Two major challenges still being faced by the individual EU Member States and the EU as a whole in their fight against firearm-related crime is the smuggling and trafficking of firearms into Europe by organised crime groups and the presence of improperly de-activated firearms on the market, said Carmelo Abela, Minister for Home Affairs and National Security.
The Minister was addressing a conference on the impact of the EU Firearms Directive revision that brought together major stakeholders in the Maltese firearms sector including, in particular, collectors and target shooters. The event was held in Floriana on Saturday 7th January 2017 and was organised by Federation of Arms Collectors and Target Shooters in collaboration with Firearms United, the worldwide confederation of gun owners.
The European Commission proposed a revision of the current EU rules on firearms on 18th November 2015, declaring its aims to make it harder to legally acquire high capacity weapons in the EU; to allow better tracking of legally-held firearms, thus reducing the risk of diversion into illegal markets; and to strengthen cooperation between Member States in this field. After a year of discussions, the European Parliament and the Council of the EU reached a preliminary political agreement on the proposed revision in December 2016.
This agreement is now subject to confirmation by the EP's Internal Market Committee this month, and will subsequently be put to a EP plenary vote before being formally approved by the EU Council of Ministers. Arms collectors and target shooters consider the inter-institutional agreement as far from satisfactory, and argue that, if approved, the legislative revision would lead to a serious impact on legal firearm owners and users, as well as on national authorities’ resources, while hardly having any effect against the use of illegal weapons by criminals and terrorists.
“For all that, I acknowledge that this text is not perfect, and that it may not fully meet everyone’s expectations vis-à-vis this dossier,” said Minister Abela. “The text does, however, constitute a reasonable compromise, one that balances out - maybe not always perfectly - security concerns on the one hand and individual freedoms on the other.”
The Minister added that in the coming months all Member States will be transposing this legislative instrument into their national legislation. He pointed out that whereas certain elements of the Directive are mandatory - meaning that Member States would have no leeway when it comes to transposition - others allow Member States to consider different lines of action. In this regard, it is envisaged that Malta would be retaining its existing general framework which, all considered, has stood the test of time.
The Minister warned that, notwithstanding agreement on the text for a revised Directive, as well as agreement on a firearm de-activation standard, EU governments and Member States continue to face a risk that goes well beyond the Firearms Directive. “We all know that neither organised crime nor terrorism will, at the end of the day, bother with our firearms legislation. What we have undertaken so far is merely an additional effort to make it difficult for such criminals to make use of legitimate firearms. This is plainly not enough. Furthermore, these are problems that cannot be addressed through amendments to the legislative framework; these issues require cooperation between Member States as well as robust enforcement.”
The Minister stressed on the importance that firearms enthusiasts continue fostering a culture that sees to the proper, legal, and safe use of firearms. This is the only way to ensure the continued sustainability of firearm collecting, target shooting, and other activities involving the legitimate use of firearms, such as re-enactment.
Prior to addressing the conference, Minister Abela was shown around a display of historic firearms by Stephen A. Petroni, President of the Association of Maltese Arms Collectors & Shooters (AMACS) and Godfrey Pisani, President of the Association of Arms Collectors and Target Shooters (AACTS).