The terror attacks in Paris in January and November last year have given new urgency to the debate on tougher gun laws, with EU leaders saying in December they would “rapidly examine” the proposals, with the aim of approving them at a summit in February.
European officials say gun laws passed in 2008 are inadequate, and leave Europe “vulnerable to criminal activity” and terrorist attacks.
If the new law is adopted more categories of semi-automatic weapons will be subject to an outright ban.
EU countries will still be able to issue licenses for some semi-automatic rifles for hunting, collecting and museums – although licensed gun owners would have to take a medical test every five years to establish if they are fit to own a gun, something Austria's gun lobby has termed “harassment”.
The proposals may have unintended consequences for gun collectors and shooting clubs – as collectors will have to get a license and face background checks even if they only own deactivated weapons.
There will also be new limits on the ability to buy gun parts and ammunition online. Blank firing weapons will be regulated for the first time because they can be converted to fire live ammunition.
Georg Zakrajsek from the Austrian gun lobby IWÖ has said the proposals are excessive, as they cover harmless gas pistols, which in future would have to be registered as a category C weapon.
Gas pistols look like handguns but only fire tear gas cartridges, and are commonly used for self defence. Zakrajsek said that many women had been buying them after the sexual assaults on New Year’s Eve in Cologne, to help them feel safer at night. He said thousands of gas pistols are owned by Austrian citizens and that the new laws would see “a large number of otherwise law abiding citizens unknowingly criminalized”.
It has been argued that gas guns could be converted to fire live ammunition but the Association of German Gunsmiths (VDB) has said this is not possible, at least for models made in Germany and Austria.
The IWÖ has started a petition against the proposed restrictions on firearms – and has received political support from the right-wing Freedom Party and Eurosceptic populist party Team Stronach. Germany’s VDB has also organized an online petition.