The European Commission wants to make purchasing firearms in the EU more difficult and has cited the Paris attacks as the main contributing factor. However, Parliament has voiced its concerns about how effective its proposal will be. EURACTIV Germany reports.
A general ban on semi-automatic weapons, strong regulation of blank-firing guns, stricter rules for museums and collectors, and a closer exchange of information between security authorities are some of the proposals contained in a new package of measures drawn up by the Commission last November and which is currently making its way through the gauntlet that is the European Parliament.
But many MEPs think that the draft is too ambitious and that the interests of marksmen and museums are put at risk by it.
On Tuesday (15 March), the Parliament’s internal market committee met to discuss the proposal and listened to external experts, with the draft being met with little enthusiasm by the delegates, who believed that the Commission’s official objective of combatting terrorists and criminals would not be met.
“This proposal is not a response to the terrorist acts,” criticised Othmar Karas (EPP). Instead, the draft’s scrutineers felt that it merely restricted the legal weapons market more, instead of taking the black market to task. “It creates a lot of uncertainty among licenced gun owners,” Karas added.
A central point of the draft reform centres around the trade in so-called ‘salute weaponry’: guns which were previously fully-functioning but which have been deactivated. Member states have different criteria for what does and does not constitute a deactivated weapon, a legal loophole which many criminals have exploited in order to import weapons which have only been superficially modified to appear non-functioning.
The new regulation is intended to close this loophole. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said that differing member state criteria should be harmonised and tightened so that old weapons are “deactivated permanently”.
Whether this can be interpreted as a meaningful response to the Paris attacks still remains open to debate. Firstly, it has still not been confirmed whether the weapons used in the January and November attacks were supposedly deactivated guns or weapons that had been smuggled into the EU from warzones.
Secondly, there is still no hard evidence that common standards on deactivation would do anything to curb the sale of illegal firearms. Even if crucial parts of a weapon are damaged or too old, there remains the possibility of sourcing new components on the black market.
The debate, essentially, stems back to the fact that MEPs do not see the legal weapons trade as the problem, prioritising the illegal circulation of arms within the Schengen area as the real issue. The problem has been on the radar of security policymakers for a long time and the fight against smugglers and their trade in illegal weapons across EU borders is ongoing.
Weapons experts call the trade of light arms across border by individuals the ‘ant trade’, which is notoriously difficult to stop or even monitor.
Parliament officials pointed out that the Commission proposal does little to try and rectify this. The committee’s chairperson, Vicky Ford, said the Commission proposal was “poorly drafted”. If the Parliament were to approve it without amendment then it would have “far-reaching consequences for museums, collectors, historians and military reserve personnel in many countries”, she added.
The Parliament intends to present its own report on gun control and how to effectively combat the illegal European trade in weapons in the coming week.
FACE (the European Federation of Associations for Hunting & Conservation) made the following statement:
FACE calls on the European Commission to respect the rights of hunters and sport shooters, who represent the largest group of legal and responsible users of civilian firearms in the European Union and who are among the most intensely controlled and law abiding social groups in the EU. FACE is very much concerned that the EU Commission is presenting this proposal without an impact assessment, which makes it impossible to estimate the consequences of the proposed amendments on criminal activities, as well as on the lawful use of firearms.
FACE deplores the attempt to define a firearms category based on its appearance rather than on characteristics. In this regard the proposed ban of certain semi-automatic firearms is unjustified. Furthermore the Commission will have to explain how owners will be compensated in the case of a confiscation of these firearms. As regards online sales FACE urges the European Commission to avoid discriminations of specific user groups when considering the legitimate use of the Internet and distance sales, which must be undertaken with the supervision of authorities at all times.