European Parliament tightens gun laws

March 14, 2017 was probably the most significant day in the entire “EU Gun Ban” process over the past 18 months. On this day, the overwhelming majority of the European Parliament in Strasbourg voted in favor of changing the European Directive 477 from 1991 (EU firearms directive). 

Crossed-out AR-15
2017: The changes to the EU firearms directive have now been adopted by the European parliament.

The European Commission, which also set the ball rolling on the “EU Gun Ban”, initially requested stricter regulations in certain sections of the firearms directive.

In the “trilog”, the gun lobby was able to achieve a number of partial victories and water down the planned tightening of the EU firearms directive somewhat.

The interim agreement from December of last year between the Parliament and the Council on the reforming of the EU directive on firearms was passed on March 14, 2017 with 491 in favor, 178 against, and 28 abstentions.

Modification of EU firearms directive — A long process

Over the past 18 months, legal firearms owners worried that their rights might be curtailed as the Parliament and the EU Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) interviewed various stakeholders. The parliamentary delegates worked together with representatives from law enforcement, inspection bodies for firearms, and legal experts to protect the interests of the industry and all legal owners of firearms. However, at the same time, they also attempted to close existing security loopholes and take into account counter-terrorism aspects.  

"The Parliament text has made many significant improvements. The changes that we have now agreed will close the loophole and be an important contribution to our security, whilst also respecting the rights of legal owners,” said Vicky Ford, chair of the EU Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) 

Tightening of EU firearms directive 2017 — The changes

Although the European Parliament has agreed on the “new revision of the firearms directive”, this does not mean that there is a change in the law yet. This is because the directive does not have the effect of a national law, as it is not aimed at citizens, but instead the governments of the member states. In turn, these governments have 15 months to adapt their own firearms laws to the new EU directive adopted in 2017.

But what exactly has changed in the EU firearms directive?

1. Permanent deactivation of firearms

The revised EU directive tightens the regulations for the labeling of firearms and clarifies the status of “deactivated” weapons. It must not be possible to convert firearms that have been made unusable (in particular decorative weapons) back to live weapons using simple techniques. Under pressure from the Parliament, the European Commission has pledged to revise the deactivation standards and techniques by the end of May 2017 in collaboration with national experts in order to ensure that deactivated firearms are made permanently unusable. New deactivated weapons must be reported to the national authorities. 

2. Smaller magazine capacity

GLOCK pistol in HERA Arms conversion kit
With the new EU directive, larger magazines such as in this GLOCK with a 30-round magazine using a conversion kit from HERA Arms will be a thing of the past.

New, more stringent checks will be introduced for certain semi-automatic firearms when they are equipped with high-capacity magazines. For semi-automatic handguns, this means magazines with a capacity of more than 20 rounds. In future, semi-automatic long guns will not be allowed to hold more than 10 rounds. However, individuals who currently already own such weapons legally can continue to do so provided their member state approves. Above all, this will be relevant for owners of pistol-caliber carbines. 

3. National firearms register and exchange of information

The new EU regulations mandate that all information required to trace and identify firearms must be recorded in the national firearms registers. Furthermore, provisions must be taken to improve the exchange of information between the member states. 

4. More stringent controls of “non-live” firearms

EU member states will need to implement more stringent checks on “non-live firearms” — e.g. decorative weapons and gas pistols — which, under certain circumstances, can be converted to fire live ammunition. What this means for the firearm laws in the individual EU states is currently entirely unclear.

Tightening of gun laws in the EU — Next steps

First of all, the draft directive will still need to be approved by the EU Council of Ministers. After that, once the changes enter into force, each EU member state will have 15 months to implement the new regulations as national legislation. Within 30 months, they will need to set up a database system for tracking and identifying firearms and the necessary information. 

Unlike the original tightening of regulations proposed by the European Commission, the changes to the EU firearms directive can essentially be seen as a small victory by the gun lobbyists for legal firearms owners.

Hunters and sports shooters will be allowed to keep their semi-automatic self-loading rifles. The magazine capacities will not be limited to the full extent. Something else that will not happen: Limited validity periods for firearm ownership permits such as gun licenses or hunting licenses or a mandatory medical and psychological evaluation.

Hunter aiming at target
Hunters, too, will no longer need to fear for their semi-automatic self-loading rifles after the changes to the EU firearms directive.

Ludwig Willnegger, Secretary General for the Federation of Associations for Hunting and Conservation of the European Union (FACE), commented positively on the change: “The result of this final vote is good news for European hunters." However, the regulations for permits, licenses — including renewals and extensions — and the storage of firearms are still unclear. Willnegger sees the danger of overregulation in this area, which will lead to poor implementation in the member states. "Hence, FACE will now concentrate on the implementation of the EU regulations in national legislation and support hunting associations in order to ensure smooth implementation without unnecessary inconveniences and hurdles for hunters, firearms owners, and manufacturers", said Willnegger.

Comment from

What people feared has now happened. A great deal of politicking at the EU level, little attention paid to facts, and tangible new restrictions for legal firearms owners, and just like before, a great deal of ambiguity. It appears that this issue will continue to follow us over the next 15 to 30 months, when the implementation into national law takes place. The only silver lining: It could have been much worse. Hence, we would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who helped moderate the prohibitions. Bottom line: No, of course we are not satisfied with the result. But yes: We will continue to fight for the legitimate interests of sports shooters and hunters.

You will find the press release of the European Parliament on the tightening of gun laws here: Press release

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