Sunday

22nd Jan 2017

EU reaches deal on contested gun laws

  • New firearms directive still needs to be adopted (Photo: Yarden Sachs)

EU states backed a bitterly contested EU gun bill on Tuesday (20 December) as part of larger efforts to restrict the circulation of assault rifles.

The bill, which still needs to be formally adopted by ministers and MEPs, imposes new curbs on acquisition and oversight and makes it more difficult to obtained reactivated weapons.

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Slovakia's interior minister Robert Kalinak, speaking on behalf of the EU presidency, said in a statement that the agreement will "provide tighter controls" to prevent terrorists and criminals from obtaining the firearms.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said they "would have liked to go further".

The commission had wanted an outright ban on semi-automatic rifles, such as AK47s, and those that resembled their military grade counterparts, and had hoped to limit magazine size to 10 bullets.

The European Parliament and most EU states objected. Instead, only some semi-automatic guns will be banned depending on their length. Others that can shoot up to 20 bullets will also be allowed.

Intense lobbying

Much of the debate has been overshadowerd by intense lobbying from pro-gun groups. They argue that current rules are good enough and that the problem is that some EU states are not applying them.

Firearms United, a confederation of gun owners throughout Europe, collected over 337,000 signatures against the commission proposal.

The lobbyists also found allies within the EU parliament. One lobbyist claimed the parliament copy-pasted his position on people who collect guns.

British conservative Vicky Ford, who steered the bill through the assembly, told gun groups in November that she had wanted to "reject the entire thing [the commission bill]" but was met with resistance from too many MEPs.

The British MEP was speaking at an parliament conference co-organised by Firearms United.

Among the speakers was Stephen Petroni, as head of the Malta-based Foundation for European Societies of Arms Collectors (Fesac).

Fesac is not listed in the EU's join-transparency register. Unregistered lobbyists are meant not to be allowed inside the parliament.

Petroni is also a board member of the European Sports Shooting Forum and President of Association of Maltese Arms Collectors & Shooters. They are not registered either.

Ford, in a post on her Facebook page, had also thanked Fesac, along with other groups, for their "technical advice".

Collectioners still included

Petroni spoke freely and admonished the commission for including collectors within the scope of the directive.

He then said that Fesac had even drafted the parliament's text on collectors.

"This is a text that has been written by Fesac and it has also been taken up by parliament. So the version that you have now in the parliament's document is precisely the wording that we had drafted," he said.

Despite his objections, collectioners were still included in the new law.

"They are now treated as any other person, that means they'll need a license for some categories [of weapons] and for others, it won't ever be possible, so that is a big victory," said a commission official.

Firearms fall under categories A,B,C or D.

The most dangerous, like fully automatic weapons, are restricted to category A and are typically reserved for police and the military.

There are derogations. A collector may still obtain a fully automatic rifle pending authorisation. Reservists also have options for "national defence purposes".

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