After a year of discussions, the European Parliament and Council have reached a provisional political agreement on the Firearms Directive. The Commission had proposed a revision of the current EU rules on firearms on 18 November 2015 to make it harder to legally acquire high capacity weapons in the European Union, allow better tracking of legally held firearms thus reducing the risk of diversion into illegal markets, and strengthen cooperation between Member States.
At the time, two countries, Finland and the Czech Republic, opposed the stricter measures, in particular concerning semi-automatic weapons, arguing that their unique national policy would be detrimentally affected as a result. In Finland. The Czech Republic has a long history of permissive gun control, permitting citizens to carry a concealed weapon for self-defense. In Finland, all reservists have these semi-automatic weapons at home, and they are used traditionally for hunting. Sweden had also said it would have difficulty accepting a decision that would limit the kinds of firearms people can use for hunting, but was not an opponent.
After a year during which Finland, the Czech Republic, the gun industry and a number of lobbies were applying heavy pressure on the EU institutions, there was a provisional agreement in Brussels, which retains a majority of what the Commission originally proposed, such as the ban of automatic firearms transformed into semi-automatic firearms, the inclusion of collectors and museums in the scope of the directive, the regulation of alarm and acoustic weapons, the regulation of Internet sales, the regulation of deactivated weapons and more exchange of information between Member States. But the EU was obliged to accept to let go of a number of the initial proposals, such as 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.
Together with the technical rules introducing strict harmonized standards for the deactivation of firearms, which are directly applicable since April 2016, the Firearms Directive will reduce the probability of dangerous but legally held weapons falling into the hands of criminals and terrorists.
The arguments presented by Finland were not that convincing. Hunters do not need semi-automatic weapons in a majority of EU countries, as they are sufficiently sharp shooters, and one cannot believe that Finnish hunters are so clumsy that they could not adapt. Instead of keeping their weapons at home, reservists could easily have access to their weapons stored in local police stations, as it is the case in Switzerland. And maybe one could remark that we have two times more chance to be a victim of a firearms homicide in Finland than in Sweden and Norway, and three times more than in Germany. In addition, some of the recent killings in Finland were done by people having had an easy access to weapons in their family…
One additional remark: if these measures would present some interest to limit homicides, the impact on terrorists may be limited. There is a growing number of weapons available in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, which is worrying considering that there is an increase in foreign fighters returning from conflicts abroad—some 5,000 Europeans have joined ISIS and other jihadist groups in Iraq and Syria. In the French Charlie Hebdo investigation, it was shown that the weapons used in the attacks came from the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Some were deactivated weapons from Slovakia, converted to be live-firing. (Under pressure from the E.U., Slovakia tightened later its regulations for the possession and sale of weapons). Other arms are believed to have come from Croatia (in EU) and Serbia, while some ammunition has been traced to the Republika Srpska, an administrative entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina. So it is probable that the measures decided in Brussels will need to be complemented by tight border controls.
Hunters in Finland will be able to continue to use their semi-automatic weapons, and not obliged to use normal rifles as in other countries, but still there will be additional resentment among our citizens, which is one of the objectives of the terrorists…