Responce from Catherine Bearder MEP................
Thank you for your email about possible changes to firearms regulation in the European Union (EU).
The European Commission has recently announced two sets of proposals about firearms. Firstly, on 2nd December the Commission adopted a package of measures to step up the fight against terrorism and the illegal trafficking of firearms and explosives. Although I would welcome more details on the plans, I am minded to support these proposals.
However, there are also plans announced in November that are more wide ranging and, judging by the amount of correspondence I have received since, not supported by many people. The Commission has tabled proposals to amend the Firearms Directive to make it more difficult to acquire firearms, including deactivated firearms by:
- Stricter conditions for the online acquisition of firearms, to avoid the acquisition of firearms, pieces thereof or munition through the Internet;
- Stricter rules to ban certain semi-automatic firearms, which move from Category B to Category A and will not, under any circumstances, be allowed to be held by private persons, even if they have been permanently deactivated;
- The inclusion of blank-firing weapons (e.g. alarm, signaling, life-saving weapons) in the scope of the Directive, because of their potential to be transformed into firearms.
- Further restrictions to the use and circulation of deactivated firearms. National registries should keep records of deactivated firearms and their owners. Under no circumstances will civilians be authorised to own any of the most dangerous firearms falling under Category A (e.g. a Kalashnikov), which is currently possible if they have been deactivated. The enforcement of the ban is a national responsibility, and Member States have all necessary tools at their disposal including the destruction of illegally held deactivated arms;
- Collectors, as defined by national law, are currently excluded from the scope of the Directive. The Commission is proposing today to change this, since collectors have been identified as a possible source of traffic of firearms. In the future, collectors will have the possibility to acquire firearms, but subject to the same authorisation/declaration requirements as private persons.
- Brokers will be brought into the scope of the Directive, since they provide services similar to those of dealers. Member States will have to introduce regulation covering the registration, licensing and/or authorisation of brokers and dealers operating within their territory.
The Commission also wants tighter rules on marking of firearms to improve the traceability of weapons by making them harder to erase (e.g. by affixing markings on the receiver), extending the obligation to imported firearms and clarifying on which components the marking should be affixed. Member States will have to keep the data until the destruction of the firearm (i.e. not only for 20 years as currently the case) – and better exchange of information between Member States, for example on any refusal of authorisation decided by another national authority, interconnection of national registers to ensure full European cooperation, and obligations for dealers and brokers to connect their registers to national registers.
Regarding deactivation, this package of measures also includes an Implementing Regulation imposing stringent minimum common guidelines for the deactivation of firearms which will render reactivation much more difficult.
The Firearms Directive specifies that weapons which have been rendered unfit for use are no longer considered firearms but pieces of metal which can move freely within the internal market without authorization/declaration. However, recent experience shows that deactivated arms can be illegally reactivated by using pieces from other deactivated arms, home-made pieces or pieces acquired via the Internet. The fact that there is no harmonised way to deactivate weapons across the EU increases the security risk.
To solve this problem, the Commission has prepared a Regulation that sets out common, strict, harmonised criteria on how Member States must deactivate weapons so they are rendered unfit to use. This is complemented by the ban on the possession of Category A firearms – even when they are deactivated. The Implementing Regulation is based on the criteria for deactivation developed by the Permanent International Commission for the Proof of Small Arms (the CIP).
The Commission has been negotiating this Implementing Regulation with Member States since April 2015 in the context of the comitology procedure, with discussions intensifying in the last few weeks. The draft text sent to Member States on Friday 13 November was adopted in committee on 18 November, following which the College adopted the implementing act on the same day.
In summary, the proposed revision of the Firearms Directive will debated by European Parliament and Council in the near future. I understand the Commission are hoping its plans will be approved and come into effect by July 2016. I can assure you I will be monitoring the proposals closely. Although I think the EU needs to play its part in the fight against crime and terrorism, I will not support over-regulation and a knee-jerk reaction.
Catherine Bearder MEP
Liberal Democrat member of the European Parliament for the South East of England
27 Park End Street
+44 1865 249838