Should firearms be illegal

Europe has a problem with firearms

The EU Commission estimates the number of firearms legally acquired for civilian use at around 80 million. This is what it says in an inventory to curb the illicit trade in firearms that was distributed to the Member States two years ago.

Pistols, shotguns and rifles are used extensively: According to the report, over 10,000 cases of murder or manslaughter committed with firearms occurred in the first decade of the 21st century in the European Union alone. According to this, more than 4,000 people take their own lives with firearms every year. On average, this amounts to 0.24 homicides and 0.9 suicides per 100,000 inhabitants with firearms.

According to the report, “illegally circulating firearms” are stolen weapons or those that have “been diverted from their legitimate life cycle, illegally imported from third countries and converted from other objects into firearms”.

Kalashnikov or rocket launcher for 300 to 700 euros

After the weekend attacks in Paris, it became known that a week earlier the Bavarian police had stopped a vehicle with a Montenegrin license plate near Rosenheim and initially found pistols and a hand grenade. After a search, eight AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifles with ammunition, two pistols, a revolver, two hand grenades and 200 grams of TNT explosives were discovered. According to media reports, the GPS navigation system in the vehicle was set to an address in Paris. It has not been established whether the arrested person was an accomplice to the assassins, and the man may have acted as a courier for weapons that were brought into circulation irregularly.

According to a briefing by the EU police agency Europol in 2010, the possession of illegal firearms among members of organized crime increased a few years ago. Although smaller weapon types were preferred, there was also an increase in the use of heavy weapons or explosive devices. A Kalashnikov or a rocket launcher could therefore be purchased for 300 to 700 euros. Since Russia is currently modernizing its Kalashnikov rifles, older versions of the rifles are increasingly to be found on the black market, according to Al-Jazerera.

Many of these weapons come from countries in Eastern Europe, including the former Yugoslavia. Estimates of the number of unregistered weapons range from 1.5 million to 3.9 million for the Western Balkan countries alone. According to the Commission's report, the revolts in the wake of the “Arab Spring” also led to an increase in illegal imports from North Africa.

Europol establishes focus of work

In a later Europol situation report on organized crime, Europol initially gave the all-clear and reported that there was currently no significant increase in the illegal arms trade. Nevertheless, in January 2014 the police agency set up a “Firearms” working group in which at least 21 EU member states participate. The EU agency for cooperation between public prosecutors Eurojust, the police organization Interpol and authorities from Switzerland, Australia, Albania and the USA are involved in the working group as “third parties”. In March 2015, a corresponding data collection at Europol contained 1,780 deliveries relating to around 300 cases or 60,000 weapons. Europol has now announced the submission of a new threat analysis.

After the January 2015 attacks in Paris, Europol saw increased use of the firearms database. According to its own information, the agency has stepped up its “operational activities” in order to close any “information gaps”. Among other things, all data entered in the general Europol information system are now compared with existing entries, including telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, DNA profiles or information from the monitoring of open sources on the Internet.

In Germany, the Federal Criminal Police Office acts as the central contact point for data exchange with Europol. The Europol liaison officers responsible there can use this simplified procedure to request data from Europol. The police agency now wants to extend this procedure to "anti-terrorist units".

Action plan with Western Balkan countries

In an “Action Plan on the Illicit Trade in Firearms between the EU and Southeastern Europe”, European law enforcement authorities agreed to take action until 2019. Following the relevant conferences, the Commission now wants to conduct “strategic dialogues” with the governments and establish a network of “regional firearms experts from the Southeastern European countries”. These should then provide the Commission with regular status reports.

The aim is to strengthen operational cooperation, to standardize "investigation and knowledge standards" and national legal provisions. Europol is also to be involved in the exchange of information via “contact points for firearms” to be set up. Together, the authorities are to develop a “uniform method for statistical recording” and test and evaluate it in a pilot project and a study. Joint operations with Europol are to follow later.

EU Commission plans "firearms package"

At the beginning of this year, the 28 member states represented in the “Standing Committee for Operational Cooperation in the Area of ​​Internal Security” discussed the further “restriction of access to illegal firearms, the disabling and deactivation of firearms and cooperation with third countries”.

The discussions ultimately resulted in a proposal for specific measures. Cooperation with the customs authorities is to be expanded. What is called for is the improvement of cooperation with third countries, including in particular the Western Balkans, North Africa and the Middle East region. It is planned to improve the exchange of information and the possibility of tracing the trade routes of firearms. The labeling of weapons is to be standardized.

The Committee suggests revising the “Firearms Directive”, which was adopted in 1991 and amended in 2008. The French government submitted a proposal to the member states in the summer, including information on data retention, processing of information and tracking of Internet sales. The Netherlands and Great Britain have offered to identify further “legal loopholes” in the current “Firearms Directive”.

A relevant “firearms package” had actually been announced for 2015 by the EU Commission. Since 2013, the Commission has been advised on this by a group of experts on the illegal trade in firearms. It consists, among others, of manufacturers, researchers and "others who the Commission believes provide valuable expertise". Next year the Commission intends to review and evaluate the current legislation.

EU member states set up expert group

At Council level, the member states have come together in a “working group of European weapons experts”. The network is divided into four sub-working groups: “Southeast European Countries”, “Registration and Tracking”, “Communication”, “Glossary” and “Combating the Illegal Firearms Trade on the Internet”. Most recently, the police forces involved presented a revised glossary of firearms terminology. In contrast to its predecessors, the non-legally binding document is only accessible to a limited group.

With the aim of "reducing the dangers posed by firearms to citizens, including combating the illicit trade in firearms", the issue is also treated as a priority under the "EU Policy Cycle to Combat Organized Crime". A non-public “operational action plan for firearms” describes individual measures under the leadership of Europol and the 16 participating Member States. German authorities are not yet represented there.

The arms registers of the individual EU member states are not networked with one another. There is also a lack of cross-border information on relevant arms dealers. In the meantime, however, information on firearms advertised for search or observation can be stored in the renewed Schengen Information System (SIS II).

Databases at Interpol

A worldwide register for tracing and tracing lost, stolen, illegally trafficked or smuggled firearms is kept under the name "iARMS" at the international police organization Interpol. The data collection was piloted from 2011 in West African countries, South America and the Caribbean. From Europe, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Portugal and Spain took part in a test run. "IARMS" has been supported by EU funds since 2013. Now functions are to be improved and the system activated for all 190 Interpol members.

In the meantime, Interpol has started to build up a data collection called “iTrace” on weapons used in conflicts. It should enable the worldwide tracing of weapons and display them on an online mapping portal. The basis is the geo-based information system "Dfuze", which is already in use by several national police and secret services. Entries "iTrace" and "iARMS" should be automatically compared with one another.

New attempt by the interior ministers

Five weeks ago, EU justice and home affairs ministers adopted “Conclusions on improving the use of funds to combat the illicit trade in firearms”. According to the document, illegal firearms pose "a major threat to the internal security of the European Union". With reference to the attacks in Paris, Brussels and Copenhagen earlier this year, as well as the attack on a Thalys train, the ministers renew the call for more international affairs Collaboration.

All Member States are invited to take part in the ongoing EU working groups and the measures envisaged there. The European police authorities should make greater use of the Schengen information system, the Europol information system and the Interpol databases “iTrace” and “iARMS”. All information entered in iARMS "and / or the results of the tracing by iARMS" should be made available to Europol. A pilot project involving Europol is investigating how the Schengen information system can be dovetailed with "iARMS".

The "European Center for Combating Cybercrime" (EC3), which was founded two years ago at Europol, aims to "monitor the Internet and the Darknet" and, in particular, examine anonymous payment methods via Bitcoins. Europol wants to carry out cross-border investigations and operations against “illegal online trade” with the member states united in the Europol focus area “Firearms”. Finally, the “European firearms experts” are to work with Interpol and Europol to create a “handbook on the internet-based arms trade”. Further projects to facilitate the detection of illegal firearms are being explored within the framework of EU security research projects.

Half a million firearms just disappeared

According to a report by the Christian Science Monitor, the French police had confiscated 1,500 illegal weapons in 2009, and in 2010 the number had risen to 2,700. After the recent attacks in Paris, France is insisting that the planned EU measures be implemented more quickly. However, it is questionable whether the efforts will reduce the number of unregistered weapons.

A problem is not only those weapons that migrate from legal channels of distribution to the black market. According to the Commission's inventory to curb the illicit trade in firearms two years ago, the whereabouts of around half a million firearms "lost or stolen" in the EU remained unclear.

Some of the weapons are even diverted directly from the militaries of the EU member states. According to the German Defense Ministry, 127 pistols, submachine guns, rifles or machine guns have been “lost” in Germany alone (foreign deployments not counting) since 2001, of which 62 however “could be found again”. At the time, the ministry was unable to quantify how much ammunition was stolen. Every reported loss of weapons, ammunition and armed vehicles is taken "very seriously" in the Bundeswehr. The Federal Government did not want to comment on any evidence that assault rifles from the holdings of the former GDR were used in the attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, with reference to ongoing investigations.

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About the author

Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist and member of the editorial board of the magazine Bürgerrechte & Polizei / CILIP. All texts at, in English, on Twitter @matthimon. Not a believer in conspiracy theories of any kind. Use the Binnen-I despite the rumble of annoying masculists.
Published 11/17/2015 at 10:42 am