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European Commission. 2013 ‘Firearms and the Internal Security of the EU: Protecting Citizens and Disrupting Illegal Trafficking.’ Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament; COM(2013) 716 final. Brussels: 21 October

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There are an estimated 80 million legally-held civilian firearms in the EU.

While there are no precise statistics, the many firearms in illegal circulation are often the result of theft or diversion from their lawful lifecycle, of being illegally imported from third countries and of the conversion of other objects into 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.(9) In one Member State, France, the authorities reported a 40% increase in seizures of stolen civilian and military weapons between 2010 and 2011.(10)

Large amounts of powerful military grade weapons have since the mid-1990s reached the EU from the Western Balkans and former Soviet Bloc countries,(11) often trafficked in small quantities and hidden in vehicles like long distance coaches to avoid detection.(12) Recent upheavals in North Africa and the Middle East carry a risk that surplus and stolen military arms will reach European criminal markets along similar routes.

Firearms, parts and components are also, to an increasing extent, traded online and delivered through mail order, postal or express delivery services. Law enforcement authorities in the EU are concerned that firearms which have been deactivated are being illegally reactivated and sold for criminal purposes, that items such as alarm guns, air weapons and blank-firers are being converted into illegal lethal firearms, and that criminals may very soon exploit 3D printing technologies for assembling home-made weapons or making components to be used for reactivating firearms. An overview of some of the trafficking routes which have been reported by firearms experts in Member States is illustrated below…


9) The second generation Schengen Information System is an EU computer system which enables Member States authorities to share data (e.g. type and serial number) on firearms reported as lost, stolen or misappropriated.

10) Source: French police.

11) Precise estimates of the size of these stores are impossible, and those available vary widely, partly because volumes are dynamic. In one recent study, defence stockpiles in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2011 were estimated at 76 000 pieces of small arms and light weapons and 100 000 metric tonnes of ammunition, and in Montenegro in 2011 at 28 000 weapons and 7000 metric tonnes of ammunition; Pierre Gobinet, 'Significant Surpluses: Weapons and Ammunition Stockpiles in South-east Europe', Small Arms Survey, The Regional Approach to Stockpile Reduction and the US Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, Dec 2011.

12) Source: European Firearms Expert group; Convertible Weapons in the Western Balkans, SEESAC, 2009. In UK in 2010/11 63% of the 2534 stolen firearms were stolen from residential premises; Homicides, Firearms Offences and Intimate Violence 2010/11: Supplementary Volume 2 to Crime in England and Wales 2010/11, Kevin Smith et al, Home Office Statistical Bulletin 2012.

ID: Q8227

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