The legislation would introduce rules enhancing safety with respect to gun ownership, while not inconveniencing hunters, target shooters and other legitimate owners. The text includes control of the sale of guns over the internet, reinforcement of the marking system, computerisation and extension of the period of the record keeping and an increased exchange of information between Member States.
The report, drafted by Gisela Kallenbach (Greens/EFA, DE), broadly endorses a Commission proposal to update the EU's 1991 directive on the "acquisition and possession of weapons", so as to bring it into line with a UN Protocol against the illicit manufacturing and trafficking of firearms, signed by the EC in 2001. The text proposed by the European Parliament is a result of 18 months of work which has led to a first reading compromise with the Council.
Speaking on the first-reading agreement with the Council, Gisela Kallenbach said: "I am convinced that we finally agreed on a good compromise (with the Council), particularly ensuring the rights of legal users of weapons while also tackling the illegal aspects to improve the safety for European Citizens. The substance of the committee's concerns has been maintained in the final text. This result therefore represents a success for the Parliament's negotiating strategy. Let me thank all participants for the close cooperation as well as the constructive atmosphere during these negotiations."
Arlene McCarthy, Chair of the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee (PES, Labour, North West UK) said: "Following the recent tragic school massacre in Finland, the attempted school shooting in Germany and the spread of deadly converted weapons in cities in the UK, MEPs have the opportunity to join the Commission and Council in backing this law to tackle the illegal trade and smuggling of weapons. This law meets Europe's international obligations under the UN Protocol on firearms and puts in place a control system which protects public safety by ensuring guns don't fall in to the hands of criminals and ensuring weapons can be traced to their owners. This is Europe taking pragmatic and practical action for its citizens."
The scope of the directive to be enlarged
The new directive would cover the possession and the acquisition of firearms but also of their parts and ammunition, including these imported from third countries. The Directive would as well apply to illicit manufacturing and trafficking of weapons and their essential components. Additionally, convertible weapons are brought within the new definition of 'firearm'. Such weapons have been identified by the police in many Member States as a growing source of firearms for criminals. The rules on acquisition and possession of weapons by individual collectors or officially recognised bodies concerned with the historical and cultural aspects of firearms remain unchanged. The text also says that the directive should cover "selling by means of distance communications" (e.g. via the internet), which should be "strictly controlled" by those Member States who allow it at all.
Better marking, details on file for 20 years
In order to make weapons traceability more efficient, the text requires the use of alphanumeric symbols. The marking, affixed to an "essential component of the firearm", must include the name of manufacturer, the place and the year of fabrication and the serial number.
MEPs say that Member States should maintain "a computerised data filing system", including the identification information of each firearm subject to the directive. Furthermore, whereas the Commission had proposed that such data be kept in registers for 10 years (the minimum required under the UN Protocol), MEPs feel that it should be "for not less than 20 years", given the very long lifespan of firearms. The MEPs also want to make more detailed the recorded data including type, make, model, calibre, serial number, names and addresses of the supplier and the person acquiring or possessing the weapon.
Data exchange and cooperation between Member States
MEPs also require Member States to exchange information to ensure an efficient application of the directive, with the assistance of a contact group to be set up by the Commission.
Make the live easier for legal users
The directive will not inconvenience legal users of firearms, such as hunters and target shooters. The four category system for classifying firearms is retailed, although several Member States have simplified the system by only using two categories. These Member States, according with the subsidiary principle, can go further than the directive and keep their stricter classification systems in the national gun law. The Commission will evaluate the four category system by 2012, with a view to the possibilities to enhance the functioning of the internal market in this area.
Member States will no longer be allowed to make acceptance of the European firearms pass conditional upon the payment of any fee or charge.
The text also calls Member States to simplify administrative procedure of authorisation to acquire and possess firearms.
Entry into force and implementation
The directive is expected to come into force by January 2008, with a transposition deadline by 2010.
Member States can have stricter rules and criminal sanctions
Member States would remain free to introduce stricter rules in their national legislation implementing the directive.
The UN Protocol, which Member States have undertaken to implement, requires that certain criminal sanctions are introduced into Member State law. The directive will contain a reminder of that.