Written by Ann Neville.
Precise figures about the numbers of illegal firearms in the European Union (EU) are lacking, but several indicators point to their widespread availability and accessibility. According to the Small Arms Survey, over half of the estimated total number of firearms held by civilians in the EU in 2017 were unlicensed. While most of these citizens had no criminal intentions, their illicit firearms could be used for self-harm or domestic violence, or end up in the hands of criminals or terrorists.
Most criminals and terrorists have more sophisticated ways to get hold of illicit firearms. They can be trafficked from source countries, diverted from legal supply chains, illegally manufactured or assembled in the EU, converted from legally available weapons, or sourced on the internet. Firearms seizures suggest that the EU illicit firearms market is made up mostly of shotguns, pistols and rifles, with converted or convertible weapons also frequently appearing.
Illicit firearms trafficking is driven by criminal demand, with organised crime groups that engage in firearms trafficking also involved in other forms of criminality. The EU considers illicit firearms a key crime threat precisely because they are used in many crimes and terrorist attacks. Even people who lack extensive criminal connections can access illicit firearms due to increased online trafficking and the availability of easy to convert weapons.
The EU is actively involved in addressing the threat posed by illegal firearms by means of legislative and policy measures, and provides operational assistance to the Member States in the fight against firearms trafficking. The EU is also active in the international fight against firearms trafficking, working closely with the United Nations (UN) in its work to combat the proliferation of small arms and light weapons and engaging in the UN’s global firearms programme. Although the export of arms remains a national competence, the EU has defined common rules governing the control of exports of military technology and equipment and works actively with third countries that are viewed as source or transit countries for illicit firearms.
Listen to policy podcast ‘Understanding EU policy on firearms trafficking‘ on YouTube.
Read the complete briefing on ‘Understanding EU policy on firearms trafficking‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.