With regard to the problems highlighted by the European Commission, we have – taking into account all four EU studies on the subject – developed our own conclusions, which we would like to discuss at the conference.
IMPACT ON THE LEGAL SECTOR
The forced regulations of millions of firearms that are currently outside the scope of the directive such as replicas and deactivated firearms and the banning of certain categories of firearms would instantly criminalise millions of citizens and subject them to confiscation, fine and imprisonment. The national authorities’ resources, which are badly needed to fight criminality, would be directed in enforcing unnecessary measures against citizens who have never broken the law. Law courts will be deluged with contestations.
Citizens’ participation in recreational sports shooting would be practically eliminated and sport shooters would be forced into very restricted parameters that will be a deterrent to participation in one of the safest sports on earth. Access to cheaper rifles properly converted to semi-auto from auto would be denied to those who have a small budget for their sport. Logistical costs will increase leading to a drop in participation in sports shooting events.
The proposed mandatory medical tests will be misinterpreted in members states, leading to the possible exclusion of people with disabilities from sport shooting that they can participate in without difficulty.
The inclusion of recognised collectors, in itself a totally-unnecessary measure and the use of the word ‘exceptional’ for member states’ permission to grant possession of category A firearms will lead to severe restrictions on a sector of society that contributes heavily to the research and conservation of historical firearms. Museums will not only lose valuable allies but also face similar restrictions.
The deactivation of firearms according to drastic standards would end up damaging historical artefacts and the confusion created by the changes would lead to sever loss of business by licensed dealers.
Our conclusions: New harmonised technical guidelines – without amending the Firearms Directive – could close or at least minimise the four loopholes that were the subject of impact assessment studies with less costs for authorities and stakeholders. EU financial support for outer border controls, investigative work, information sharing and harmonised minimum penalties for illicit trafficking would be a far more effective deterrent against the black market. The current Directive is a sufficient tool for the regulation of legal firearms. Further burdens on law-abiding citizens will not produce any result except resentment against the EU.
PLUGGING THE LOOPHOLES
The loopholes that were identified in studies are related to a lack of technical requirements for firearms that fall outside the directive: deactivated weapons, alarm guns, salute guns as well as a harmonised definition of separately-sold “essential parts”.
The basis for such harmonised definitions were already conceived in 2014 through the EU studies and could have been easily incorporated into regulation in early 2015. However, only a very rudimentary definition of deactivated firearms was adopted in November 2015.
The Directive does not cover firearms falling outside its scope provided that such firearms cannot be easily converted into “live firearms”. This practice works very well with national definitions in most member states. Very few are lagging behind in this regards and an effort should be made to update their laws.
In spite of the Commission’s unsupported accusation, there are no loopholes for recognised collectors who legally acquire firearms falling under any of the categories from A to D. The cases referred to by the Commission as a reason to bring recognised collectors into the scope of the Directive concern non-recognised collectors, or better hoarders, who import, acquire and stockpile firearms outside the scope of the directive, including illegal ones.
Our conclusion: For the past decade, the EU has been lacking harmonised definitions for “easily convertible firearms” and “essential parts”. These may be introduced into regulation outside of the Firearms Directive. All three missing definitions should be introduced as soon as possible while the definition of “deactivated firearms” requires practical implementation.
COMBATING CRIME & ILLICT TRAFFICKING
Criminals and terrorists generally look for „soft targets”, i.e. defenseless citizens. The introduction of regulations that limit legal firearm ownership through prohibitions, undue restrictions or higher costs, will lead to a spike in criminal attacks on citizens. This is a proven fact in many member states. Even the last EU study concerning misuse of firearms (May 2016) found that legal possession of firearms may serve to combat crime.
The EU presented four studies on legal loopholes and the illegal arms trade, which were published between July 2014 and May 2016. All four studies concluded that there is NO NEED for further restrictions concerning current categories A through D, or tighter controls of license holders, as data to support such claims is currently lacking and such claims would be based on conjecture only.
The studies demand, however, harmonized penalties for wilful illegal production, distribution and possession of firearms. As such harmonization is the only means to guarantee that offenders will not go unpunished solely because they committed their crime in a neighbouring country.
This suggestion requires better information sharing, such as a black list of convicted illicit producers and dealers, so that their illegal firearms cannot just re-enter the market through another member state. An EU-wide “conviction database” is also among listed improvements, so authorities can easily determine if a new applicant for a production / distribution license (as well as already licensed entities) have prior convictions in other member states.
A “conviction database“ is a sensible, fair and cost effective solution unlike the proposed “firearms license refusal database”, as it will provide access to other areas, not directly related to firearms (cost effective). In addition, grounds for refusal of a firearms license in one member state, like NL, GB or GER may not be sufficient grounds for refusal in another member state like CZ, ITA or NOR (more just). Whether a black list of illegal dealers / producers is kept externally or in the conviction database via search string is a question best answered by IT experts. The main goal is to provide the relevant authorities with easy access to such information.
Our conclusion: The inclusion of collectors, brokers as well as firearms currently outside the scope of the Directive will not curtail crime or the possession and trade of illegal firearms. On the contrary such measures will only lead to increased bureaucracy, costs and workloads for national authorities, which are already lacking in time and manpower required for the effective control of criminality.