The fact of the matter is that due to lack of coordination, national law enforcement authorities are struggling to track and confiscate illegally held weapons circulating throughout the EU. A terrifying statistic tells us that more than half a million guns registered as lost or stolen remain unaccounted for in the EU while every week we hear of new acts of violence being committed with these weapons.
In England and Wales, for instance, firearms were reportedly used in more than 7000 offences in the year to September 2011, with 388 incidents resulting in serious or fatal injury.
We have an obligation to learn lessons from these and other atrocities and make sure that handguns, rifles and assault weapons stop getting into the wrong hands.
Throughout the EU, many countries have strong traditions of lawful gun use: sports shooting and hunting for example. While respecting those long-held traditions, we need to be more consistent in how we treat firearms. A major cause for concern is significant disparities in gun laws among EU countries with regard to what types of guns can be sold, who is allowed to own them, how guns must be stored and how to deactivate guns when they are no longer needed.
We currently have no common framework for marking firearms with serial numbers and this makes it a lot harder to track them. Some EU countries have rules on keeping weapons stored in safes, while other countries make no such provisions, sometimes with tragic consequences, such as the incident in Winnenden, Germany (2009) when an adolescent used a pistol, insecurely stored in his parents' bedroom, to kill 15 people.
National laws also differ widely on how to deactivate weapons, and how to subsequently classify them as collectors' items or replicas. We need to learn lessons from the 2011 attack in Liège, when the gunman drew from a huge personal arsenal including military weapons and collectors' items which he had purchased and reactivated.
Furthermore, gunmen responsible for the terrible shootings in Tuusula (2007) and Kauhajoki (2008), Alphen aan den Rijn (2011)) were all mentally unstable adults who were still issued licenses to possess firearms. Derek Bird who murdered 12 people in Cumbria in 2010 was licensed to carry two gun licenses.
Tragedies like these demonstrate the importance of putting better, more coherent rules in place, and today we are taking the first step, with a strategy paper from the European Commission outlining possible actions at EU level to curb gun violence.
In this process the Commission will examine ways to clarify rules across Europe as to what firearms should be allowed for civilian use, who should be allowed to carry or sell firearms, and how firearms should be stored and deactivated.
We will also examine how to make it illegal throughout the EU to tamper with serial numbers in order to evade a gun being tracked, and how to counter weapons smuggling and illegal weapon production.
At the same time, better cooperation is needed between police and customs authorities through increased cross-border information sharing on illegal guns in circulation. During the next four years, this will be a high priority both nationally and between EU member states and as part of our Common Foreign and Neighbourhood Policy, cooperation should be increased with neighbouring countries in order to shut down smuggling routes and manage stockpiles of military weapons responsibly.
Encouragingly, most Europeans agree that something needs to be done. In a Eurobarometer poll released today, 58 percent of British people and 53 percent of Europeans overall say that they want stricter regulation of who is allowed to own, buy or sell firearms. 58 percent of all Europeans and 44 percent of Brits wish to see common minimum standards in gun legislation across Europe. So there is support from the public as we now start the discussion on what needs to be done.
Tragically, we can expect to hear about new violent crimes involving firearms before long – it is time to open the debate on how to modernize firearms laws across Europe. These early actions put forth today will be discussed by the UK and other EU member states, the European Parliament and stakeholders, after which the European Commission can present concrete legislative proposals. Now, it is up to each country – not least British government representatives and Members of the European Parliament – to contribute to pushing this issue to the top of the agenda. We cannot let gun control remain politically invisible in Europe. It is time to put our own house in order.
Press Release: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-13-980_en.htm