EU study: Marking, deactivation and conversion of firearms

Marking of firearms, their deactivation and destruction, and conversions of  alarm guns and replica weapons to fire live ammunition were topics of Communication for the European Commission to the European Parliament last year. It is also topic of a study performed by Ernst & Young analytic agency in June 2014. The results look quite promising.


This information was first published in November 2014 by LEX:


These topics are already covered by Directive 91/477/EEC on control of the acquisition and possession of weapons: according to this, firearms that were permanently deactivated by the recognised official process do not count as firearms and are not bound by firearms regulation. The same applies to alarm and signal weapons that cannot be used, or converted to use live ammunition and items that look like weapon, but because of their construction or material cannot be used nor converted to live firing. It also notes that a firearm must have markings attached that bears name of the manufacturer, country or place of manufacture, serial number and year of manufacture (unless year is part of serial number), or similar marking.


However, there are problems caused by the vague language of the Directive. For example, the actual description of processes that should render weapon permanently deactivated, and rules for inspection of following that process, were left at discretion of national states. Some states‘ approach to these issues were rather lax, and weapons that were supposedly deactivated were found reactivated in hands of various criminally motiviated individuals and groups. In regard of alarm weapons, the situation is similar – although they should be usable only for the original purpose, some alarm weapons are obviously suitable for conversion for live ammunition. Flaws in marking rules are furthering this situation: Direction says that marking must be attached to essential part of the weapon, but it doesn’t require marking of every essential part. Therefore, some states mark only one part, and that creates sources of unmarked parts that can be used for re-activation of deactivated weapons.


Some states – for example Czech republic – have these issues well-treated by national legislation. However, this causes a situation where above mentioned criminally problematic individuals and groups buy deactivated and alarm weapons in states with lax laws and control and smuggle then into adjacent states. That’s very hard to detect, due to open borders inside EU.


The study evaluates nine possible solutions of the problems. Some of them are not recommended due to supposedly high cost or low efficiency – for example implementation of an unique EU marking, or licensing and registration of alarm weapons (ban of these weapons wasn’t even considered in this study). The study recommends following options that should be implemented by amending Firearms directive


Mutual recognition of marking across EU – marking of weapons would be left to member states, but Directive would specify that all essential parts of weapon shall be marked, and determine minimal information that should be contained within marking. Recognition of such a mark would be mandatory across the EU (e.g. member state could have more information in its own mark, but couldn’t demand that for weapons manufactured and marked elsewhere). The study recommends that markings should be based on marks used in C.I.P, since these marks meet all aforementioned requirements, and most EU states already use them.


Harmonising process of deactivation and destruction of weapons – Direction should clarify what conditions must be met for a weapon to be considered permanently deactivated or destroyed, and who should check these conditions. However, this option also recommends that deactivated weapons shouldn’t  be deleted from police database and their owners should have duty to report any transfers. Lets hope that this shall be corrected, since dutifully deactivated weapons should be deactivated truly permanently, therefore monitoring them shouldn’t be necessary.


Harmonisation of rules for alarm weapons and replicas – similar to the previous point, e.g. clarification which conditions an alarm or replica firearm must fulfill to be considered unconvertible for shooting live ammunition. These conditions should be based especially on material of weapon, possibility to remove its essential parts, volume of essential parts and similar. The study recommends co-operation with gun experts and gun industry in defining these conditions. Adherence to the rules should be inspected by national proofhouses, and studies recommends testing prototypes and randomly chosen pieces, rather that testing each and every weapon.


Enhancing of data collection and sharing – study recommends further collection of data on firearms with cooperation with manufacturers and proofhouses and creating statistics about numbers and types of deactivated weapons, alarm weapons and replicas, and about numbers of crimes commited with these weapons. Further it recommends close watching of technological progress in the field of firearms manufacturing, for example 3D printing.


David Karasek
board member of LEX  (2,64 MB)

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