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Migration and Home Affairs

EU legislation on civilian firearms

Firearms Directive

The Firearms Directive (EU) 2021/555 defines minimum common rules on the acquisition and possession of firearms in the EU, as well as on the transfer of firearms from one EU country to another. 

It replaces the previous Directive 91/477/EEC as revised in 2017. It balances internal market objectives and security imperatives regarding civilian firearms. The latest changes to the Directive in 2017 brought substantial improvements to security by making it harder to legally acquire the most dangerous weapons, such as automatic firearms transformed into semi-automatics, semi-automatic firearms with high-capacity magazines, or with folding or telescopic stocks.

The Firearms Directive also strengthens cooperation between EU countries by improving the exchange of information, 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.

Main changes to the Firearms Directive

  • A ban of certain semi-automatic firearms
    • automatic firearms transformed into semi-automatic firearms,
    • long semi-automatic firearms of length less than 60cm,
    • long semi-automatic firearms with loading devices of more than 10 rounds,
    • and short semi-automatic firearms with a loading device of more than 20 rounds.
  • Regulation of acoustic weapons 

An acoustic or salute weapon is an active weapon transformed to only shoot blank for use in theatre or cinema. Such weapons can be easily transformed into fully active firearms. In the future, acoustic and salute weapon can still be used in theatre and movie productions, subject to declaration, authorisation or license depending on the category they belonged to before transformation.

  • Regulation of alarm and signal weapons

The Directive focuses on alarm and signal weapons as devices with a cartridge holder which is designed to fire only blanks, irritants, other active substances or pyrotechnic signaling rounds and which is not capable of being converted to expel a shot, bullet or projectile by the action of a combustible propellant. If such a weapon is convertible to expel a shot, bulet or projectile, then it is considered a firearm.

  • Inclusion of museums and collectors in the scope of the Directive

Before 2017 the directive did not cover collectors. Collectors and museums are now treated like any civilian firearms owner. They have the possibility to acquire category A firearms but only under strict conditions.

  • Deactivated weapons are included in the scope of the directive

Regulating the deactivated weapons is now subject to declaration to national authorities. Stricter rules for the deactivation of firearms were also adopted.

  • Stricter conditions for online acquisition of firearms

Stricter conditions for online acquisition of firearms to better control the acquisition of firearms, its pieces and ammunition through the internet.

  • Marking of firearms

Clearer rules on marking of firearms to improve traceability.

EU countries need to ensure that any firearm or part placed on the market has been marked and registered in national computerised data-filing systems.

  • Conditions for medical tests

All EU countries have to put in place a system of medical check for the authorisation to acquire firearms. EU countries will define the details concerning medical checks

Secondary legislation

The revised Firearms Directive required the European Commission to adopt several implementing and delegated acts to further enhance the security dimension of the directive.

Deactivation of firearms

The Firearms Directive requires the European Commission to adopt standards and rules on the deactivation of firearms and to update them regularly. The Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2015/2403 (Deactivation Regulation) establishes common guidelines on deactivation within the EU with the objective to circumvent problems due to the illegal re-activation of firearms. The Deactivation regulation became applicable from 8 April 2016 whenever deactivated firearms are placed on the market or transferred to another EU country from that date.

The Firearms Directive gave EU countries the possibility to notify the Commission of the national deactivation standards and techniques they applied before 8 April 2016. Based on the examination procedure referred to in Article 20(2), the Commission then needs to adopt an implementing act deciding whether the national deactivating standards and techniques notified ensure that firearms were deactivated with a level of security equivalent to that ensured by the Deactivation Regulation.

In 2018, a new Implementing Regulation (EU) 2018/337 was put in place, amending Implementing Regulation (EU) 2015/2403, which establishes common guidelines on deactivation standards and techniques for ensuring that deactivated firearms are rendered irreversibly inoperable.

National entities authorised to verify deactivation of firearms

The new EU rules on the deactivation of firearms foresee that the Commission publishes a list of all national entities authorised by EU countries to verify that firearms have been deactivated correctly (including their contact details and symbol, where applicable).

Marking of firearms

The Firearms Directive requires that firearms and their essential components, whether part of a firearm or placed separately on the market, have a clear, permanent and unique marking applied to them. That is why, the Implementing Directive (EU) 2019/68, establishing technical specifications for the marking of firearms and their essential components was put in place. The implementing act defines technical specifications to ensure that this unique marking is clear and not easily erased or altered.

Alarm and signal weapons

The Implementing Directive (EU) 2019/69 lays down technical specifications for alarm and signal weapons on control of the acquisition and possession of weapons. It defines technical specifications for the design or make of alarm and signal weapons to prevent them from being converted into real firearms. Any alarm or signal weapon that is convertible to expel projectiles is considered a firearm and therefore falls under the provisions of the Firearms Directive.

In order to support the verification process of EU countries, the Implementing Directive enables to exchange information on the checks carried out. For this purpose, each EU country should designate at least one national focal point to provide the information of these results. This list of national focal points needs to be communicated to the Commission and can be found here:

Exchange of information between EU countries

The Firearms Directive also requires the Commission to adopt delegated acts on setting up an electronic system to exchange information between EU countries. Namely, on the transfers of firearms within the EU and on the refusals to grant firearms authorisations. The EU Member States agreed to implement both information exchanges by using the internal market information system.

On 16 January 2019, the Commission adopted the Delegated Regulation (EU) 2019/686, laying down the detailed arrangements for the systematic exchange, by electronic means, of information relating to the transfer of firearms within the EU. An electronic information exchange system on firearms transfers within the EU improves how EU countries currently exchange information. It helps to ensure that firearm transfer authorisations cannot be granted based on fraudulent documentation. The internal market information system for transfers of firearms within the EU has been up and running since 3 September 2019.

On 21 May 2021 the Commission adopted the Delegated Regulation (EU) 2021/1423 on the refusals to grant authorisations to acquire or possess certain firearms. The delegated Regulationdecides that for a period of 10 years, an EU country will be able to find out, if a person received a refusal to grant authorisation within another EU country. This delegated regulation will prevent shopping amongst EU Member States for authorisations to own a firearm. The information gathered does not contain the reasons for refusal but a contact person/institution to direct further questions is added.

The delegated regulation sets out the:

  • information to be exchanged,
  • obligations to remove, update and review information and
  • the period for which information remains accessible in internal market information system.

The internal market information system for refusals of authorisation within the EU has been up and running from 31 January 2022.

Firearms Regulation

The UN’s Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, their Parts and Components and Ammunition is the only legally binding instrument on small arms at global level. It establishes a set of rules for countries to control and regulate illicit firearms and arms trafficking, prevent their diversion into crime, and facilitate the investigation and prosecution of related offences without hampering legitimate trade. The Protocol supplements the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime.

Regulation (EU) 2012/258 on import, export and transfer of civilian firearms implements Article 10 (which deals with imports, exports and transit of firearms) of the Protocol. The Firearms Regulation is applicable since 30 September 2013. The key points are:

  • Annex I to this regulation contains a list of firearms, their parts and ammunition that require export authorisation.
  • The relevant authority of the EU Member State where a prospective exporter is based may grant export authorisation upon receiving an export authorisation form from that exporter.
  • When exporting firearms, their parts and ammunition outside the EU, an exporter must provide the relevant authority in its own EU Member State with authorisation from the non-EU country receiving the shipment, and from any non-EU countries through which the shipment will pass.
  • For traceability purposes, export and import authorisations and their accompanying documentation must contain information including, for example: the place and date of issue, the expiry date, both the country of export and import, transit countries, the final recipient, and a description of and quantity of the firearms, their parts and ammunition.
  • Simplified procedures exist for firearms, their parts and ammunition used for hunting and sports shooting.
  • When deciding whether to grant an export authorisation, EU Member States must take into consideration international treaties and national foreign and security policy.
  • EU Member States also need to take into account the considerations covered by Council Common Position 2008/994/CFSP, which defines EU rules on the control of exports of military technology and equipment. These include aspects such as, risk that the intended recipient would use the military technology or equipment to be exported aggressively against another country or to assert by force a territorial claim, or risk that the military technology or equipment would be diverted within the buyer country or re-exported under undesirable conditions.
  • EU Member States must refuse to grant export authorisation, if the applicant has a criminal record. In addition, they must annul, suspend, modify or revoke the authorisation if the conditions are no longer met.
  • The regulation does not apply to antique or deactivated firearms, or to firearms intended for military or police use.

Proposal to revise the Firearms Regulation

On 27 October 2022, the Commission launched the proposal to revise the Firearms Regulation. The scope of the proposal focuses on ensuring consistency between the Firearms Directiveand the Firearms Regulationon import and export of civilian firearms. Furthermore, the focus is purely on civilian firearms. The distinction with military firearms is based on the transaction of the firearm. The revision of the Firearms Regulation will not include transactions, as well as direct sales, to the armed forces, the police or public authorities.

The aim of the proposal is to balance the facilitation of the legal trade and ownership with the security aspect linked to trafficking of firearms. In particular:

  • Clear and harmonised rules for the import, transit and export of civilian firearms

This harmonisation of rules was a request from economic operators and private firearms owners. The proposal better explains the tasks of the different actors (economic operators, competent authorities, customs and others). Provisions regarding marking, deactivated firearms, alarm and signal weapons and administrative simplifications are added. Furthermore, to improve the traceability of every firearms shipment in the EU, a unified authorisation form will be applicable.

  • Digitalisationof procedures

Currently, requesting authorisations for import and export is still mainly paper based, the same goes for customs procedures. The proposal of the Commission foresees the creation of an EU electronic licensing system. This system will be used to apply for import and export authorisation. It will replace the different, mostly paper based, national systems. This system will also be interconnected to the EU Single Window Environment for Customs in order to facilitate the exchange of information between customs and competent authorities.

  • Administrative simplifications

Hunters, sport shooters or movements linked to exhibitions will be able to benefit from administrative simplifications when temporary importing or exporting their firearms, essential components and ammunition. This means that they do not need prior import or export authorisations, the customs declaration is enough.

  • Alarm and signal weapons

The Commission proposes to include import rules for alarm and signal weapons. Convertible alarm and signal weapons have been flooding the EU market and are a clear security threat. The proposal states that imported alarm and signal weapons need to comply with the Implementing Directive 2019/69 which sets technical standards to prove the non-convertibility, or else they should be imported as firearms. The Commission will also establish a list of non-convertible alarm and signal weapons.

  • Semi-finished components and firearms

The proposal establishes that semi-finished components and firearms can only be imported by licensed dealers and brokers. This is a key novelty significantly reducing the threat of home manufactured firearms without marking or registration (“ghost guns”).

  • End-user certificate

The Commission proposes to add an end-user certificate for the most heavy firearms as a preventive tool to fight against the risk of diversion of civilian firearms during or after export. The end-user certificate is already applicable to firearms under the scope of the Common Position 2008/944/CFSP defining common rules governing control of exports of military technology and equipment. These end-user certificates have to be delivered by the authorities of the country of final destination.

  • Refusals to grant authorisations

The proposal establishes the obligation to exchange information regarding refusals to grant authorisations, in order to avoid individuals ‘shopping’ around the EU to obtain an import or export authorisation. Competent authorities will be obliged to check the central system, containing all the refusals, before granting an import or export authorisation.