Sunday

15th Dec 2019

Opinion

How the proposed EU gun directive amendment might backfire

  • Firearms control risks to foster a new culture of black market guns for otherwise law-abiding people. (Photo: reuvenim)

The European Commission proposed (18 November) an amendment to the European Firearms Directive (EFD) as a response to the recent wave of terrorist attacks in Europe.

While the commission aims to make firearms less accessible to terrorists and criminals alike, the outcome of the amendment, if passed, will surely be the opposite.

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  • Shotguns virtually sold out in Austria and were mostly bought by women. (Photo: EUobserver)

It is now known that the firearms the Paris terrorists used were illegal, being either smuggled in from active or past warzones, or illegally reconditioned from insufficiently decommissioned weapons.

Yet, the proposal doesn’t aim at these two sources of illegal firearms.

From an outright ban on semi-automatic rifles “resembling” military assault rifles, the obligatory decommissioning of museum-owned guns, to imposing firearm rules on airsoft replicas, the commission’s proposal only impairs the rights of law-abiding citizens.

Yet, as with drugs or alcohol, such a move is likely to foster a new culture of black market guns for otherwise law-abiding people, leading to growth of the market and as a consequence easier accessibility of illegal firearms to terrorists and criminals.

Slovakian loophole

Clearly, the European Commission needs to show some effort.

Article 13(1) of directive 2008/51/EC, dated 21 May 2008, includes the following: “The commission shall, acting in accordance with the procedure referred to in article 13a(2) of the directive, issue common guidelines on deactivation standards and techniques to ensure that deactivated firearms are rendered irreversibly inoperable.”

Yet, since 2008, the commission has done nothing to close the “insufficiently deactivated firearms” loophole existing in certain countries, prompting member states seeing a rise in the use of such guns to pressure origin countries (especially Slovakia) to change their rules on deactivation.

This having already happened by July 2015, the only effective part of the proposal - enacting common rules on deactivation - is too little too late.

Black market firearms

Meanwhile, the EU has been absolutely incompetent in combating black market firearms.

Perhaps the EU has little influence over law enforcement in member states, however, it already possesses competencies for the protection of external Schengen borders, at which it has utterly failed.

Hundreds of thousands of migrants enter the EU undisturbed and industrial levels of smuggling now even include illegal underground train tunnels and helicopters.

It seems getting the ex-Yugoslav fully automatic Kalashnikov assault rifles (which are banned in the EU) to the 13 November Paris attacks posed no difficulty.

Self defence

With Europe’s security situation deteriorating not only regarding terrorist attacks, but also due to the war in Ukraine and rising crime levels, citizens of member states that culturally and legally approve of legal firearm possession for self defence have voted with their wallets.

Shotguns virtually sold out in Austria (being bought mostly by women) and concealed carry license applications surged in the Czech Republic after remaining basically level between 2000 to 2014.

In order to legally obtain firearms, gun owners in Europe must already go through various forms of background checks and licencing procedures.

Moreover, under the existing EFD, all firearms must be registered.

Opponents have argued for years that gun registrations are a prequel to confiscations, which the European Commission affirms with the proposed ban on semi-automatic rifles that only affects legally-owned and registered guns.

Inadequate official training

Semi-automatic rifles nowadays constitute a popular and fast growing market, especially among young gun owners.

They are used for a variety of purposes, including hunting, sport shooting and, in some countries, home defence.

Beyond strictly private ownership, it is also a well known fact that, in countries like Finland, for example, modern sporting rifles are essential for the training of military reservists.

Between Dutch soldiers shouting “bang” instead of shooting actual ammunition during training and German soldiers using broomsticks in Nato’s most elite units’ exercises as firearms props, it is understandable why many European soldiers and policemen own these guns privately to improve their otherwise inadequate official training.

The proposed ban - and confiscation - of these firearms will make it clear to all legitimate gun owners that anything they buy legally may be taken away at any time, thus driving many to the black market.

Demand drives supply such that the European firearms black market will grow in response to its new customers, making illegal firearms more accessible to criminals and terrorists.

Additionally, the police will be overburdened for years tracking down otherwise law-abiding citizens either refusing to comply with confiscations (tens of thousands of people are likely in the Czech Republic alone as civil disobedience is already being vocally advocated or evading capture when buying an illegal gun for their own protection (as is already happening in countries without legal means of obtaining firearms for self defense).

Not only does the proposed amendment of the EFD do little to nothing to protect European citizens from the current threats, it will, if passed, increase the danger to us all.

Tomas Gawron is a Czech lawyer with professional experience in litigation, competition law and white collar crime defense

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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