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Migration and Home Affairs

Trafficking in firearms

Firearms are the lifeblood of organised crime in Europe, as elsewhere in the world. They facilitate the trade in illegal drugs and trafficking in human beings. The supply of stolen, smuggled and converted replica guns fuels urban gang conflict. Firearms are typically used by all organised crime groups to intimidate and coerce their victims.

The life cycle of a weapon begins with its manufacture. It is then traded and used, most of the time responsibly and for legitimate purposes such as hunting and sports shooting. At the end of its life it may be deactivated or completely destroyed.

Criminals acquire firearms by exploiting vulnerabilities in this life cycle. They forge documents to enable false transactions, or they convert deactivated or gas and alarm weapons into operational.

The EU is uniquely placed to help disrupt criminal markets through its laws enabling common EU standards, through funding streams, through police and customs cooperation and engagement with third countries and international organisations.

Law enforcement cooperation

EU countries and institutions work together to combat trafficking in firearms through expert groups and specialised agencies.

EU Action Plan on Firearms Trafficking

According to a Eurobarometer survey, most Europeans are worried about the level of crimes using firearms and expect the EU to take action in close collaboration with national governments.

The EU has been coordinating activities to counter firearms trafficking for several years, but new threats have emerged that demand new actions.

As part of the Security Union Strategy, the Commission adopted on 24 July 2020 an Action plan on firearms trafficking.

The new action plan updates two previous actions plans and focuses on 4 priorities:

  • securing the legal framework to reduce risks of diversion of firearms from the legal to the black market
  • improving knowledge of the threat, addressing the lack of comparable statistics on firearms events and seizures across the EU
  • reinforcing law enforcement to stop the traffickers
  • stepping up international cooperation, with a strong set of activities focussing on south-east Europe

Documents

Objectives on trafficking of firearms

Closing legal loopholes used by criminals

Supporting law enforcement co-operation

  • Operational Action Plans (OAPs): yearly plans of Member States, EU institutions and agencies, as well as third countries, international organisations and other (public and private) partners to fight firearms trafficking, coordinated through the EMPACT multidisciplinary co-operation platform. Within it, the Commission supports work on harmonised statistics for firearms seizures, to ensure interconnection between databases of lost firearms, or interoperability of automated ballistics information systems.
  • The EU supports the fight against firearms trafficking and cooperation between the EU and other countries, mostly around the Mediterranean, sub-Saharan Africa and South East Europe. One model for enhanced cooperation with third countries is the joint EU-Balkans Firearms Trafficking Action Plan for the South East Europe Region (PDF).

Providing financial support to law enforcement and research

The EU funds projects on the fight against trafficking in firearms:

  • to facilitate joint initiatives and operational actions of EU countries associated with non-EU countries
  • to improve expertise by enhancing knowledge, detection, investigation and prosecution
  • to promote best practices and intelligence along firearms trafficking routes
  • to reduce diversion of firearms into criminal hands in the EU

The EU has deployed millions to support disarmament and demobilisation and to disrupt illegal trade in small arms and light weapons around the world, and the Western Balkans.

What you can do

Contact the Commission’s Firearms Task-Force with your experiences of firearms controls or if you have been unfortunate enough to have been a victim of gun-related crime.

Analysis

Europol has an Analysis Project "Weapon & Explosives", which provides a pool of analysts supporting cross-border investigations, tracing of firearms, deployment of a mobile office.

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