Ever since the European Commission proposed a revised Firearms Directive, back in November 2015, the European Council of Ministers and European Parliament have been working continuously in an attempt to tighten up the law surrounding the possession and acquisition of firearms. As soon as both institutions have agreed on their own set of amendments they will meet with the European Commission, in what is known as the trilogue, to agree on the final text.
As the firearms legislation moves forward through the European system, open meetings and opportunities for the Council and Parliament to discuss their main proposals together have seen, the majority of the time, the texts moving in the same direction, therefore it is hoped that when the trilogue takes place a central line can be taken relatively easily.
As of June the European Council, which encompasses civil servants from each Member State including those from the UK’s Home Office, had voted on their proposed amendments to take to the trilogue. A number of member states originally rejected the Commission’s original plans, most citing the overly draconian proposals and many states in the Baltic region expressing concern over the restriction on firearms for their national defence forces, when it came to voting on the Council’s position however, it was only the Czech Republic that actually voted against it.
The Home Office has taken this process extremely seriously and has held a number of meetings with the Countryside Alliance and other UK shooting organisations. Although the final Council draft is a vast improvement from their first draft, there are still concerns about some elements of the Council’s position, elements that will have a significant effect on UK legislation. The Home Office is aware of the elements that concern us and it is now our aim to be in a strong enough position to get them excluded at the trilogue stage.
Within the European Parliament, the responsibility of approving or disregarding the European Commission’s proposed amendments fell to the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) Committee, with the rapporteur being East of England Conservative MEP Vicky Ford. Vicky Ford has openly admitted that the lack of an impact assessment was a worry and called the Commission’s proposed amendments ‘poorly drafted’. Ms Ford did however feel that there were a number of loopholes in the current Directive that needed to be closed in order to decrease the opportunity for illegal possession and acquisition of legal firearms. Vicky Ford held numerous meetings with the Countryside Alliance and other shooting organisations in the UK, and with FACE in Europe. She has taken the task on pragmatically and was has listened to all of our concerns. Members of IMCO submitted 847 amendments to the Commission’s original draft. These included a number of MEPs asking the rapporteur to disregard the whole process stating a lack of an impact assessment.
Those amendments have now been vastly reduced so that they can be voted on individually by members of the Committee. The vote is due to take place on 14 July. The amendments, known as draft compromises, compared to the original Commission draft are an extremely positive read. However, there remain concerns over brokers, who may have to be registered and licenced, the marking of component parts of firearms, the control of magazines, and the ‘declaration’ of deactivated weapons. Again every MEP within the Committee group has received our views on the draft compromises, so they fully understand the impacts of what they are voting on come 14 July. Once the draft compromises have been agreed on by the Committee it will go to Plenary 13 September to be voted on by all MEPs.
The reaction from the shooting community across Europe has been spectacular. The work from shooting organisations across Europe has been tireless. Fortunately, it appears this work is beginning to pay off and there has been a remarkable change to what we are currently dealing with from the frankly unworkable and draconian Commissions’ proposals that we were presented with. There is still more work to be done over the coming months, however at long last the Council and Parliament has started to understand the need to reduce the potential impact on legal firearm owners and instead apply an approach more accurately focused on the real target of restricting access to illegal weapons.