EU to tighten gun trade laws as Ukraine war fuels arms fears

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union on Thursday moved to tighten laws governing the trade and transport of guns to help keep illicit firearms out of the hands of criminal gangs amid concerns that the war in Ukraine could increase the spread of illegal weapons.

The EU’s executive branch, the European Commission, estimates that around 35 million illicit weapons are in hands of civilians across the 27-nation bloc. Around 630,000 firearms are listed as stolen in the EU’s security and border database.

The commission’s crackdown would involve clearer, common procedures for the import, export and transit of firearms and ammunitions. An electronic licensing system would be set up for import and export applications to replace the slower paper-based systems most countries have.

Stricter standards would be imposed on the manufacture of alarm and signal weapons, which fire things like blanks or tear gas. Such arms were converted by extremists and used in the bloody 2015 Paris attacks and the killing of staff at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

End-user certificates would be required for certain kinds of firearms to ensure the recipient does not plan to transfer them to someone else, helping to reduce the risk that the weapons might turn up on the black market.

The commission insists that the measures won’t restrict gun ownership and will actually simplify procedures for hunters, competition shooters and exhibitors.

Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson urged the EU member countries and European Parliament to swiftly adopt them.

Johansson said a report by Europe’s police agency shows that “organized criminal groups are being more and more violent, and that the violence is being more and more deadly. This is a threat towards our security, to our safety.”

The commission’s proposals were drawn up well before Russia invaded Ukraine in February, but Johansson said the conflict has raised concerns as weapons are still entering Europe that were used in the wars that tore the former Yugoslavia apart in the 1990s.

“Of course I trust the Ukrainian military – they are really using the weapons in the right way – but we also know that war is a disaster for people, but it’s an opportunity for criminals, and we have to be prepared for that,” she told reporters in Brussels.

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