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New rules on firearms to improve EU citizen’s security

Today (5 February 2019), new rules to ensure that alarm and signal weapons cannot be converted into real firearms and to establish clear technical specifications on firearms’ marking enter into force. In addition, the Commission also put forward new rules improving the way EU countries exchange information on transfers of firearms. They are currently being examined by the European Parliament and the Council. By setting stricter rules on firearms, the Commission aims to improve the security of EU citizens.

The rules coming into force today:

  • Alarm and signal weapons

Alarm and signal weapons are devices with a cartridge holder designed to fire only blanks, irritants, other active substances or pyrotechnic signalling rounds. It should not be possible to convert them to expel a shot, bullet or projectile by the action of a combustible propellant. If it is possible to convert these weapons, they should be treated as firearms, with all the consequences entailed for their possession and acquisition.

In January 2019, the Commission adopted an Implementing Directive that sets out a set of technical criteria on how alarm and signal weapons have to be designed so that they cannot be converted into real firearms.

  • Marking of firearms

Marking is very important for the traceability of firearms and their essential components. The Implementing Directive adopted by the Commission in January 2019 establishes technical specifications to make firearms’ marking clearer and harder to erase. This will help increase the traceability of firearms and their essential components, and thus further reduce risks that firearms enter illegal channels.

Both Directives come into force on 5 February 2019.  The technical specifications will be applicable 12 months later in all EU countries.

The rules currently under scrutiny of the European Parliament and the Council:

  • Exchange of information on transfers of firearms

In January 2019, the Commission also adopted a Delegated Regulation that aims to improve the way EU countries currently exchange information on transfers of firearms and puts in place an electronic exchange system. This will help ensure that authorisations for the transfers of firearms are exchanged in a systematic way and are not issued based on fraudulent documentation, which will in turn improve the security of EU citizens.

The European Parliament and the Council have 2 months to scrutinise the Delegated Regulation (extendable by 2 months). If no issues are raised by the co-legislators, the act will be published in the Official Journal of the EU and will be applicable 4 months from the date of publication.

Background information

The Firearms Directive (Directive 2017/853) sets common minimum rules for the control of the acquisition and possession of firearms in the EU. The Directive was revised in 2017 and brings substantial improvements to security by making it harder to legally acquire dangerous high capacity weapons, such as automatic firearms transformed into semi-automatics.

The Firearms Directive also strengthens cooperation between EU countries by improving the exchange of information between EU countries, and brings substantial improvements to traceability of firearms by improving the tracking of legally held firearms, to reduce the risk of diversion into illegal markets. Moreover, the revised Directive includes in its scope collectors and museums and sets framed derogations for sport shooters that will have the possibility to acquire category A firearms under strict conditions. 

The revised Directive is applicable since autumn 2018.

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