EU cracks down on illegal firearms

Martin Banks
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Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper), The EU is cracking down on the illegal trade in firearms. On Wednesday, negotiators from Parliament and Council reached a provisional agreement on updating rules to trace the import and export of civilian firearms more effectively.


This aims to make the import and export of firearms in the EU more transparent and more traceable, reducing the risk of trafficking.
Following the terrorist attacks in Europe over the last decade, and to fight organized crime more effectively, the Commission presented, in October 2022, a plan to update the EU regulation on import, export, and transit measures for firearms.

Currently, there are an estimated 35 million illicit firearms owned by civilians in the EU, corresponding to 56% of the estimated total of firearms, and around 630,000 firearms are listed as stolen or lost in the Schengen Information System, says the Commission.

Under new harmonized rules, all imports and a vast majority of exports of firearms for civilian use will be subject to closer supervision without compromising trade.
The rules also set up an EU-wide electronic licensing system (ELS) for manufacturers and dealers, replacing the predominantly paper-based national ones.
Competent authorities will have to check the central system, containing all refusals, before granting an import or export authorization.

Member states will either adopt this electronic system or integrate their national digital ones into the ELS to ensure better oversight and information-sharing among authorities. The Commission will establish the ELS within two years and member states will have four years to input all the required data and connect their systems.
To increase transparency, the Commission will compile an annual public report, based on national data, on the import and export of firearms for civilian use.
The report should include, among other things, the number of granted import and export authorizations, their customs value at the EU level, and the number of refusals and seizures.

It will be mandatory for dealers and manufacturers to mark imported guns and their essential components sold on the EU market. This, it is claimed, will improve traceability and avoid so-called “ghost guns”, firearms reassembled with non-marked components.

Bernd Lange, Chair of the International Trade Committee and rapporteur, said: “There are still inadequate controls on the import and export of handguns, i.e. pistols and rifles. In Latin America for instance, many illegal activities and shootings use handguns smuggled in from Europe; revising the inadequate rules was more than overdue. For exports in particular, Parliament ensured that all firearms for civilian use would fall under the new rules and improved the control mechanisms. The electronic monitoring system will also make the end-use of firearms more transparent and more traceable. As in the dual use regulation these mechanisms are key to ensuring transparency when trading sensitive goods and restricting misuse,” added the German Socialist.

Parliament and Council will now both have to give their final green light to the provisional agreement. The regulation will enter into force after being published in the EU’s Official Journal.

Following the terrorist attacks in Europe over the last decade, and to fight organized crime more effectively, the Commission presented, in October 2022, a plan to update the EU regulation on import, export, and transit measures for firearms. Currently, there are an estimated 35 million illicit firearms owned by civilians in the EU, corresponding to 56% of the estimated total of firearms, and around 630,000 firearms are listed as stolen or lost in the Schengen Information System, according to the Commission.

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Martin Banks is an experienced British-born journalist who has been covering the EU beat (and much else besides) in Brussels since 2001. Previously, he had worked for many years in regional journalism in the UK and freelanced for national titles. He has a keen interest in foreign affairs and has closely followed the workings of the European Parliament and MEPs in particular for some years.