Documents considered by the Committee on 27 October 2010 - European Scrutiny Committee Contents

14 The marketing of replica firearms



COM(10) 404

Commission report to the European Parliament and Council: The placing on the market of replica firearms

Legal base
Document originated27 July 2010
Deposited in Parliament8 September 2010
DepartmentHome Office
Basis of considerationEM of 27 September 2010
Previous Committee ReportNone
To be discussed in CouncilNo date set
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionClear


14.1 In 1991, the Council adopted a Directive establishing minimum standards for the acquisition and possession of weapons ("the Weapons Directive").[83] Member States had to implement the Directive by 1 January 1993 — the date by which the internal market was to be established — but remained free to maintain or introduce more stringent measures than those specified in the Directive. The Directive identifies four categories of firearms and requires dealers[84] in the two most lethal categories to obtain authorisation to trade in firearms and to maintain a register of traded firearms. The Directive prohibits the acquisition and possession of the most lethal category of firearms and specifies minimum criteria for the acquisition and possession of certain other firearms based on age (the purchaser or owner must be at least 18) and a risk assessment of the likelihood of danger to the purchaser/owner, to public order or to public safety. The Directive also regulates the transfer of firearms from one Member State to another, requiring in most cases the issuing of a licence or, if travelling with a firearm, prior authorisation by the competent national authorities.[85] The Directive does not affect Member States' right to take measures to prevent the illegal trade in firearms.

14.2 In 2008, in response to police intelligence showing an increase in the use of weapons that could be converted into real firearms, the Directive was amended to include within its scope "any portable barrelled weapon that … may be converted to expel a shot, bullet or projectile by the action of a combustible propellant". The amended Directive further specifies that:

"an object shall be considered as being capable of being converted to expel a shot, bullet or projectile by the action of a combustible propellant if:

—it has the appearance of a firearm, and

—as a result of its construction or the material from which it is made, it can be so converted."[86]

14.3 The 2008 Directive introduced a new requirement for manufacturers to affix a unique marking to each assembled firearm to enable it to be identified and traced; required Member States to ensure strict controls on mail order purchases (if authorised) of firearms and ammunition and to introduce, by the end of 2014, a computerised database recording all firearms covered by the Directive; required individuals to obtain a licence to purchase or own the most lethal categories of firearms; and strengthened controls on the activities of brokers.

14.4 The 2008 Directive also required the Commission to produce a report for the European Parliament and the Council presenting the conclusions of a study on the marketing of replica firearms in EU Member States with a view to determining whether further categories of replica firearms should be brought within the scope of the Weapons Directive.

The Commission's report

14.5 The Commission reports that the Weapons Directive, as amended, only applies to replicas which can be converted into firearms. Replicas of this nature are so similar, in terms of their appearance and manufacture, to real firearms, that the requirements of the Directive concerning marking, traceability, and registration are readily applicable. Other types of replica remain outside the scope of the Directive.

14.6 The report notes that there is no common understanding of the term "replica firearms":

"The term 'replicas' covers objects which differ considerably from one Member State to another and vary greatly in their nature, complexity and level of danger".[87]

Replicas may include, for example, reproductions, imitations and copies, as well as a further category of "alarm guns" — portable weapons which are not designed to shoot solid projectiles, but which may shoot blanks, gas and teargas cartridges. Some leisure activities, such as "airsoft" — a game in which opposing teams use imitation plastic guns to shoot plastic pellets — and the launchers used for "paintballs" may use equipment which resembles real firearms.

14.7 Responses by Member States to a Commission questionnaire reveal considerable differences as regards perceptions of risk associated with replicas. According to the Commission, nine Member States do not include the concept of a replica in their national legislation; fifteen do, but none of these Member States reports any significant security or public order issues concerning replicas, or problems with transfers or imports from other countries. The UK is in a minority of three Member States (the others are Portugal and the Netherlands) which do have strict regulatory controls on replicas, reproduction weapons or realistic imitations. So, for example, Dutch law prohibits the sale and marketing of certain replica firearms, regardless of whether they can shoot projectiles or be converted into real firearms. The UK and Portugal require specific colouring for realistic imitation firearms (the UK) or for replicas for creative use (Portugal). Moreover, the Commission reports that:

"The UK expresses a particular concern relating to the fact that neighbouring countries generally have less restrictive legislation on the marketing of certain alarm guns, the illegal conversion of which is considered possible. As it is illegal to place such alarm guns on the UK market (and therefore to import them), controlling this ban involves additional operations on the part of the responsible authorities."[88]

14.8 The Commission notes the difficulty of quantifying the number of replicas in circulation or the degree of threat that they present for the safety of property or persons. Certain replicas, particularly alarm guns, are prevalent in some Member States for reasons of self-defence.[89]

14.9 The report concludes that "there is very little to suggest that European harmonisation of national legislation on replicas would improve the functioning of the internal market by removing barriers to the free movement of goods or by eliminating distortions of competition". Member States already have "a real discretion in issuing rules on the placing on the market and use of replicas", and in regulating the acquisition, possession and transfer of replicas. Bringing all replicas within the scope of the Weapons Directive would, the Commission suggests, be difficult for two reasons. First, it would necessitate a clear definition of what is meant by a replica. Second, Member States' responses to the Commission's questionnaire do not indicate that problems associated with the trade in replicas are of such a magnitude as to justify subjecting the manufacturers, dealers and owners of replicas to all the obligations contained in the Weapons Directive.

The Government's view

14.10 The Parliamentary Under Secretary for Crime Prevention (James Brokenshire) explains in his Explanatory Memorandum of 27 September 2010, that the Firearms Act 1982 provides that imitation firearms which are readily convertible into functioning firearms are to be treated as such and subject to the controls contained in the Act. The UK also has "robust measures" in domestic legislation concerning realistic imitation firearms, notably the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 and 2007 Regulations on Realistic Imitation Firearms which prohibit the manufacture, importation or sale of realistic imitation firearms, subject to certain exceptions. Since these domestic measures came into force, offences involving the use of realistic imitation firearms have reduced significantly from a peak of 3,737 offences in England and Wales in 2004-05 to 1,511 offences in 2008-09, but the Minister adds that their misuse remains a concern.

14.11 The Minister notes the report's conclusion that replica firearms should not be brought within the scope of the Weapons Directive and indicates that it is open to the European Parliament or the Council to draw a different conclusion. The Minister says that the legal purchase of realistic imitation firearms in other Member States can cause a problem of illegal importation into the UK. He adds:

"Any proposal by the Commission to tackle these problems across the EU could therefore be beneficial in terms of ensuring consistency across Member States".


14.12 We understand that the Weapons Directive, introduced as an internal market measure in 1991, is intended to establish limitations on the free circulation of potentially lethal goods and provide robust security guarantees to protect the safety of individuals. Amendments made in 2008 ensure that the most lethal imitations or replicas — those capable of being converted into real firearms — are now included within the scope of the Directive. This still leaves many different types of replica firearms outside the scope of the Directive. For example, fake weapons which look like real guns can be used to commit offences, even though they may not be capable of being converted into real firearms. At present, Member States are at liberty to introduce their own controls and regulations to reflect national perceptions of risk.

14.13 The Minister tells us that there has been a significant and welcome reduction in the number of offences committed in the UK which involve the use of realistic imitation firearms since UK legislation prohibiting their manufacture, importation and sale took effect in October 2007. This suggests that UK legislation is having an effect. It is not clear whether further regulation at EU level would increase the beneficial effect, not least because the statistics provided by the Minister do not indicate how many, if any, of the realistic imitations involved in the commission of criminal offences in the UK were obtained as a result of illegal importation from another EU Member State.

14.14 We note that the Commission's report has been prepared for the European Parliament and Council and consider that it merits further discussion at this level. As the report simply presents the conclusions drawn by the Commission as a result of its study on the marketing of replicas across the EU, we are content to clear it from scrutiny but, in so doing, we ask the Minister to keep us informed of the outcome of any further deliberations at Council level.

83   Council Directive 91/477/EEC, OJ L 256, 13.9.1991, p.51. Back

84   A dealer is defined in Article 1(2) as "any natural or legal person whose trade or business consists wholly or partly in the manufacture, trade, exchange, hiring out, repair or conversion of firearms". Back

85   There are less onerous requirements for hunters and target shooters who may apply for a European firearms pass. Back

86   Article 1(1) of Directive 2008/51/EC, OJ L 179, 8.7.2008, p.5. Back

87   Paragraph 2.2 of the report. Back

88   Paragraph 6.3 of the report. Back

89   For example, the Commission estimates that between 15 and 18 million replicas are owned in Germany, of which most are alarm guns but some are used for "airsoft".  Back

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