21 November, 2015 – The appalling terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday 13th appear to have led to a degree of panic at the European Commission. It was widely expected that the Commission would announce this month changes to the European Firearms Directive, but they are far more sweeping than anticipated and appear to have been influenced by recent events. Unfortunately, European legal jargon makes the press release difficult for the layman to decipher, in addition certain things were so last-minute that they don’t even appear in the press release, but here is what is actually being proposed:
- Prohibition of semi-automatic firearms that “resemble” automatic firearms, by moving them from Category B to Category A of the Directive. No-one has ever been clear on what they were referring to and until now it didn’t matter as nearly all semi-automatic firearms were in Category B. However, moving them to Category A would cause mass confusion across the EU and no doubt different countries would interpret such a ban in different ways. In the UK, it would mean that legal guns like the S&W M&P 15-22 would probably be prohibited.
- Prohibition of deactivated Category A (prohibited) firearms – your deactivated Sten gun would be banned! There are probably somewhere around 200,000 such deactivated firearms in the UK. Only museums would be allowed to own them and even they would be banned from acquiring more.
- Prohibition of private collections of Category A firearms and ammunition, including by museums! The press release talks of “tighter” controls, so it was obviously drafted before they changed their minds. As written, this would basically mean the Royal Armouries and so on would have to deactivate their vast collections. The draft does talk of firearms held by: “public authorities” being exempt, however this was clearly intended to mean police organisations, not museums, which are often partially or wholly owned by private entities. In some EU countries, it is still legal to collect prohibited firearms and even in the UK it is technically legal to collect limited types of prohibited firearms – but in reality the main impact in the UK would be on collectors of prohibited ammunition, who would see their collections banned.
- Registration of deactivated Category B and C firearms as well as blank-firing imitations and replicas – yes, it says these must be: “declared” to the authorities, in other words, registered with the police. So basically with the exception of deactivated single and double-barrel shotguns, any deactivated firearms you own which aren’t banned would have to be registered with the police. How the registration requirement for blank firers and replicas would work is hard to know as many of them lack serial numbers. Also not clear what: “replica” covers. The draft says: “objects that have the physical appearance of a firearm” – doesn’t that include airsoft guns and even some toys?
- Prohibition of private sales of firearms over the internet, with the exception of Category D firearms. So say you decide to put your rifle up for sale on the forum on this website, you would be breaking the law! Only licenced dealers would be exempt. Bear in mind they want blank-firing imitations in Category C as well, so trying to privately sell one of those over the internet would also be illegal.
- A requirement for: “standard medical tests” before any authorisation to acquire a firearm is given. The BMA and Royal College of Psychiatrists have in the past said no such suitability test is possible and in any event, even if it were, the resources don’t exist. HMIC recently pointed out the problems with this approach and they were merely talking about the current check with your GP.
- A common EU-wide deactivation standard for firearms and a common specification for blank-firing imitations. Unlike the stuff detailed above, this has been in the works for years. The proposed specifications are largely based on the current UK specifications, the principle difference is that deactivated firearms would have to have the magazines welded in (and pistols would have the slide stop welded in place). This is to make sure the standard works in EU countries where the magazines are subject to control, such as France, where magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds are licenced. These new specifications will be introduced by regulation under the EFD as it currently stands and will come into force in three months (although it will take longer than that for member states to transpose them into national legislation).
- Better information sharing between member states and common marking requirements for firearms. These have also been in the works for many years.
- A requirement that licenced dealers and brokers keep their records indefinitely – this was extended to 20 years in 2008. It’s a bit pointless in countries like the UK where the police are supposed to have all firearms subject to the Directive registered and it does raise the practical question of how to keep records indefinitely in long-term, often family-run businesses. Theoretically dealers could destroy their records when the firearm is destroyed, in practice though it’s hard to see how that would be workable. How would a dealer be notified when a blank firer is destroyed?
- A requirement that authorisations to possess firearms cannot be for longer than 5 years. This would make no practical difference in the UK at present, although extending the validity of certificates for longer than that wouldn’t be possible.
Obviously this is a Draconian set of proposals and it is paramount that you contact your MEPs as soon as you can, to protest. Preferably make an appointment and go and see them.
The reaction of the Commission is reminiscent of the Firearms Act 1920 being enacted after the Glasgow riots in 1919 or the US Congress enacting the National Firearms Act after the Bonus Army showed up in 1932. For the first time ever, I’m glad the European Parliament spends a lot of its time in Strasbourg.
The UK referendum on EU membership
It’s easy to get distracted by this referendum, the proposed changes to the Directive have obviously led some shooters to think the UK would be better off outside the EU. At this point it’s not clear what would happen if the UK left the EU, it could remain in the EEA and thus the Directive could still apply to the UK. It’s a threat either way and needs to be stopped. Also, one wonders whether it would be drafted in such a Draconian manner if Switzerland were in the EU!
“Times of crisis are the true test of a democracy.” – Sen. Edward Kennedy, 2002.