Since we last updated readers to the European Union’s efforts to enact further gun controls, the transnational government has continued the process of enacting stringent new restrictions across the political bloc. However, recent developments indicate that the final legislation could be dramatically different than the draft measures proposed by the European Commission. While any further additions to Europe’s already onerous gun control regime is unwarranted, some of the European Parliament’s proposed changes to the draft legislation, if adopted, would make the new rules somewhat less onerous. Unfortunately, other areas that the European Parliament seems willing to explore could exacerbate problems with the proposal.
To recap, following the November terrorist attacks in Paris, the EU’s technocratic European Commission expedited plans to alter the European Firearms Directive to require member states to enact severe new minimum gun control measures. While the Firearms Directive is a tool through which the EU regulates and facilitates ownership, use and trade of legal firearms throughout the bloc, the Commission’s proposal used the Directive to propose bans on several categories of firearms and the legitimate activity that makes use of them. These changes were adopted by the European Commission on November 18, 2015. Among the most burdensome provisions is a change that would place popular semi-automatic firearms into the same category as automatic firearms, barring civilian use. Some of the other most egregious changes include new rules governing deactivated firearms, and the imposition of new licensing standards, such as a five-year limit on license validity and medical examinations for prospective license holders.
Following EU legislative procedure, after the European Commission’s adopted the changes, the proposal moved to the European Parliament, which has the opportunity to amend the legislation, adopt it, or eventually reject it. Currently, the proposal is under the jurisdiction of the European Parliament’s Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee, led by Chair Vicky Ford of the UK.
Since the proposed changes to the Firearms Directive have come under the more democratic European Parliament’s authority, there have been some mildly encouraging developments. In a February 23 press release that coincided with the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee’s “First exchange of views” on the matter, Ford took aim at the European Commission bureaucrats. Ford noted that the legislation was “poorly drafted,” adding that it “needs a lot of work.”
In preparation for the February 23 meeting, the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee drafted a “Working Document” that offers a number of options for altering the European Commission’s proposal. At the outset, the document takes issue with the European Commission’s lackluster justification for the proposal. A portion of the introduction notes:
It is important to recognise that the vast majority of owners of firearms in the EU do not present any danger to the public. Any changes to the 1991 Directive must be necessary, proportionate and targeted. The absence of an impact assessment is problematic since it is unclear which problems have been identified and what the evidence is for how they should best be addressed.
In addressing the European Commission’s proposal for re-categorizing “Semi-automatic firearms for civilian use which resemble' weapons with automatic mechanisms” from “Category B – Firearms subject to authorization” to “Category A – Prohibited firearms,” the document lists a number of options. Most encouraging is the option to reject the proposed change in categorization.
Another proposed alternative, meant to pacify nations that rely on a reservist or militia system of national defense, is to make clear that individuals acting in such a capacity would be exempt from further restrictions. There was some concern that the proposal could even effect the storied citizen militia of non-member Switzerland. Also contemplated were options to allow for these semi-automatic firearms to be placed into Category A, but then clarifying specific instances where a member state may authorize an individual to possess these firearms, or keeping these firearms within Category B but enacting more stringent licensing, training, or storage requirements specifically for these types of guns.
Another option focused on narrowing the definition of semi-automatic firearms subject to Category A restrictions. The European Commission proposal simply shifts the current Category B definition, “Semi-automatic firearms for civilian use which resemble' weapons with automatic mechanisms,” to Category A. The following definitions were offered as alternatives:
i. "firearms and ammunition specially designed for military use" (cf Art 3(b) of Regulation 258/2012),
ii. "centrefire semi-automatic rifled long firearms specially designed for military use",
iii. "Semi-automatic firearms for civilian use which resemble weapons with automatic mechanisms except in the case of firearms for hunting or for target shooting, for persons entitled to use them",
iv. "semi-automatic firearms for civilian use which resemble weapons with automatic mechanisms, except where specially designed for hunting or target shooting",
v. "semi-automatic long firearms for civilian use which have or can be equipped with a firing capacity exceeding 6 rounds without reloading, or which otherwise are constructed in a way that they are more appropriate for combat than for hunting".
While some of these offer a better alternative than the current language, one might imagine how a creative interpretation of these options would severely burden law-abiding gun owners.
Also explored were the European Commission’s proposals on altering minimum licensing requirements, and the European Parliament’s initial response should give gun owners pause.
The European Commission’s proposed changes noted, “Member States shall provide for standard medical tests for issuing or renewing authorisations… and shall withdraw authorisations if any of the conditions on the basis of which it was granted is no longer met.” The working documents lists the option of eliminating the “standard medical tests” language from the proposal, but goes on to give the alternative of requiring states to “implement continuous monitoring to ensure that the conditions under which an authorization was granted continue to apply.” The document goes on to suggest, “Aspects [member states] could consider for a system of monitoring include appropriate medical and psychological testing, time-limited licenses, in particular for certain categories of firearms, verification of the continued need for possessing a firearm and continued practice in its use etc.”
Moreover, the document suggests exploring several significant gun control measures that the European Commission did not directly touch upon in their proposal. The document invites views on whether:
iii. controls on large capacity magazines would contribute to public safety, e.g. by permitting them only for recognised target shooting organisations, on condition that the magazines are kept by those organisations and only possessed under their control on their ranges,
iv. to introduce minimum requirements for safe storage of firearms (as 20 [member states] already have) and whether such storage requirements should correspond to the level of risk or danger posed.
The document also seeks further information on whether to enact ammunition controls that,
i. introduce a possibility for dealers and brokers to refuse suspicious transactions (e.g. involving quantities unusual for private use) and an obligation to report attempted such transactions,
ii. clarify that only ammunition for the specific firearm/s held can be acquired.
On March 15, the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee held a hearing on the proposed revisions to the Firearms Directive. The panels included a presentation on behalf of the European Institute of Hunting and Sporting Arms, the Italian Association of Manufacturers of Sporting and Civilian Firearms and Ammunition (IEACS & ANPAM) and the Federation of Associations for Hunting and Conservation of the EU (FACE). Echoing past U.S. gun control battles, FACE’s presentation correctly took issue with the Europoean Commission proposal to “ban a firearms category based on its appearance rather than on functionality characteristics.” The group went on to note that the current proposal will “trigger a sliding scale of future bans of semi-automatic configurations.”
Following the hearing, the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee will develop a draft report on the legislation, set to be considered on April 20. As always, NRA will continue to monitor any developments in Brussels and report the latest to our members.