According to a recent speech by the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström, more than one thousand people are killed each year by gun violence in the EU. She drew attention to cases in recent years in Norway, Belgium, Finland, France and Italy where, tragically, large numbers of people lost their lives.
Malmström said that the issue will be discussed with the European Parliament, EU Member States and other stakeholders, with a view to defining concrete initiatives, including legislation, to prevent and reduce gun violence in Europe.
Ireland is no stranger to gun-related deaths and injuries: According to deputy state pathologist Dr Michael Curtis, over a third of all homicides in the state are the result of gun violence. While gangland killings account for a sizeable portion of such deaths, alcohol is also a factor in many one-off, violent gun-related incidents.
Guns in Unsafe Hands
According to Ms Malmström, the gunmen responsible for the horrendous shootings in the schools in Tuusula and Kauhajoki in Finland, in Cumbria in the UK and Alphen aan den Rijn in the Netherlands were mentally unstable adults that were still able to procure licenses to possess firearms.
She said that in Winnenden, Germany in 2009, an adolescent used a pistol which wasn’t in secure storage in his parents’ bedroom to kill 15 people. In the attacks in Liège in 2011, the gunman drew from a huge personal arsenal including military weapons and collectors’ items which he had purchased and converted.
Ms Malmström stressed that these specific incidents alone had claimed the lives of 61 people, including 19 children. However, such cases are only indicative of a wider and most terrible reality: from 2000 to 2010, over 10,000 victims of murder or manslaughter were killed by firearms in the 28 Member States of the EU.
Gun Access and Origin
Malmström acknowledged that most legally-held firearms are used for legitimate purposes by law-abiding people, who own them for hunting, sports shooting and other recreational activities.
However, firearms which are legally registered, held and traded often get diverted into criminal markets or to unauthorised people. In fact, according to the Schengen Information System, almost half a million firearms lost or stolen in the EU remain unaccounted for.
Many firearms are also illegally imported from third countries or are the result of the conversion of other objects into firearms.
Malmström said that, in addition, there is a growing concern about criminals sending parts of decommissioned weapons by regular mail to be reassembled by the buyer. Now there is even the possibility of manufacturing gun parts with 3D printers.
The EU has some of the toughest rules on firearms. It has made significant progress in the last decade through updating and strengthening regulation of commercial aspects of firearms manufacturing, possession and sale.
Many EU countries have well-functioning gun legislation in place. Yet divergences between national legislation make it easier for organised crime groups and those involved in terrorist activity to exploit gaps in legal supply chains to obtain weapons and ammunition, according to Malmström.
Moreover, the illicit firearms trade is often closely intertwined with other serious crimes such as drug trafficking, human trafficking and corruption.
The EU will likely seek restrictions on access to highly dangerous and automatic weapons for civilians, and to reduce the risk of illegal delivery of firearms by postal services. Common EU-wide rules on how to deactivate firearms might ensure that once firearms have been taken out of use, they remain inoperable, said Malmström.
The EU will also gather more accurate and comprehensive data on firearms-related crime in the EU and globally. Existing IT tools and databases, such as the Customs Risk Management System, the Customs Information System and the Europol Information System will be leveraged to reduce gun crime in the EU.