wednesday, to a draft update of the EU firearms directive. The changes approved by MEPs ensure that any firearm which has been converted to firing blanks continues to be covered by EU gun control rules. This closes a legal loophole which became evident in the aftermath of last year’s terrorist attacks in Paris.

The EU firearms directive, in place since 1991 and amended in 2008, sets out the conditions under which private persons may lawfully acquire and possess guns or transfer them to another EU country.

“The Commission’s proposed revision of the current directive has prompted concerns about inadequate drafting and possible unintended consequences for law-abiding citizens. It has raised significant public concerns which the Internal Market Committee’s amendments seek to address. There has been a huge amount of work by the Parliament. We have tried to address the concerns voiced by citizens, to make sure that they can continue with their sports, military enactments and traditional hunting", said the Internal Market Committee chair and rapporteur Vicky Ford (ECR, UK).

Controls on blank-firing guns

EU countries will have to introduce stronger controls on "blank-firing" acoustic firearms, MEPs say. Any firearm which has been converted to firing blanks continues to be covered by EU law, due to the risks associated with them, under the committee amendments.

The conversion of these firearms is seen as a serious issue in several EU member states and many documented cases exist, according to Parliament’s Research Service. There was a legal loophole in the treatment of these weapons, which MEPs want to close in this revision.

Irreversible deactivation

European standards to ensure that deactivation of all firearms is irreversible were introduced last November, but many technical issues would make them difficult to implement. These have been clarified in the committee’s text.

Addressing law-abiding citizens’ concerns

The Commission proposal would have added many firearms used legally by hunters and sport shooters to the list of “Category A” firearms prohibited for civilian use. The Internal Market Committee text restricts Category A to firearms with specified characteristics, such as semi-automatic firearms capable of firing more than 21 rounds without reloading, if a loading device with a capacity exceeding 20 rounds is part of the firearm or is inserted into it, and certain folding or telescoping firearms.

“Sport shooters have been concerned about the Commission’s draft, so Parliament’s text proposes that member states will be able to give exemptions for target shooters if they are members of a recognised shooting club taking part in competitions”, Ms Ford explained.

Firearms commonly used for pest control, such as point 22 rifles, are not affected (these would be listed in “Category B”, firearms subject to authorisation).

MEPs’ amendments also grant exemptions for military reservists, museums and collectors, under strict conditions.

National monitoring systems, traceability and information sharing

A “monitoring system”, to be set up at member state level, for the issuance or renewal of authorisations, and new provisions on online/distance sales were also approved by MEPs. The maximum five-year duration of firearms certificates will not affect countries with a “continuous” monitoring system, says the text approved in committee.

All information needed to trace and identify firearms will have to be recorded for an indefinite period and made accessible to all authorised authorities. MEPs also inserted rules requiring more efficient information exchange among member states.

Next steps

The legislative resolution was approved in committee by 27 votes to 10, with one abstention. A mandate for MEPs to open negotiations with the EU Council of Ministers will be voted after the summer break. Parliament's negotiators, led by Ms Ford, will then start discussions with the Council’s Slovak Presidency.