New EU firearms directive is a balanced proposal

Written by Anna Maria Corazza Bildt on 6 March 2017 in Opinion
Opinion

In negotiating the new firearms proposals, Parliament has taken into account the concerns of gun owners, says Anna Maria Corazza Bildt.

Anna Maria Corazza Bildt | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual


If we are to increase safety in Europe, we need well-functioning firearms controls. We must improve cooperation between member states and prevent legal firearms from falling into the wrong hands. We need to modernise these rules and close the dangerous loopholes that exist. 

This must be done at European level, as the internal market means that firearms can freely cross borders.

During challenging negotiations, we managed to radically change the Commission's original, vague 2015 proposal. It took a long time, but we finally achieved an appropriate balance between increased security and respecting citizen's freedom.


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I fully understand why the Commission's proposal provoked so much emotion and an avalanche of legitimate concern, criticism and resistance. It was both unclear and disproportionate.

Legal gun owners felt like they were being treated like terrorists, while there was a widespread feeling that their interests as gun owners were not understood.

For many, it was unclear how the revision of the rules would help in the fight against terrorism and organised crime. Instead, for gun owners the proposals came across as an attempt to restrict their rights. 

Many wondered if their firearms would be banned, or if travel restrictions would be imposed, or if the sale of replacement parts would be hampered. I have full respect for their feelings and concerns.

While the Commission set its course for an anti-terrorist crusade, legitimate gun owners felt under attack.

I have worked to make sure that we do not create unnecessary costs and burdens for our citizens. My beacon throughout the whole process has been that this directive should not be a way of micro-managing people's everyday life from Brussels.

However, I am deeply concerned that the debate has been misleading. Some people still refer to the Commission's original proposal, even though it no longer exists. It's time to base the debate on facts and on what has actually been achieved.

As co-legislators, we have listened carefully and dealt with the concerns raised one by one. We have travelled the extra mile to take into account member states' specificities and to respect subsidiarity.

So what have we accomplished? We will now establish a strong and reliable common standard for the deactivation of firearms. 

Until now, the deactivation regulation has not been working effectively in all member states. There have been crimes committed with legally bought, deactivated firearms that had been easily reconverted into fully automatic firearms.

We have tightened the rules to close the loopholes on so-called 'salute and acoustic firearms'. These are fully functional firearms converted to fire blanks that posed a serious security concern. In some member states, these are sold without authorisation and some were easily re-converted to live firearms. 

This type of firearm has been used in terrorist attacks, such as the Charlie Hebdo attack. Any firearm converted to fire blanks must now remain licensed under the same rules as its original live-fi ring version.

From now on, each member state must also have a monitoring system to assess relevant medical and psychological information, which they may operate on a continuous or non-continuous basis. We recognise that member states have different ways of checking whether a gun owner is fi t to own a weapon, but a system must be in place.

Another important step forward is a comprehensive common marking system that will increase traceability and national digital registers. From now on, essential components must be marked and registered digitally by national authorities. 

Exchange of information will be improved in a way that if a license is rejected in one country, the police in another country can be informed before granting a license.

We have also introduced requirements on safe storage, which I believe is an efficient way of minimising the risk of accidents, misuse and theft.

A controversial issue has been the classification of automatic firearms. Category A (automatic firearms) such as Kalashnikovs, will continue to be banned. We have managed to ensure that semi-automatic firearms, such as those used by hunters and sport shooters, will not be banned and remain in category B, contrary to what the Commission had originally proposed. 

However, in order to possess and use semi-automatic firearms with large capacity magazines, you will need to be an active sport shooter.

What we have achieved is not ideal, but we have struck a reasonable balance, providing legal certainty and rules that are implementable in reality. We are respecting member states' existing systems where they are effective and filling the gaps in others. The ball will from now on be in the court of member states to transpose it in national law without gold plating.

At this stage, it would irresponsible of the Council to reject the final agreement with Parliament; this could leave the current loopholes wide open. A new Commission proposal would take too long and be even more restrictive.

Therefore, MEPs must adopt this well-balanced directive on 14 March in Strasbourg.

 

About the author

Anna Maria Corazza Bildt (SE) is Parliament's EPP group shadow rapporteur on control of the acquisition and possession of weapons

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