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EU Commissioner for Home Affairs
Reducing gun violence in the EU
21 October 2013
Tragic gun attacks in Europe have repeatedly caught our attention in recent years, notably in Norway, Belgium, Finland, France and Italy to mention but a few. On average more than a thousand persons are killed each year by gun violence in the EU.
The gunmen responsible for horrendous shootings in the schools in Tuusula and Kauhajoki in Finland, in Cumbria in the UK and Alphen aan den Rijn in The Netherlands, were mentally unstable adults and yet had licenses to possess a firearm.
In Winnenden in Germany in 2009 an adolescent used a pistol which wasn't in secure storing in his parents' bedroom to kill 15 people. In the attacks in Liège in 2011, the gunman drew from a huge personal arsenal including military weapons and collectors' items which he had purchased and converted.
These specific incidents alone claimed the lives of 61 people, including 19 children. Sadly those cases are only indicative of a wider and truly terrible reality: in 2000-2010 there were over 10.000 victims of murder or manslaughter, killed by firearms, in the 28 Member States of the EU.
Most legally-held firearms are used for legitimate purposes by law-abiding people, who own them for hunting, sports shooting and other recreational activities. We will not interfere with these traditions.
But it is also true that firearms which are legally registered, held and traded get diverted into criminal markets or to unauthorised people.
In fact, according to the Schengen Information System, almost half a million firearms lost or stolen in the EU remain unaccounted for.
Many firearms are also illegally imported from third countries or are the result of the conversion of other objects into firearms.
In addition, there is a growing concern about criminals sending parts of decommissioned weapons by regular mail, to be reassembled by the buyer. And we are facing new technological challenges and not least the possibility to manufacture gun parts with 3D printers.
The EU has made significant progress in the last decade through updating and strengthening regulation of commercial aspects of firearms manufacturing, possession and sale, and many EU countries have well-functioning gun legislation in place.
Yet divergences between national legislation make it easier for organised crime groups and terrorists to exploit gaps in legal supply chains to obtain weapons and ammunition.
There is a clear need for EU action, and encouragingly, most Europeans agree that something needs to be done. In a Eurobarometer poll released today, around six in ten European think that there should be common minimum standards across the EU concerning laws on firearms.
So how should we address these huge challenges?
Today I am pointing out possible actions on how to reduce gun violence in the EU; ideas to address the threats posed by the illegal use of firearms, across the whole lifecycle of weapons, including production, sale, possession, trade and deactivation.
We can reduce gun violence by tightening the EU internal market Directive on the possession of weapons, by for example reducing access to particularly dangerous weapons models for civilian use.
The Commission will also look at a common approach on how to mark firearms with serial numbers when they are manufactured in order to help tracing those used by criminals. Concrete solutions to procedures for the licensing of weapons will also be examined.
The Commission will also look at new technological challenges, such as the online sales of weapons or 3D printing of weapons or ammunition, but also how to reduce the risk of illegal delivery of firearms by postal services.
Common EU-wide rules on how to deactivate firearms might ensure that once firearms have been taken out of use they remain inoperable.
There is also a need to consider EU legislation with common minimum rules on criminal sanctions to be sure that deterrence works in all Member States and that there are no legal loopholes for the traffickers.
Such rules could prescribe which firearm offences should be subject to criminal sanctions and foresee the level of sanctions that should be imposed by MS.
Firearms are not trivial goods, and when they end up in the wrong hands they have devastating consequences for communities.
The priorities identified in today's communication will now be discussed with the European Parliament, EU Member States and other stakeholders, in view of defining concrete initiatives, including legislation, to prevent and reduce gun violence in Europe.