Author Topic: New Euro gun laws with plenty of US bashing...  (Read 2494 times)

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Offline White Israelite

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New Euro gun laws with plenty of US bashing...
« on: December 23, 2007, 09:05:59 PM »

BRUSSELS: Against the backdrop of deadly school shootings in Finland and Germany, European Union legislators Thursday overwhelmingly backed tough new gun control rules they said they hoped would prevent Europe from becoming a gun-friendly culture like the United States.

Under the new rules, hammered out in 18 months of negotiations between the European Parliament, national governments and gun advocates, individuals aged 18 and over will be able to buy and own a firearm, provided they are not deemed a threat to public safety. Individuals under 18 will only be able to obtain a gun for hunting or target shooting under the supervision of a licensed adult.

To plug holes in the current system, in which the registration of guns is not consistent across the 27-member bloc, each member state will be obliged to set up a computerized data base of firearms, including details about their model, caliber, serial number and the names and addresses of both the seller and the buyer. The data must be kept by authorities for at least 20 years.

European legislators of all political stripes said the new rules were essential to prevent Europe from embracing the gun culture of the United States, where the right to bear arms is written in the Constitution.

"We in Europe have a different culture than in the United States and we do not consider the freedom to buy weapons a human right," said Gisela Kallenbach, a German member of the European Parliament from the Green group, who helped draft the proposed law. "All European cows are registered Europe-wide, so why not guns, if it can save lives? Civil liberties can be sacrificed if we can prevent people from being killed."

Alexander Alvaro, a legislator from the Parliament's Liberal group, which champions maximum civil liberties for individuals, added that the group drew the line at the right to bear arms.

"Europe does not want to follow the route of the U.S., where it is too easy for guns to fall into the wrong hands," he said.

The parliamentary vote took place less than a month after an 18-year-old student went on a rampage in a school in southern Finland, killing eight people. In Finland, there are 1.6 million registered guns in a country with a population of 5.3 million people.

Germany has had five school shootings in the past seven years. German police recently claimed to have foiled a plot by some students to carry out a massacre at a school near Cologne. Germany raised the age for owning recreational firearms to 21 from 18 after a massacre in a school in Erfurt in 2002 in which a 19-year-old man killed 13 teachers, 2 former classmates and a policeman, before committing suicide.

The incidence of gun ownership differs widely across the EU. Currently, there are 36 firearms per 100 people in Cyprus and 32 in Sweden, according to a Geneva-based research group, the Small Arms Survey. At the bottom of the scale is Poland with one weapon per 100 people, the Netherlands with 3 and Estonia and Ireland with 9.

Legislators said the new rules had been given impetus by a recent disturbing trend in Europe by which replica handguns that fire blanks were being purchased by criminal gangs, who then convert them into lethal weapons.

Under the new regulations, these replica guns will face the same restrictions as conventional firearms. Outlawed in Britain, these replica guns can currently be purchased in EU countries like Germany and Lithuania without a permit for as little as €100, about $150.

The police in Manchester, which has experienced recent crimes using these converted weapons, said almost half the illegal guns they seized were converted replica weapons. In October 2005, a convenience store owner was nearly killed by armed robbers who had converted a flare gun to fire real ammunition.

Even with the tough new regulations, Kallenbach, one of the legislators behind the new bill, said that resistance by pro-gun lobbyists and by some national governments had forced legislators to water down the law. For example, she failed to push through a proposal to ban the acquisition of firearms over the Internet. To aid crime prevention across Europe, she had also sought a centralized pan-European system of firearm registration rather than a system in which registration is controlled in individual countries.

"I am satisfied with the result, but we had to make compromises or we would never have gotten a deal," she said.

Groups advocating the rights of hunters and sport shooters cautiously welcomed the bill. Manuel Esparrago, deputy director general of the Federation of Associations for Hunting and Conservation, a Brussels-based group which represents seven million hunters in 31 countries, said the new rules would mean more red tape for hunters, but would not prevent teenagers from hunting under the supervision of a parent - a right the group had fought hard for. He stressed, however, that gun control laws did little to prevent criminality, since criminals typically acquired guns by illegal means.

"There are strong hunting traditions in Europe - in France, Spain, Sweden and Finland and elsewhere - and this culture must be respected," he said. "Criminality is linked to social factors. Gun crimes are more prevalent in the U.S. because American society is generally more violent than in Europe. Austria and Sweden have relatively permissive gun laws, for example, and the incidence of gun crime in these countries is comparatively low."

He added that it was nevertheless unfair to accuse the United States of having a laissez-faire attitude to gun control, since regulations differed sharply from state to state.

Under the proposed legislation, a weapon such as a hunting rifle can be purchased at a gun shop, where that person must register the gun and prove the lack of a criminal record. Those seeking to acquire weapons such as a handgun or a semi-automatic weapon are subject to more stringent controls, including a requirement to get authorization from a local authority, which typically conducts a background check and requires that the purchaser pass an exam.

The legislation - which was backed by 588 of the European Parliament's 785 members - still must be approved by national governments, which will have until 2010 to translate it into national law.

Governments in countries with strong hunting lobbies could still face stiff resistance.