Gun aficionados like marksmen, hunters and museum curators can breathe a sigh of relief, as the European Parliament has taken the carving knife to a Commission proposal on gun controls. EURACTIV Germany reports.
The legislature has finally come up on top after months of wrangling on a Commission bill intended to strengthen gun laws. The Internal Market Committee on Wednesday (13 July) voted 27 for, 10 against, with one abstention, in favour of a watered-down reform of European gun law.
Previously, the Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) had rejected the Commission’s initial November proposal. Its members concluded that the reform was too stringent in its total ban on semi-automatic weapons and EU-wide requirement for medical examinations, as it was thought to be undue interference in people’s private lives.
The European Commission had drawn up a proposal immediately after the brutal terrorist attacks in Paris last November, which sought to massively reduce the ease with which civilians can gain access to firearms. The proposal also sought to regulate guns designed to fire blanks and fully-automatic weapons, as well as curbing the booming online arms trade. The Paris attackers sourced vital weapon components on the internet before they perpetrated the horrendous scenes at the Bataclan theatre and the Stade de France.
However, the parliamentarians concluded that the Commission’s proposal was too ambitious. “This proposal is not a response to the terrorist acts,” criticised Othmar Karas (EPP) before the vote. Instead, the draft’s scrutineers felt that it merely restricted the legal weapons market more, instead of taking the black market to task.
The chairman of the Committee, Vicky Ford (ECR), criticised the executive for overreaching itself and added that the new compromise means that “sportsmen, hunters and outdoorsmen will not come under threat”.
The executive’s original proposal would have meant that gun registration would have to be renewed every five years. Certain semi-automatic weapons, like self-loading guns and shotguns, would have been reclassified as category A weapons under the Firearms Directive and excluded from public sale.
The guidelines date back to 1991 and were updated in 2008; weapons are divided into four categories (A-D), wherein A comprises prohibited weapons like assault rifles and rocket launchers.
However, the Parliament did not share its Berlaymont’s colleagues’ view that semi-automatic guns should be grouped with such lethal weapons. The compromise, agreed last month by the Council of Ministers, decided that semi-automatic weapons should only be banned if they have a capacity of more than 20 rounds of ammunition. Weapons that fire fewer than 20 rounds, without reloading, can continue to be purchased by individuals if they meet the necessary legal requirements and are members of a “recognised gun club”.
Above all, the point about capacity has proved to be controversial among gun experts, because it is considered doubtful whether a semi-automatic weapon is less dangerous just because it can “only” take 20 rounds. Additionally, Norwegian right-wing terrorist Anders Breivik, who murdered 70 people with a semi-automatic weapon, was a member of a recognised gun club.
“I would have been happier if the Council would have been more ambitious in its report, especially in regard to semi-automatic weapons,” said Dimitris Avramopoulos, the Commissioner for Home Affairs. A diplomat for one of the member states told AFP that there were fears that the compromise came about after pressure was exerted by the gun lobby. “The lobby groups are very active in the Parliament,” the source said.