Weapons-related issues are always controversial. The recent tragic events in Europe have intensified the debate on the revision of the Directive on the control of the acquisition and possession of weapons, undertaken in the context of the European Agenda on Security. Public safety is increasingly under threat and there is a pressing need to take action to counter the ease with which people can get hold of firearms, which continue to fall into the hands of radical groups, criminal organisations and disturbed individuals.
The UNODC Study on Firearms estimates that there were some 875 million firearms in existence in 2007. Only 3% of these were held by law enforcement services and 23% by the military. In an industry of this size, it is up to legislators to impose measures against the threat arising from the possession of such vast number of weapons.
The EESC believes that the clarifications, new requirements and more consistent rules on marking and destroying weapons proposed by the Commission are a significant improvement on the directive. However, the Committee insists that legislation on firearms must be more ambitious in order to increase public safety in general – it should not just be an immediate response to recent acts of terrorism. In its opinion on the control of the acquisition and possession of weapons adopted at the plenary session in April, the Committee offers some specific measures in terms of tracing arms and individuals involved in criminal acts. Since not only weapons traceability, but also ammunition traceability, is important, the industry should be encouraged to start researching the possibility of placing indelible marks on bullets which cannot be destroyed upon use. It is normally bullets – not weapons – that are left behind at crime scenes, and marking of this type could be a valuable source of information in police investigations. The EESC believes that such data, if made available via interoperable databases run by the authorities, would make investigations much more effective.
Another approach, according to the EESC opinion, could be to follow the example of the Australian and UK buyback programmes, which would take several thousand weapons out of circulation. In 1997, after an incident in which 35 people lost their lives and 23 others were injured, Australia embarked upon one of the most substantial overhauls on record of its laws governing the use and possession of weapons. This led to the surrender of 700 000 weapons and, together with some new restrictions, to a drastic fall in firearms-related homicides. The reasoning behind the Australian buyback programme was that the large-scale availability of weapons made it easier for people to act on homicidal impulses and commit mass murder.
Another area which needs specific attention is 3D printing – technological developments can be used to manufacture weapons that are just as lethal as those made by conventional methods, but are impossible to control or track. These weapons are mostly made of materials that traditional security systems cannot detect. Nations must come together to discuss this issue.
The EESC supports the introduction of mandatory medical tests that meet minimum European quality requirements to assess physical and mental health for issuing or renewing licences to use and carry a weapon, a practice that many Member States have already adopted. However, according to the EESC, the directive could also set requirements regarding the frequency of training in the handling of firearms and on the safe storage and safe transportation of weapons and their components.
For more information, please contact:
Siana Glouharova - EESC Press Unit
Tel: +32 2 546 92 76/ Mob: + 32 (0) 473 53 40 02
 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Study on Firearms 2015 – A study on the transnational nature of and routes and modus
operandi used in trafficking in firearms.