The European Parliament approved in plenary yesterday (14 March) amendments to the EU’s firearms legislation but the agreed text is a long way from what the European Commission initially had in mind. EURACTIV Germany reports.
In its fight against terrorism and organised crime, the European Union has looked to close loopholes in its existing legislation on weapons. Amendments approved yesterday to a 1991 directive include stricter rules on deactivated guns and psychological tests for prospective owners.
“I am extremely pleased that we adopted a text that defends the interests of legal gun owners and which has also closed some legal loopholes,” said rapporteur Vicky Ford (ECR) after the vote.
She insisted that the original proposal put forward by the European Commission contained “unfortunately, a lot of mistakes” and that it had to be “completely rewritten”.
The text agreed today strikes a compromise between improving security and respecting the rights of shooters, hunters and collectors, Ford explained.
In the wake of the 2015 Paris attacks, the Commission presented a draft reform of the Firearms Directive in November of that year. The executive’s proposal included prohibiting certain semi-automatic guns completely and preventing collectors from owning military-grade weapons.
Its proposed ban on semi-automatic weaponry that are as dangerous as fully-automatic variants was a serious point of contention between the Commission and the Parliament.
Civil versions of assault rifles were “the most dangerous weapons”, the executive argued, and it also proposed capping the maximum capacity of magazines to ten shots.
Many MEPs immediately shot down this proposal as they saw the interests of huntsmen, marksmen et al unjustly put at risk. Even outside the Parliament there was resistance: gun clubs called on their members to write to their political representatives.
The Commission claimed that there was an “aggressive atmosphere” and some parliamentary staff said they had received hate mail.
Ultimately, the executive’s initial proposal has been watered down in a number of areas. Semi-automatic weapons that are similar to fully-automatic versions will still be permitted for use by marksmen. That includes the controversial AR-15 rifle, which was used in the Orlando massacre last year.
Capping magazine capacity at just ten shots also fell by the wayside and the Parliament agreed it should remain at 20. There will be restrictions but existing owners will not be affected.
Weaponry which can be easily converted into live-round firing guns and which were used in the Charlie Hebdo shootings will now have to be licensed under the same rules as standard guns.
German MEP Sven Giegold (Greens/EFA) said that while the stricter elements of the directive update are fundamentally “right”, they simply do not go far enough.
Giegold claimed that it was “cynical” that the interests of arms manufacturers had been prioritised over the safety of the public.
“A ban on large magazines for semi-automatic weapons also failed at federal level (German government),” he added. “The gun lobby can open the champagne now.”
Allegations that the Parliament has been influenced in its decision-making by the gun lobby are not new. Commission sources told euractiv.de that the Parliament has been “heavily influenced by the gun and sports shooting lobbies”.
Before the directive enters into force, the Council of Ministers must first agree on the text. Once that obstacle is overcome, the member states have 15 months to transpose the amendments into national law.