Parliament has made significant improvements to EU firearms directive

MEPs' many months of work on the firearms directive have resulted in significant improvements to the proposal, writes Vicky Ford.

Vicky Ford | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Vicky Ford

03 Mar 2017

There has been a common European firearms law for over 25 years. Far-reaching reforms were proposed by the Commission following the Charlie Hebdo and Paris attacks. However, the first draft of the proposals was widely considered to be poorly drafted and would have placed disproportional restrictions on legal owners.

During the months of scrutiny, Parliament worked with many different groups of legal owners and secured many significant improvements to the proposal, including removing the restriction on items that resemble automatic fi rearms, as criteria based on cosmetic appearance is legally unworkable.

The proposals also suggested reintroducing provisions to enable reservists, museums and collectors, and film makers to continue ownership with member state approval and strict safety procedures.


The document also proposes enabling re-enactors and holders of deactivated fi rearms to continue ownership, while also ensuring that deactivation standards are robust across Europe. 

Technical issues with deactivation standards have been reconsidered; the issue of poorly deactivated 'salute and acoustic weapons', which were sold without authorisation but then reconverted and used in certain recent terror attacks, has been addressed.

Provisions to support younger owners have been retained, as has recognition of the needs of those in remote rural areas. Additionally, strong conditions for storage were introduced, in line with common practice in many member states. Controversial proposals for a mandatory medical test have been removed. Instead, each country will need to have its own systems for medical assessment in place.

New measures for clearer marking and better information sharing between member states have been introduced, but with care taken not to put overly burdensome requirements on small dealers.

Member states will retain the ability to organise and protect their national reserve or public defence forces. This meets the needs of countries like Finland. Armed forces, the police and certain public authorities are not regulated by the directive and there is special recognition of the Swiss situation.

In addition, member states will be able to grant authorisation to citizens to keep the most restricted Category A weapons, either for national defence or if they are collectors and can demonstrate good cause, which may be for historical and research purposes.

The latter group will be subject to strict security conditions. Firearms of particular historical importance will not be covered by new marking requirements, nor will the requirements apply to antiques.

We have also reached a compromise on the sporting use of restricted firearms, giving each member state the power to issue Category A authorisations to target shooters, provided the individual is training for, or participating in, competitions.

The changes in this area have been drawn up in collaboration with sport shooting organisations, including the International Practical Shooting Confederation.

Automatic firearms that have been converted into semi-automatics will move from Category B status to Category A. 

However, the Parliament negotiators have secured agreement that existing owners can to continue to own, transfer, inherit or sell these firearms to others with appropriate authorisation, provided their own member state agrees.

A final area of difference was over magazines and loading devices. The European Council and Commission wanted to ban all high capacity magazines, however under the agreement we have reached this will not be the case. 

Instead, semi-automatic centrefire f rearms will become Category A firearms only where a magazine with a capacity exceeding a set number of rounds is inserted. For short firearms, the limit is at 20 rounds and for long firearms, it is 10. 

People that do not have a Category A authorisation but have a Category B firearm and that are also found in possession of a high capacity magazine will risk having their authorisation to hold firearms removed. 

There is no restriction in the directive on re-applying for an authorisation in the future. New purchases of high capacity magazines will be restricted to people with Category A authorisation.

The provisional deal needs to be voted by the full Parliament in an upcoming plenary session on 14 March and formally approved by the EU Council of Ministers.  

There will also be a full debate in Parliament on the morning of 14 March, where MEPs will be able to speak on the matter. MEPs may table amendments to the negotiated position.

However, if these are passed it risks destabilising the entire package as the proposal is then returned for a second reading. At this stage, Parliament is not so involved in the detailed negotiation and there is a risk that the Council will revert to its much more rigid approach.

This has been a long and difficult process and it is unfortunate that the initial proposal from the Commission was not supported by a detailed impact assessment and had many technical failings. 

However, these changes will close existing loopholes and are therefore an important contribution to our security. Individual member states will have the powers to grant authorisations and exemptions for the many types of genuine legal owners and thus avoid further disproportionate restrictions.

I hope therefore that these changes it will be passed by MEPs in plenary on 14 March.


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