At the same time Europeans are exhibiting a renewed interest in exercising their right to self-defense, the European Parliament and European Council have come to an agreement to place new restrictions on civilian access to firearms. On December 20, the European Commission and European Council confirmed that a compromise on significant changes to the European Firearms Directive was reached. The new agreement pares down the European Commission’s initial proposal to severely restrict civilian ownership of semi-automatic firearms, however, other oppressive measures remain.
As we’ve reported previously, following the November 13, 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, the EU expedited plans for new gun restrictions when on November 18, 2015 the European Commission adopted plans to change the European Firearms Directive. The changes would set a new minimum gun control threshold that EU member states would be required to meet by enacting domestic legislation. Among the worst changes, the wide-ranging initial draft of the new directive threatened a broad ban semi-automatic firearms and included onerous new licensing requirements.
The initial proposal, particularly the provisions restricting civilian ownership of semi-automatic rifles, was met with significant hostility from several EU Member States. States such as Finland and Switzerland (not an EU member, but subject to certain EU legislation), that have a strong tradition of citizen participation in their national defense strategies, expressed concern about the implications that restrictions would have for their defense capabilities, or in the case of Switzerland, that the new measures could disarm veterans of their service rifles. Other member states with vibrant shooting cultures and robust firearms manufacturing, such as Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, and Poland, also resisted the proposed legislation’s most onerous provisions.
The most significant change between the European Parliament and European Council agreement and the initial European Commission proposal is how the directive treats semi-automatic firearms. Initially, the European Commission proposed to reclassify Category B7 firearms, which are “Semi-automatic firearms for civilian use which resemble' weapons with automatic mechanisms,” as Category A firearms, which would have made them subject to the same controls as fully-automatic firearms and prohibited them from civilian ownership. The European Commission also expressed a desire to ban magazines with a capacity greater than 10 rounds.
While the exact language of the European Parliament and European Council compromise has not been made public, the European Commission has released a summary of the agreement’s provisions on semi-automatic firearms. Rather than placing all Category B7 firearms into Category A, the directive will now ban the following types of semi-automatic firearms for civilian ownership:
- automatic firearms which have been converted into semi-automatic firearms;
- short firearms which allow the firing of more than 21 rounds without reloading, if a loading device with a capacity exceeding 20 rounds is part of the firearm or a detachable loading device with a capacity exceeding 20 rounds is inserted into it;
- long firearms which allow the firing of more than 11 rounds without reloading, if a loading device with a capacity exceeding 10 rounds is part of the firearm or a detachable loading device with a capacity exceeding 10 rounds is inserted into it;
- semi-automatic long firearms (i.e. firearms that are originally intended to be fired from the shoulder) that can be reduced to a length of less than 60cm without losing functionality by means of a folding or telescoping stock or by a stock that can be removed without using tools;
In a press release that accompanied announcement of the agreement, the European Commission lamented that the revised directive does not restrict semi-automatic firearms as they had originally proposed. The European Commission noted,
the Commission regrets that some parts of the original proposal were not supported by the Parliament and the Council. The Commission had proposed a greater level of ambition with a complete ban of the most dangerous semi-automatic firearms, including all semi-automatic firearms of the AK47 or AR15 families and a ban of assault weapons for private collectors. The Commission also regrets that the magazine size was not limited to 10 rounds for all semi-automatic firearms.
This is a welcome departure from how the European Commission’s proposed changes to the European Firearms Directive treated semi-automatic firearms, however, other alarming portions of the initial draft of the changes to the directive appear to be intact.
Among the most onerous of these provisions is one requiring EU states to require firearm license holders to submit to a medical examination as a condition of licensure. Making clear that this provision survived the new compromise, in their summary of the agreement, the European Commission noted that, “In the future, all Member States will have to put in place a system of medical check for the authorisation to acquire firearms.” Other restrictions involving the online acquisition of firearms and ammunition, and information sharing provisions that implicate the privacy rights of European gun owners also remain intact.
Now that a compromise has been reached between the European Parliament and the European Council the next step in the convoluted EU legislative process for the proposed changes to the European Firearms Directive will occur when the European Parliament’s Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection formally approves the text of the legislation, which is set for January. Following this action, the entire European Parliament is set to vote on the legislation in March.