The Centre of Analysis of the Jagiellonian Club
author: Maciej Gurtowski PhD
Expert from the Centre of Analysis of the Jagiellonian Club in economic security, PhD in sociology. Professionally connected with the Institute of Sociology of the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń.
One of the results of the terrorist assassination in Paris was announcing by the European Commission the amendment to the Directive, the aim of which is increasing control over trafficking of firearms. The problem is that the Directive is a faulty act, which hits entrepreneurs, citizens and potential victims instead of the criminals and terrorists.
On the general level, the purpose of the new Directive is inhibiting access to firearms, increasing control over its trafficking, pulling together the cooperation between the EU member states on the control over trafficking and transferring firearms and hindering the reversion of the deactivation of firearms which makes it operable again. The document introduces the following regulations:
- absolute prohibition to own semi-automatic weapons, even deactivated, for private individuals;
- inhibiting the acquisition of weapons, parts of weapons and ammunition via Internet;
- establishing common EU standards for marking weapons;
- establishing common EU standards for alarm weapons in order to reduce the risk of their conversion to firearms;
- tightening the provisions on the trafficking of deactivated firearms;
- tightening the provisions on the collecting of weapons, in order to reduce the risk of their acquisition by criminals.
The validity of such regulations can be a subject of discussion. The basic problem of the new Directive is, however, an erroneous assumption that there is a relation between the legal trafficking and ownership by the EU citizens certain types of firearms and the risk of the acts of terror. One may have an impression that the Directive was created in a hurry, under the influence of the nervous atmosphere accompanying the tragic events, because it lacks reliable justification of the implemented alterations and an assessment of the outcome of the regulations. Paradoxically, the authors of the analyzed documents admit it – in the point which refers to the results of the regulations they claim that “due to the urgency of the proposal in the light of recent events, it is submitted without an impact assessment”. Moreover, there is a provision in the Directive which claims that in the terrorist attacks recently performed wrongly deactivated firearms were used. It was not specified, however, which attacks were referred to and how many cases do they mean out of the total number of the cases considered.
Regardless of the poor justification, the Directive contains serious mistakes and lacks of precision. For example, the authors of the document propose introducing a ban on the ownership of “semi-automatic firearms for civilian use which resemble weapons with automatic mechanisms”. The verb “resemble” present in this sentence (which means “to look or be like”) is very imprecise: who and on the basis of which criteria could assess the resemblance of the two weapons? Is it about the construction resemblance or resemblance in appearance?
The faultiness of the Directive can be easily explained, having a look at the document containing information about the accompanying evaluation. It reveals how weak were the grounds on which the authors of the Directive relied upon, formulating bans and limitations. Referring to the sources of data used in the evaluation, its authors explain that they conducted the questionnaire study online with 83 stakeholders (MS authorities, representatives of firearms producers, dealers and brokers, associations of hunters and marksmen and other firearms users), with other 56 live interviews were conducted, whereas other 30 were interviewed for the four case studies.
Furthermore, the authors of the evaluation claim that they were not in possession of quantitative data on the trafficking of firearms in the EU. Also, they did not have detailed and comparable information on the illegal use of weapons, legally owned by the civilians.
The authors of the evaluation, not having a possibility to refer to the assessments based on quantitative data, in the final assessment use a red herring – administrative gobbledegook, which is worth to be cited more extensively:
“In order to assess if the Directive’s objectives were reached at a reasonable cost, in the absence of any quantitative data on costs, the contractor qualitatively assess whether costs related to specific provisions were considered reasonable according to stakeholders assessment. This qualitative assessment was performed using three criteria: objectives served, stakeholders’ participation, and nature of the cost. From the analysis it seems that the overall results have been achieved at a reasonable cost. Most of the times, costs are fairly shared among different stakeholders.”
In conclusion, the changes proposed are misguided and based on questionable premises. There is not enough knowledge on the usage of the weapons owned by private individuals by criminals and terrorists. It can be, of course, assumed that a terrorist which is the EU citizen, so-called “lone wolf”, can use a legally purchased gun and ammunition in the acts of terror. However, firearms do not exhaust the arsenal of measures which are responsible for terrorist attacks. Explosives, chemical or biological weapon can be used as well. A desperate person can as well drive a speeding vehicle into a crowd of people at the bus stop. Is such a possibility a premise to ban owning and driving a vehicle for the civilians?
Recent acts of terror in France for some people, especially for politicians, could be a shock. Such a state does not conduce to designing good policy, based on reliable basis. In the case of lack of time and data to plan political actions, good practices can be referred to, evolved somewhere else. It is worth to evoke countries which have rich experience in dealing with Islamic terrorism. Israel is such a country. There the citizens commonly possess national weapons in their houses. It is worth to outline, that formally it is not their property, but remains at their disposal in case of danger.
The terrorists’ objective is to impose a widespread climate of terror, the state of disintegration, in which political institutions do not operate correctly. Adopting the Directive discussed can be, in this context, perceived as the terrorists’ success. Legal market of firearms is not indispensable to the terrorist. It is indispensable to the citizen to defend against the terrorist.
The authors of the Directive made two intellectual mistakes. First of all, they justify systemic restrictions, imposed on the millions of citizens of different EU countries, with premises which are not of systemic nature. Second of all, the objective set by the Directive cannot be achieved using the limitations introduced. It is because of the fact that restrictions imposed on the legal, civil market of firearms do not have any influence on the acts of terror or motivations of people performing the acts. In only a slight degree it limits the access to some of the means of violence. The problem is that the terrorists, contrary to the law-abiding citizens, supply themselves on the black market. They also have illegal supply networks – perhaps supported by some of the legal countries. The potential victims of the acts of terror cannot support themselves with a bomb in order to protect themselves, their nearest and dearest and their possessions against the terrorists. The defensive purposes of the civilians can only be fulfilled by the legally purchased firearms, on which the restrictions are imposed by the new Directive. The restrictions proposed by commissioners Bieńkowska and Avramopoulos do not reduce the offensive potential of terrorists, they limit the possibilities of protection of the citizens.