Conference highlights mixed reactions to amended EU firearms directive

Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela emphasises need to find right balance between individual freedoms and security while attendees applaud references to Czech plans to use gun owners as last defence against terrorists

Home Affairs Minister delivering the keynote speech
Home Affairs Minister delivering the keynote speech

Attendees at a conference on new amendments to the European Union’s Firearms Directive welcomed with applause a bullish speech extolling plans by the Czech interior minister to have every gun owner in the country registered as a reservist in the military in a bid to bypass EU calls for tighter gun ownersgip controls, but also to serve as a last line of defence against terrorists.

Tomasz W. Stępień, president of Firearms United, spoke after a keynote speech by Malta’s Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela, who emphasised the importance of striking the right balance between individual freedoms and security.

Stępień said it was a good thing that “the threat from the EU had brought together shooters from different disciplines.”

The conference on Saturday was organised following the European Commission’s revision of the EU Firearms Directive in December.

Abela acknowledged that the revision to the firearms directive had been passed by the European Parliament and the Council of the EU after long negotiations.

“The negotiations were by no means easy and Malta too expressed serious reservations on the commission's original proposal,” he said. “And while the final text might not meet everyone's expectations, despite significant improvement on the original draft, it did reach a reasonable compromise between security concerns and individual freedoms.”

The minister stressed that one of the major shortcomings of the current EU framework was the lack of a deactivation standard and a lack of a requirement to register deactivated firearms. Had this issue been addressed earlier, lives lost to terrorist attacks could have been saved, he said.

“We all know that neither organised crime nor terrorists will be bothered by our firearms legislation,” Abela said. “Steps taken so far merely make it more difficult for criminals to get hold of legitimate firearms, considering there are improperly deactivated weapons still in circulation in the EU.”

He called for increased cooperation among EU states and for more robust enforcement to tackle such problems.

The only way to ensure the sustainability of legitimate firearm activity was to come up with a sound legal framework, he said, adding that Malta would be incorporating this directive into national legislation in the coming months.

Malta would still retain its existing general framework, which had stood the test of time, Abela said.

“I am convinced that Malta's arms act has struck a balance between security considerations on one hand and individual freedoms on the other.”

Stępień said that the fluid nature of firearm categories under the new legislation was causing consternation amongst EU gun enthusiasts. One example was magazine capacity, which is currently something that could change which category an otherwise identical firearm would fall into.

“I just cannot see any logic in why a plastic box with a steel spring can change the way I see my firearm,” he said. “You can print a magazine on a 3D printer nowadays; we've done it.”

The absence of standards on automatic firearms that had been converted to shooting semi-automatic was also of concern.

“Instead of establishing a standard, the EU spent its energy on saying we couldn’t have this weapon, but I don't think so.” Stępień said. ”I feel that the European Commission's behaviour is becoming an unbearable dictatorship to us.”

AMACS representative Vincent Borg told the conference that a balance was not necessarily a compromise of rights.

“We are not servants, we elect our servants,” he said as he introduced a recorded message from MEP Miriam Dalli. In the message, Dalli said that she had tabled several measures on this directive and assured viewers she would be monitoring developments.

“EU citizens are feeling more insecure. This is not a supposition, this is a fact,” Dalli said, pointing to numerous terrorist attacks in EU countries in recent months. “The world is changing and we must adapt to changing realities.” The EU had acted by coming up with the revised firearms directive, she said.

Security should never come at the expense of sports shooters, reenactors, Dalli remarked. The onus was on the EU to ensure that member states adhered to the directive properly, while addressing the problem of illegal weapons smuggled into the EU.

“This cannot be successfully achieved without combating black market trade in weapons on the dark web. Illegal weapons are the root cause and must be addressed.”

In a similar video clip, MEP Roberta Metsola stated that her position “had been clear from day one” and that terrorism and legal firearm ownership were not to be placed in the same basket.

A knee-jerk reaction to terror was the wrong approach, the MEP insisted. “We must do something other than simply giving the impression of action,” she said.

She had also presented amendments aimed at doing away with the imaginary link between terrorists and firearms collectors.

FESAC chairman and local firearms dealer Stephen Petroni, gave a presentation on what he called “the most bizarre proposals” and their impact on collectors of historical firearms.

He said the commission's reaction to the terrorist attacks was to impose severe restrictions on legally held firearms. It had insisted that the museums deactivate their firearms. This was due to a very poor understanding on the part of the commission of the role of museums – to study and conduct research, he said.

Moreover collections had to be frozen, no new additions – therefore history was to be frozen. “The commission could never be forgiven for having the audacity of proposing the destruction of historical weapons. We shall never ever ever forgive the commission for coming up with these proposals,” Petroni said, likening it to ISIS's destruction of the ancient temples of Palmyra.

“I am not a professional lobbyist,” Petroni said. “What I do is out of passion, I do for people like you.”

“Our main objective will remain the full exemption of recognised collectors from the directive which the Commission has managed to delete through deceit. When you know you have been falsely accused, there is no way you will shut up.”