Firearms Lawyer Simon Munslow answers your legal questions.

The Loose Cannon: French Firearms Laws


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Whenever I am travelling, much to the chagrin of my wife, I am drawn like a magnet to the metal found in gun shops. In Paris, I was delighted to find the ‘armurarie’ located opposite a major station, which was only a few minutes’ walk from our apartment.

In the window I saw many firearms denied us by the politically correct, stupidity of our rulers, and upon entering the store, my eyes were met by an Aladdin’s cave of the familiar, the unusual and the banned.

Familiar were the racks of double-barrelled shotguns, less familiar were the dozen or so double rifles, mainly produced by Merkel and other continental makers, though there were a couple of English lineage with thumb size holes at the end of the barrel.

Also present, were usual range of bolt-action rifles (mostly stocked to the European, rather than American style). Surprisingly, there was scarcely a plastic stock to be seen, despite the benefits that they would offer in a moist climate like that in France.

Racked, were also a number of the semi-automatic shotguns, a Beretta, a Verney-Carron and an old Browning, and a quantity of semi-automatic rifles of a generation post 1996 that have been denied us by the ignorance of our elected masters. Here I am referring to the likes of the Benelli Argo E, Sauer 303, Browning Short Trac, Haenel SLB 2000, Verney- Carron Impact NT, Merkel SR 2, Remington 750 and Winchester SXR Vulcan. All have a magazine capacity of only three to four rounds and are about as far removed from a military style semi-automatic rifle (MSSA) as a semi-automatic rifle can be.

Also present were crossbows, air soft pistols and rifles including what would have to be the ultimate for hunting soft toy ‘Tigger’s’ in the backyard – a fully functional air soft H&K MP5 equipped with a holographic dot sight. There were also items for personal defence, knuckle-dusters, push daggers, pepper spray and batons.

There were also other firearms denied us by the marketing decisions of importers, whose decision making reflects the small size of our market. Here I am referring to short-barrelled, over-under shotguns fitted with rifle sights. These ‘slug guns’ are used for driven boar hunting.

France is an interesting country from a gun law perspective. It shares with the United States and Britain a history of rebellion, it has fought (to varying degrees) three historically recent wars against a single foe, Germany, (1870, 1914, 1939), and prior wars with Britain. The French have a strong commitment to liberty, but has an advanced bureaucratic system hell bent on restricting it.

France also has a strong culinary culture that includes making optimal use of game animals and just about anything else that that can be cooked, or at least plated up, as much of the meat that they do eat, is uncooked. I note that my wife was questioned in a butcher’s shop about whether we eat kangaroos. I do not know whether this was a ‘score’ for PETA or whether the Frenchman was wondering what the taste, colour and texture of the meat would be like. Sadly my wife’s understanding of French and the butcher’s understanding of English, precluded detailed examination of the subject.

Fur coats are also a common sight in France; one sees them everywhere on French women, who are, as a group, extremely well dressed and fashion conscious. A lot of men also wore fur hats and jackets with fur collars. Many of these did not look to be faux fur.

I saw no evidence that shops selling furs were attracting the type of maliciously ignorant graffiti that any such shop in Australia would attract, and I am sure that it is fear of this type of assault that leads to many Australian women not wearing fur in winter.

In the last two world wars, and in particular WW2, a considerable quantity of firearms must have fallen into civilian hands, many having been literally ‘dropped’ by retreating German troops, to say nothing of those dropped by the allies to support the resistance groups and those dropped by French soldiers themselves.

Working as a firearms lawyer and having once had a Veteran’s Entitlements practice, I never fail to be amazed at the amount of souvenired weaponry that made it back to Australia, so I presume that the volume that has remained in France must be much more than this, even if one allows for a percentage of the souvenired equipment in France would have been sold at inflated prices to souvenir hungry rear echelon troops by Frenchmen desperate for then ‘hard’ US currency or the bartered luxuries of the American PX system.

I once read an interview with Sam Cummings, the founder of Interarmco of Virginia, who was, in his day, one of the largest of the post-war arms dealers. He remarked that when he started his business in the early 1950s, firearms could be found everywhere in former ‘Battlefield France’, and even seven or so years after the war, abandoned tanks, some of which had literally just run out of fuel and been left, were there for the taking.

As there was so much of this material available, and fearing its use by criminals, the French government banned public ownership of firearms in a military chambering, with view to starving these firearms of ammunition. It is probably as a legacy of this that the new French categories of legislation preclude ownership of tanks, warplanes, bazookas and such like.

This has historically been something of a nuisance for French sportsmen, because it has deprived them of ready access to some of the most efficient chambering, such as the 223, 7×57, 6,5×55, 308 and 30-06. It also did nothing to reduce crime, as France has never had a crime wave with ex-military firearms of world war vintage, although the mob today do seem to regard a Bulgarian Kalashnikov with a folding stock to be a status symbol. These firearms are smuggled in over France’s many borders.

The experience of the non- or limited use, of war-sourced weapons confirms many of my suspicions about firearms laws. Authorities in Australia speak of a pool of illegal firearms. As regulators, this is understandable, because to them, all of these firearms are illegal.

However, many of these ‘illegal’ firearms are not accessible to criminal groups. Most people who hold war trophies or illicit collections do not regard their behaviour as criminal, and would not know anyone to illicitly sell the firearms to, even if they felt so inclined.

In September of 2013, the French adopted a four-category weapon classification model recommended by the EU, that is a great simplification of the previous eight-category model. This simplification has in itself been a matter for celebration by Frenchmen.

Category A covers military weapons such as tanks, bazookas and machine guns that are not available to the public.

As a system of ministerial permit/‘end-user certificate’, would cover military equipment purchases in transit, and if, god forbid, Germany or France’s oldest enemy England were ever to attempt another invasion, I doubt if the invaders would seek to register its guns in France first! So I can only assume this has been included to cover equipment that still may be lurking for 70 or so years in garages, basements and barns across France.

Category B is for Military Style Semi Automatics (MSSA) such as the Kalashnikov, M-16, handguns, etc. These items are heavily regulated and available only by special permit.

Category C covers sporting shotguns and rifles, including semi-automatics with a 3-5 shot capacity. These are quite easy to get for anyone obtaining a hunting or target shooting licence.

Category D is divided into two categories. Category 1 is for single-shot or double-barrelled shotguns, and black powder firearms. Again, one needs a hunting or target permit for this. Category 2 relates to pepper spray weapons, stun guns, air guns generating energy of 2-20 Joules and decommissioned firearms. One does not need a licence for these weapons, although one must be over 18 years of age. Air soft paintball markers are not regulated, as they fall below the 2-Joule energy category,

Crossbows are also not regulated in France and they are often used for hunting. After the lessons received at Azincourt (the famous battle did not occur at Agincourt, which is another town in France) and Crecy, this is understandable.

Category A weapons are unattainable, category B are attainable, but are hard to get, one needing to obtain authorisation. Category C and D1 are available to anyone who obtains a shooting or hunting licence.

In order to obtain a shooting licence one needs to see a doctor for assessment.

Interestingly, the French have been quite supportive of the EU legal model because it enables them to get access to military chamberings and represents a significant simplification of their previous licensing model.

In the UK I noticed criticism of EU involvement, on the basis that there are 80 million legally held firearms in civilian hands in Europe, and in the EU there is only one shooting homicide per 400,000 people, and that on this basis further legislative intrusion is not warranted.

Incidentally, while touring the French countryside, I often observed groups of armed Frenchmen wearing blaze orange. There was nothing surreptitious about what they were doing. Their firearms were handled openly and they appeared proud about what they were doing. I recall, many years ago hearing the Hon Robert Brown MLC, well before he became an MLC, addressing an ACT ADA meeting. He spoke about the traditions of hunting in Europe and described this approach as ‘the way to go’.

At the time, of hearing his speech, my only experience of hunting in Europe had been in the UK, which has a totally different model, and I did not understand what he was speaking about – certainly I did not care for the moneyed, elitist form of hunting in the UK. I now agree with him and see the continental model as different and very much the way to go.

All is not positive in France however. I tried to visit the Caen War Memorial, which was closed in January when I visited (much to the annoyance of the 20 or so tourists who attended to tour it in the brief time that I was there). I noticed an Anti-Violence sculpture in the grounds. This sculpture is one of 12 and I understand that one of its brothers or sisters is in NY outside the UN building.

The tenuous relevance of this sculpture to a war memorial arises because the local town has decided to call the memorial a memorial to the war and a memorial against violence.

This sculpture serves as an insult to the men, many of whom would have been shooters, and serves to politicise the memorial.

Simon Munslow

Copyright 2014

In preparing this paper I have been reliant upon conversations with French dealers, who confess that the laws are in something of a state of flux, as bureaucrats, dealers and the public are trying to feel their way at present. I have not been able to read the legislation myself, something that I normally consider essential. I note that I am not registered to practice in the EU, and that this should not be regarded as legal advice, and is for information purposes only.

 


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