The abolition of all police and customs formalities at intra-EU frontiers made it necessary to adopt rules on the controls of weapons for civil use within the EU. To this end, Directive 91/477/EEC on control of the acquisition and possession of weapons was adopted. This so-called “Firearms Directive”, as amended by Directive 2008/51/CE defines rules on the acquisition and possession of weapons, on the one hand, and on the transfer of firearms to another Member State, on the other.
Directive 91/477/EEC of 18 June 1991 was adopted as an accompanying measure for the internal market imposing certain restrictions on the circulation of civil firearms.
As regards the acquisition and possession of firearms, the laws of the Member States must impose at least the requirements laid down in the Directive, but Member States are entitled to take more stringent measures than those provided for by the Directive.
The Directive provides rights and obligations for private persons, dealers and brokers. More flexible rules are provided in respect of hunting and target shooting in order to avoid unnecessary impediments. For this purpose in particular, the Directive introduced the European firearms pass, a document which is issued on request by the authorities of a Member State to a person lawfully entering into possession of and using a firearm (see Commission Recommendation 2005/11/EC ...).
The amending Directive 2008/51/EC [Directive 2008/51/CE of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 May 2008 ] reinforces the security aspects of the Directive, allowing a partial alignment with the UN Firearms Protocol against transnational organized crime. It prescribes, in particular, the complete marking of firearms as well as computerized record keeping systems for firearms for a minimum of 20 years.
The Commission has adopted different reports on the implementation of this Directive. In its Report to the European Parliament and to the Council on the Firearms Directive of 15 December 2000 it sets out guidelines for future developments.
In its Report to the European Parliament and the Council on the placing on the market of replica firearms of 27 July 2010 it analyses if it were both possible and desirable to include replica firearms within the scope of this Directive. The Commission concluded that the assimilation of replicas to real firearms was not always practicable.
In its Report to the European Parliament and the Council on the classification of firearms of 26 July 2012 the Commission evaluates possible changes of the classification system of weapons used by civil persons. In this context it recalls that the directive provides a minimum harmonisation, which however allows all the Member States to adopt stricter measures, provided of course they comply with the rules of the Treaty, in particular the principles of proportionality and subsidiarity.
Currently most Member States submit the acquisition of firearms either to authorization (Category B) or to declaration (Category C). In some Member States the authorization or declaration is interlinked with additional requirements like hunter of marksman licenses. In line with the minimum harmonisation principle, Member States can in their national legislation "upgrade" a weapon, in other words they can raise it from category C to category B, or from category B to category A (prohibited weapons). It also means that if a Member State subjects all weapons to authorisation internally, it also has the right to subject to authorisation any weapon that enters its territory, even one which is simply subject to declaration under the rules of the country of origin.
Such diversity - whilst relative - reflects the Member States' undeniable concern about security as much as their slightly different preferences regarding State administrative action and their traditions in terms of controlling hunting activities. The classification into four categories also provides a common reference for the level of danger posed by weapons, which is also useful and applicable in other aspects of the Directive.
As a next step the Commission will evaluate how the Firearms Directive has implemented and in a report to the European Parliament and the Council, due by Commission by 28 July 2015, will comprise an actualized and overall picture, accompanied, if appropriate, by specific amending proposals.
In parallel the Commission will support measures against the illegal trafficking and use of firearms from being implemented either at inter-governmental level or even at Union level, as it was recently the case with Regulation 258/2012 of the European Parliament and the Council implementing the article 10 of the UN Protocol against illicit trafficking in firearms.