Migration and Home Affairs

Trafficking in firearms

Control of firearms is crucial in the fight against crime, and the EU has taken several measures to complement the work of Member States in addressing the risk of criminal use of firearms.

The EU is uniquely placed to help disrupt criminal markets through its laws and funding streams, through police and customs cooperation and engagement with third countries and international organisations. On 21 October 2013 the Commission adopted a comprehensive blueprint for Europe to act together in protecting the legal sale and ownership of firearms, and preventing gun-related crime.

The impact of firearms crime

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. Europe has some of the toughest rules on firearms in the world, including a general ban on the civilian sale of automatic rifles.

The damage caused by criminal use of firearms is direct and indirect. Direct impact includes the number of killings and injuries – over 10.000 in the EU alone over the last decade, in addition to over 4.000 suicides by firearm each year. Indirect impact cannot be quantified, but it is vast: firearms are typically used by all organised crime groups involved in illegal drugs trade and trafficking in human beings to intimidate and coerce their victims.

According to an 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 disruption of illicit manufacturing and trafficking in firearms one of the EU's nine law enforcement priorities for 2014-17.

How the EU responds to the threat

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.

The Commission is committed to addressing these vulnerabilities through simple and effective rules and well-informed cross-border cooperation. Already a number of important measures have been taken by the EU:

  • Every firearm produced in the EU today must be marked and traceable;
  • In order to buy or own a firearm a person must have ‘good cause’ to do so and be at least 18 years old ;
  • Authorisation to sell firearms is conditional on at least a check on the private and professional integrity of the dealer ;
  • The European Firearms Pass has simplified the travel for hunters and sports shooters wishing to engage in their lawful activities in other Member States or in the rest of the world ;
  • Imports, exports and transfers of firearms must comply with specified authorization standards under Regulation No 258/2012, in line with the UN Firearms Protocol (for civilian firearms) and Council Decision 2008/944/CFSP and Directive 2009/43/EC (for military weapons);
  • As a customs union, the EU operates a common risk criteria and IT systems for managing risks relating to the movement of goods crossing the EU external border;
  • Around the world the EU has deployed 21m EUR in 2011-13 to support disarmament and demobilisation and to disrupt illegal trade in small arms and light weapons around the world, such as in Libya and the Western Balkans.

More action needed

In spite of the action so far, gun crime remains a significant threat. In summer 2013 a public consultation generated huge interest and many ideas for improving the EU's firearms control framework. In the light of this, the Commission has proposed a four priority actions to reducing the risk to the public of firearms over the coming years:

  1. Safeguarding the licit market for civilian firearms by stronger and simpler rules on prohibited firearms, marking of controlled firearms and licensing
  2. Reducing diversion of firearms into criminal hands by preventing illegal sale and manufacture and theft and loss, working with third countries and more effective rules on disposal of firearms
  3. Increasing pressure on criminal markets through support to police and stronger deterrents against firearms offences and
  4. Building better intelligence – more and better data on firearms crime and more targeted police training.

In consultation with our partners in law enforcement, industry and federations of lawful users of firearms, as well as with the wider public, the Commission is now developing proposals for implementing these priorities.

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.
  • Contribute to the work of the newly established Group of Experts which includes representatives of national police, the firearms industry, academia and NGOs. (More info)