Senior MEP says new gun control rules will help "close loopholes" being exploited by terrorists

Vicky Ford says Charlie Hebdo attacks highlighted potential dangers of blank firing or 'acoustic' weapons being reactivated.

EU firearms directive sets out  conditions under which private persons may lawfully acquire and possess guns | Photo credit: Press Association

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

25 Jul 2016

British Tory MEP Vicky Ford told the Parliament Magazine, "Terrorists have been able to make use of reconverted weapons but the new rules aim to put an end to this."

Under changes to the 25-year-old EU firearms directive, countries will have to introduce stronger controls on "blank-firing" guns to prevent them being converted to fire live ammunition.

These, says Ford, close a legal loophole which "became evident" in the aftermath of last year's terrorist attacks in Paris.


The new draft will focus on closing loopholes on so-called 'acoustic' firearms - typically guns converted to fire blanks for ceremonial purposes. Some of these have been used in recent terror attacks, including the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris.

Ford, an MEP from the European Parliament's European Conservatives and Reformists group and the MEP responsible for steering the new rules through the assembly, said: "The goal of this legislation was to close the loophole that was exploited during the Paris attacks and elsewhere."

The amendments were approved by the Parliament's internal market committee earlier this month by 27 votes to 10, with one abstention. All MEPs will now vote on the proposal during a plenary session later this year. After that the Parliament can start negotiations with EU member states through the Slovak EU council presidency.

The EU firearms directive, in place since 1991 and last amended in 2008, sets out the conditions under which private persons may lawfully acquire and possess guns or transfer them to another EU country.

Currently there are various categories of firearms whose sales are not regulated, but that can still be converted for real use. These include deactivated weapons and those used for firing blanks. MEPs wanted to ensure these are subject to regulation in the future.

At the same time Ford said they were careful to include exemptions in the new rules for firearms owned by collectors, museums and sport shooters.

"It would cause huge concern for how museums work, how traditional hunters and sport shooters and even those doing military re-enactments could work," said Ford.

The European Commission's proposed revision of the current directive had prompted concerns over inadequate drafting and possible unintended consequences for law-abiding citizens.

Ford said it was these "significant public concerns" which the committee's amendments had sought to address.
Sport shooters were among those most concerned about the Commission's draft but Ford said Parliament's text now proposes that member states will be able to give exemptions for target shooters if they are members of a recognised shooting club taking part in competitions.

The amendments also grant exemptions for military reservists, museums and collectors, under strict conditions. Firearms commonly used for pest control, such as point 22 rifles, are not affected.

Film makers, theatre producers and those involved in military re-enactments had raised fears over problems with the new European standards on deactivation which were introduced last November. These contained a number of technical irregularities which have also been addressed in the parliament's new text.

"There has been a huge amount of work by the Parliament and we tried to address the concerns voiced by citizens, to make sure that they can continue with their sports, military enactments and traditional hunting," added Ford.

"The Paris and Charlie Hebdo attacks had highlighted the potential dangers of blank firing or 'acoustic' weapons being reactivated. We have taken action to close that loophole and make it more difficult for these firearms to fall into the hands of terrorists who use them for such bloody carnage.

"The commission's proposal was poorly drafted in many parts. We tried to take into consideration all the concerns of law-abiding citizens to make sure that they can continue with their sports, military enactments and traditional hunting," she said.

"My priority will continue to be closing the loopholes, without causing unintended consequences for legitimate gun owners. I will continue with this approach as we start talks with EU governments to deliver the final directive."

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