Foto: Photo: Reuters, EPA, ČTK

How to decrease firearms-related death?

Findings of the study which wants to combat illicit trafficking and to decrease firearms-related deaths and intimidation of victims

  1. Most, if not all, of the 10.000 firearms-related death will occur as a result of the possession of illicit weapons. (page 30)
  2. Most illicit firearms originate from cross-border trafficking, often from outside the EU. (page 8)
  3. Most suppliers are OCGs = Organised Crime Groups (page 22)
  4. More firearms-related homicides in gangs (75%) than by ordinary people (page 37)
  5. The licit European arms sector employs a large number of people and that it generates significant revenue for MS (page 50)
  6. The effect of any proposals for new measures to combat illicit firearm trafficking must take into account any wider effects on the EU’s licit firearms sector to prevent unintended damage to a very important sector the EU’s economy (page 50)

The study recommends for the licit groups:

  • a pan-European register of firearms dealers
  • a pan-European register of licence holders
  • harmonisation or firearms marking and deactivation
  • Checks of any new dealers against the proposed EU-wide database of convictions

The study recommends for the illicit groups:

  • Offence of illicit intra-EU firearms transfers without legal authorization
  • Offence of illicit intra-EU transfers of unmarked/improperly marked firearms
  • Offence of illicit firearms manufacturing

The study tackles these groups:

  1. End user: criminal or terrorist individuals and groups that procure firearms illegally to use in the pursuit of their goals.
  2. Traffickers and other intermediaries: involved in the actual trafficking of firearms either for profit or some other reason.
  3. Suppliers: individuals and organisations that provide a source of illicit firearms (either intentionally or unintentionally) who are again likely to be motivated by financial considerations.

–> The criminalisation of criminal end users, traffickers and suppliers as well as illicit manufacturers, is likely to reduce the flow of firearms.

Read our summary of the 204-page-study here or download the commented PDF (2,5 MB)

MOST illicit firearms originate from cross-border trafficking, often from OUTSIDE the EU. (page 8)

EU-Study-IllicitStudy recommends:

  • legally-binding common minimum standards for definition of criminal offences and their sanctions related to illicit arms trafficking.
  • when Estonia raised penalty for removed marking, criminals stopped removed marking which improved tracebility. This should be EU law for all
  • closer collaboration in tackling OCG (Organized Crime Groups)
  • collecting and analysing reliable data on the number of illicit firearms seizures including central database for seized firearms and their ballistic imaging
  • illicit trafficking by same groups who smuggles in people, drugs etc. on already existing routes = more tackling OCG
–> EC and EP should follow these recommendations

A smaller quantity of illicit firearms originate from former legal ownership within the EU

If they were legal within the EU, they were mostly

  • badly deactivated
  • badly converted to salut/expansion firearms
  • converted from gas pistols originated from outside the EU (Turkish and Russian ones)
–> Three new regulation should be implemented by EC with stakeholders. The last regulation for deactivated firearms was amended without stakeholders and has to be amended again.

If they were legal within the EU they were less from

  • burglaries and thefts (more dangerous ones from army depots, less dangerous ones from civilians)
  • fraud
  • firearms retired from service by army or police
–> Minor problems should only get guidelines if they become medium or high priortiy problems

The study gave four options, no. 4 is recommended (p. 10)

  • closer collaboration and
  • legally-binding common minimum standards for definition of criminal offences and their sanctions related to illicit arms trafficking.
–> This study does not recommend more control on already authorised firearms legally-held by civilians or stricter access to legal firearms but more investigative work and higher sanctions for offences

Most suppliers are Organised Crime Groups (OCG)

“Suppliers of illicit firearms to national and local gangs that are part of the transnational criminal network tend to make smart opportunistic use of trafficking networks established for other purposes (narcotics, alcohol, tobacco); thus reinforcing the overall problems arising from transnational crime. Money laundering processes and financial crimes sometimes appear to be relatively ‘white collar’ and distant from direct gun trafficking, but in practice these are intrinsically-linked to the processes above and thus legitimately can also be recognised as part of the problem definition of this study.” (p. 22)

–> These suppliers are the right target for more control.

Illicit trade value

“The Small Arms Survey estimates that there are over 875 million SALW in the world but the real number may be considerably higher. Global value of the illegal trade in firearms has been estimated to between $170 million and $320 million per year.” (p. 26)

The Small Arms Survey showed in its yearbook 2009 that Category A weapons are traded only in 70% with authorisation, but Category B/C/D with 97-99% authorisation, especially if MS are the exporters.

Link: http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/fileadmin/docs/A-Yearbook/2009/en/Small-Arms-Survey-2009-Chapter-01-EN.pdf 

Short summary in German: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waffenexport#Illegale_Waffenexporte – Translated in English: point 3 of German wiki 

–> No action needed for firearms manufactured within the EU.

Most, if not all, of the firearms-related death will occur as a result of the possession of illicit weapons. (p.30)

A significant limitation to collecting and analysing reliable data on the number of illicit firearms seizures is the absence in all EU28 Member States of central databases for reporting information on recovered firearms and ballistic material.

–> More information sharing of seized firearms in crimes.

“Cross border dimension of the problem

According to expert opinion and feedback from key stakeholders in Member States, the great majority of illicit firearms circulating in the EU originate from cross-border trafficking activities.” (p. 32)

–> More control needed at external borders

Difference between grey and black market

“There is also a significant ‘grey’ market (i.e. illicit possession of firearms by unregistered gun enthusiasts which creates a risk a diversion but often not criminal use) and the ‘black’ market (i.e. trafficking of firearms as an illicit commodity and criminal use). According to the Organisation for Security Cooperation in Europe, almost 90% of illicit weapons are legally produced but later diverted into the illegal market.” (p.33)

See also chapter 2.2.2 of this report: http://firearms-united.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Firearms_ReportII-Gun_Ownership_in_Europe.pdf

–> Stricter controls for legal possession and new prohibitions will move legally-held firearms to the grey or black market

Illicit firearms’ trafficking is linked to other criminal activities

“… (as highlighted in Europol’s 2013 Organised Crime and Terrorism Threat Assessments). Not only does it substantially contribute to firearms availability that increases lethality and insecurity from a wide variety of violent crimes, but also there can be particularly close and organic links with organised criminal activities such as drug smuggling, money laundering and human trafficking, as well as with financial crimes and terrorism. Similarly, to the extent that illicit firearms trafficking supports activities such as human trafficking and drugs smuggling, there are clearly social consequences linked to the distress caused to vulnerable groups. These and other effects, and the possible evolution of the problem (baseline scenario) are examined in this section.” (p. 35)

–> More control for law-abiding citizens has no impact on illicit trafficking.

OCGs remove markings

“Another important issue is that organised crime groups often remove markings (i.e. serial numbers) on firearms, which makes it difficult for law enforcement agencies to track and trace the origin of different weapons. Since Estonia introduced higher sentences for possession of unmarked firearms, criminal organisations started leaving the markings on illegal firearms.” (p.36)

–> Removing markings should lead to higher sentences in all MS!

Deactivated firearms

“However, deactivated firearms do not have to have markings (only a certificate is issued to the person who deactivated it). This means that if brought back into use, it can be more difficult to trace the origins of such weapons. Another problem is that there is no EU database to store and share information on deactivated firearms to show by who, where and when deactivation was carried out.” (p.36)

If deactivated firearms stay in the registers until they are properly deactivated (certified by authorised body), they don’t impose anymore a threat to security. Germany uses this procedure and is very successfull. None of the certified deactivated firearms have been re-activated with ordinary tools. Germany has no problem with certified deactivated firearms. The last entry in the register is the certified gunsmith who deactivated the firearm. This non-shooting firearm is marked with a serial number and proof stamp of deactivation.

–> Deactivated firearms need marking and last certified registration!

More firearms-related homicides in gangs than by ordinary people

“The study estimated that three-quarters of organised crime-related homicides involved the use of firearms compared to just under 4% in the cases that were not linked to organised crime.
At an international level, the UNODC estimates that organized crime, especially drug trafficking, accounted for a quarter of deaths caused by firearms in the Americas compared with only some 5% of homicides in Asia and Europe.” (p.37)

–> More control for law-abiding citizens has no great impact on firearms-related homicide

The “weapons-effect” theory

“There is substantial evidence that, although firearms availability does not generally affect the rates of violent arguments, disputes or crime, ready availability of such firearms is a significant factor in determining the lethality (or seriousness of injury) of such disputes or crime.

This is the case whether the firearms are legally registered or illicitly held. In this context, however, holders of illicitly trafficked firearms are more likely to be at least irresponsible in relation to safe storage and legitimate use (thus raising risks of ‘accidental’ misuse, and typically are more likely to be linked with crime or violent disputes. Thus, illicitly held and trafficked firearms contribute disproportionately to such societal costs from death and injury.” (p. 37)

The “Weapons Effect” hypothesis suggests that guns can psychologically control people and cause them to be violent. Paul Gallant and Joanne D. Eisen analyzed previous research about the weapons effect and examine more recent studies to test their agreement with the hypothesis. The authors conclude that evidence does not support the “Weapons Effect” hypothesis, and therefore, firearms policies premised on the existence of a “Weapons Effect” may be harmful.”

Link: https://www.saf.org/journal/14/Trigger-Happy.pdf
Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weapons_effect#Reverse_weapons_effect

–> Authorised and trained owners of firearms don’t see firearms as solution as murder in affect.

Clear connections between organised crime and illicit arms trafficking

“The connections can be categorised in three overall forms:

Carrying firearms as an intrinsic aspect of trafficking operations (including closely linked organised criminal activities involved in the overall trafficking process);
Accessing firearms for use for violence, intimidation and self-defence by local and national gangs that are the local or national elements of transnational criminal networks;
Transnational criminal networks that to some extent specialise in illicit firearms trafficking.” (p. 41)

–> More control for law-abiding citizens has no great impact on firearms-related homicide

Small illicit market within EU

“Organised Crime Groups often rely on the availability of weapons to carry out their activities. However, the market for firearms in the EU remains modest in size compared to other regions. Trafficking within the EU or for EU-based end-users occurs mainly through relatively small scale transactions (each individual transaction typically involving a few weapons);48 and the weapons trafficked are intended for either personal use or to meet specific orders. The data collected for the SOCTA 2013 do not indicate an increase in the trafficking of heavy firearms.” (p 41)

–> If the market is small and organized by only 36 OCGs, it should be possible to concentrate on the suppliers.

Outside origin for illicit trafficking

“Research carried out by Saferworld found that although the influx of firearms into the EU is not overwhelming, there is a steady supply of small arms primarily from the Western Balkans region, as well as from Eastern Europe, which could increase with future EU enlargement and the extension of the Schengen system.” (p. 43)

–> Collaboration with Western Balkans region – as already done by EC – will have a great impact

Inside origin for illicit trafficking

“The main sources of illegal weapons within the EU are the reactivation of neutralised weapons, burglaries and thefts, embezzlement of legal arms (e.g. thefts from shops selling firearms), legal arms sold in the illegal market, firearms retired from service by army or police, and the conversion of gas pistols.

There is no reliable indication of the proportions coming from these different sources although feedback from our consultations and the workshops suggests that in most EU countries, the reactivation of neutralised weapons is the largest single source of illicit firearms.

Most illicit firearms originate from cross-border trafficking, often as noted above from outside the EU.” (p.44)

–> Harmonized regulation for neutralised firearms which deter re-activating with ordinary tools.

Stolen firearms

“Almost half a million firearms lost or stolen in the EU remain unaccounted for, the overwhelming majority of which are civilian firearms, according to the Schengen Information System.” (p 46)

There are 500.000 unaccounted for firearms – most are NOT STOLEN, but inventory losses.

In our report “Gun Ownership in Europe” we showed in chapter “2.2.3.3. Former legal stolen guns” with two Swedish studies and official data by the German government that most of the reported firearms and parts are not stolen, but inventory losses of the firearms registries.

On 31st of December 2013 the database listed 17.819 alerts for Sweden and 148.227 for Germany. Sweden investigated all reported gun thefts (n=3,336) between 2003 and 2010. On average 269 guns were stolen annually from legal gun owners. Sweden joined SIS in 2000, so the estimated number of all stolen guns is 3500, not 17.819. The study states also that only 15% of the stolen guns were of use for criminals. But even fewer guns have been misused. Another Swedish study shows that within 10 years a total of nine cases of serious crime took place (i.e. <1 year) using firearms stolen from private individuals, in addition five or six guns were found in connection with crimes being prepared.

Similarly to Sweden, Germany records also every year lost guns and gun parts. We know by officers who work in the gun registry that most “unaccounted for” guns are airguns and blank firings guns which did not match the new regulations of 1972/76 and therefore had to be registered. These firearms are missing from estates of deceased gun owners. Also inventory losses account for lots of these losses. Firearms which are registered despite the fact that the firearm does not exist or it is registered with a different serial number or has been scrapped but not removed from the registry. The average number of stolen former legally guns is estimated with a maximum of 500 guns per year. Within 19 years of SIS approximately 9500 guns have been stolen in Germany, not 148.000.

Firearms Report II : Gun Ownership in Europe

–> This number should not be used as an argument for better storage, only for better data registry

Relationship between availability of firearms and deaths

“The earlier analysis of firearms-related deaths (see Table 2.3) suggest that although Member States with larger populations tend to have a larger total number of gun deaths, by contrast, the rate of gun deaths is lower in Member States with relatively tougher restrictions on the research on the relationship between firearms availability and lethal violence.

Availability of firearms is not typically linked with overall levels of violent disputes or crime in a society, but it is significantly linked to the lethality of such violence. In this context, availability concerns the availability of firearms to people that might misuse them, and not so much to the overall numbers of firearms held by citizens. This is the case in relation to attempted suicides and misuse of arms in the context of family or social disputes: the rates of attempted suicide or violent disputes are not correlated with gun availability, but the lethality of such disputes is substantially correlated.

In this context, it is to be expected that countries with relatively stringent and strongly enforced restrictions on civilian possession of firearms will benefit from lower death rates from violent disputes or crime. ” (p 47)

Unfortunately this study did not research its expectation. But we did: Table D of our report on homicide and suicide shows that high and/or low rates of firearms related deaths have no correlation at all with homicide rates.

  • Italy where 38% of the homicides are committed with firearms has an average murder rate of 1,12.
  • England where only 4% of all homicides have been committed with firearms has an average murder rate of 1,37.
  • Austria, Netherlands, Slovenia, Switzerland and Norway have “dream murder rates” which are lower than 1,0. In all five countries more than 24% of these homicides are firearms related.
  • Slovenia and Luxembourg reported no misuse of legally held firearms.
  • The Scandinavian study shows that the Netherlands has a problem with gang-related crimes (chapter 7.1).
  • Switzerland has murder rates of less than 0,6 during the last years, even when 21 to 35% had been committed with firearms (chapter 7.2).

Page 71 : Firearms Report IV Homicide and Suicide

–> Neither the number of legally-held firearms nor strongly enforced restrictions lower death rates.

Public opinion

“According to a Eurobarometer survey, most Europeans are concerned about the levels of crimes using firearms. Respondents were evenly divided on the question of the level of firearms-related crime in their country. Just under half (49%) thought that there is a high level of firearms-related crime; of these, 12% perceived it to be ‘very high’ and 37% considered it to be ‘fairly high’. However, virtually the same proportion (48%) thought that the level of firearms-related crime in their country is ‘low’, with 9% estimating that it is ‘very low’ and 37% saying that it is ‘fairly low’.

It is important to note here that this question relates to perceptions of firearms-related crime. While they are a useful measure of public concern, opinions are also likely to reflect differences in media coverage of such crimes.

The survey also found that most Europeans expect the EU to take action in close collaboration with national governments. Almost two thirds (64%) thought that the EU, working in cooperation with national authorities, is in the best position to address the issue of firearms trafficking while a quarter (26%) of people say that national authorities should act on their own in tackling firearms trafficking.” (p. 47/48)

Of the participants of the Eurobarometer 90% do not have firearms and have never had any. These people have no experience of the existing national legislation or the EU Directives. But even of these inexperienced citizens on matters of firearms legislation, only 53% supported stricter regulation.

A majority of respondents (53%) think that stricter regulation of who is allowed to own, buy or sell firearms in their country is the most effective way to reduce the level of firearms-related crime. However, four out of ten respondents (39%) think that this would be best achieved in some other way.

It is interesting that the first public consultation in 2013 with 85 673 participants at all, including
– 3464 organizations and
– 274 public institutions
has been totally ignored by the EC and the studies.

For instance, 92% of respondent opposed extending the list of prohibited firearms, as defined in Annex I Part II of Directive 91/477/EEC. Some responses were overall more mixed: on the question of how frequently each Member State should report on its progress in tackling firearms trafficking, 50% responded “never”, 29% “regularly” and 17% “occasionally”; on the question of developing police training for tackling firearms trafficking, 44 % supported such a development either “to a large extent” or “to some extent”, while 54% opposed it.

Chapter 5.3. of our Firearms Report III History of EC’s Action Plan on Firearms

–> Media coverage and public opinion should not lead to laws which affect a law-abiding minority group

Impact on European Economic

“Nevertheless, firearms (and associated ammunition manufacture and sale is economically significant in the EU. For example, the Institut Européen des Armes de Chasse et de Sport (IEACS) has estimated that the hunting and shooting sports market generates in excess of €18 billion of economic activity annually and that this activity supports more than 580,000 jobs. Although this is probably a relatively high estimate (IEACS has an interest), it is nevertheless indicative. Overall, there are more than 1,800 manufacturers, 200 distributors and 14,000 retailers in Europe whose business is totally or significantly dependent on the hunting or recreational shooting market.” (p. 48)

“In comparison to many other sectors of the European economy, the availability of data on the arms and ammunition sector is often restricted by issues of confidentiality. Therefore, the likelihood of an under-reporting of arms production and sales must be borne in mind. However, it is clear from the Eurostat and IEACS data that the licit European arms sector employs a large number of people and that it generates significant revenue for the Member States and European businesses.

Based on the earlier estimates of illicit firearms trafficked within the EU (see Section 2.1.2) it is clear that illicit firearms are likely to make up only a small (albeit impossible to quantify) proportion of the total firearms market which includes both civilian and military weapons.

Nevertheless, the effect of any proposals for new measures to combat illicit firearm trafficking must take into account any wider effects on the EU’s licit firearms sector to prevent unintended damage to a very important sector the EU’s economy while aiming to prevent, detect, investigate and prosecute possible diversion.” (p.50)

–> The last sentence is important.

Lack of international collaboration

For a number of reasons, it is not possible to gain a comprehensive overview of existing cross-border cooperation between national authorities responsible for combatting illicit firearms trafficking.

  • lack of information sharing
  • differences in the legal frameworks applicable to illicit firearms,
  • differences in judicial procedures
  • lack of expertise and resources
–> Improve collaboration and delete differences

Missing articles in the Directive for illicit trafficking

The study recommends to amend the Directive with two articles of the UN model law:

Transnational transfers without legal authorization

  1. Every person who [specify level of intent, as appropriate] imports, exports or otherwise acquires, sells, delivers, moves or transfers any firearm or its parts and components or ammunition from or across the territory of [name of State] to another State without legal authorization [a licence] issued in accordance with [name of this Law] commits an offence.
  2. A person guilty of an offence under paragraph 1 of this article shall upon conviction be subject to [imprisonment for …] and/or [a fine of/up to …] [a fine of the … category].

Transnational transfers of unmarked/improperly marked firearms

  1. Every person who [specify level of intent, as appropriate] imports, exports or otherwise acquires, sells, delivers, moves or transfers any firearm from or across the territory of [name of State] to another State that have not been marked at the time of manufacture, at the time of import or at the time of transfer from government stocks to civilian use in accordance with chapter IV of this Law commits an offence.
  2. A person guilty of an offence under paragraph 1 of this article shall upon conviction be subject to [imprisonment for …] and/or [a fine of/up to …] [a fine of the … category]. (p 65)
–> The inclusion of similar or identical wording in a possible EU measure should be considered

Strengthening the regulatory framework for legal firearms

The study recommends for Option 2 no legislative acts, but more sharing of informations (pp 105)

  • a pan-European register of firearms dealers
  • a pan-European register of licence holders
  • harmonisation or firearms marking and deactivation
  • Checks of any new dealers against the proposed EU-wide database of convictions
–> These are the only three recommendations for legal firearms in the study

The study recommends for Option 3 is focussed on legally binding common minimum standards for introducing new EU criminalisation measures for illicit firearms trafficking and manufacturing offences: (p 120)

  • Offence of illicit intra-EU firearms transfers without legal authorization
  • Offence of illicit intra-EU transfers of unmarked/improperly marked firearms
  • Offence of illicit firearms manufacturing
–> Harmonisation of offences would improve cross-border

To combat illicit trafficking and to decrease firearms-related deaths and intimidation of victims this study tackles:

  • End user: criminal or terrorist individuals and groups that procure firearms illegally to use in the pursuit of their goals.
  • Traffickers and other intermediaries: involved in the actual trafficking of firearms either for profit or some other reason.
  • Suppliers: individuals and organisations that provide a source of illicit firearms (either intentionally or unintentionally) who are again likely to be motivated by financial considerations.
–> The criminalisation of criminal end users, traffickers and suppliers as well as illicit manufacturers, is likely to reduce the flow of firearms.

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