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Controls on firearms purchases and possession


Directive 91/477/EEC — the control of the acquisition and possession of weapons



  • The ‘Firearms Directive’ sets out certain minimum conditions for the circulation of civil firearms* within the EU.


The directive establishes 4 categories of firearms by order of their level of danger, defined in Annex I to the directive.


The directive does not apply to commercial transfers of weapons and ammunition of war nor to the acquisition or possession of weapons and ammunition* by:

  • the armed forces, the police or the public authorities
  • collectors and bodies concerned with the cultural and historical aspects of weapons and recognised as such by the EU countries in which they are established.

The directive does not affect the application of national provisions concerning the carrying of weapons, hunting or target shooting.

Firearms pass

A European firearms pass is issued by the authorities of an EU country to any person lawfully taking possession of and using a firearm. The pass must always be in the possession of the person using the firearm or firearms listed on it.

Identification and tracing

  • Each firearm and elementary package of ammunition must be marked upon manufacturing.
  • EU countries are required to maintain a computerised data-filing system to register these firearms. Only authorised authorities can access the register.
  • EU countries may set up a system that will regulate the activities of brokers*. Dealers* must keep a register for firearms they receive or dispose of throughout their period of activity.

Sale, acquisition and possession

  • EU countries are responsible for checking the sale, acquisition and possession of these weapons; however, any rules put in place must fall within the scope of the rules of this directive.
  • The arrangements for the acquisition and possession of ammunition shall be the same as those for the possession of the firearm for which they are intended.

The acquisition and possession of a firearm is permitted when a person:

  • has a good cause for the acquisition or possession (e.g. is a legitimate collector or involved with a shooting practice club);
  • is at least 18 years old, although an exception to this rule exists with regard to firearms for hunting and target shooting (e.g. in some cases, guns can be used for hunting and target practice by those less than 18 years old if under the guidance of a parent/adult with a firearms licence or at an approved training centre);
  • does not present a danger to themselves or the public.


A person that meets the requirements for the acquisition and possession of any firearm may be given a multiannual licence. In such cases, certain formalities must be observed:

  • any movements of the firearm must be communicated to the competent authorities,
  • regular checks must be carried out to evaluate whether the person continues to meet the requirements, and
  • the maximum time limits specified by national law must be respected.

To control the movement of firearms within the EU, the directive lays down procedures for the:

  • definitive transfers of weapons from one EU country to another;
  • temporary transfers of weapons (journeys) through 2 or more EU countries.
  • These formalities apply to all firearms, excluding weapons of war.

Role of EU countries

  • A contact group to make it easier to share information between EU countries was established in 2009.
  • The directive does not affect the right of EU countries to take measures to prevent illegal trade in weapons.

Review and proposals

The European Commission presented a report on the application of this directive in November 2015 as part of a package of measures on firearms. The package included a proposal for a revision of the Firearms Directive.


It applies since 17 October 1991. EU countries had to incorporate it into national law by 1 January 1993.


* Firearm: any portable barrelled weapon that expels, is designed to expel or may be converted to expel a shot, bullet or projectile by the action of a combustible propellant.

* Ammunition: the complete round or the components of thereof, including cartridge cases, primers, propellant powder, bullets or projectiles, that are used in a firearm.

* Broker: any natural or legal person, other than a dealer, whose trade or business consists wholly or partly in the buying, selling or arranging the transfer of weapons.

* Dealer: 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, parts and ammunition.


Council Directive 91/477/EEC of 18 June 1991 on control of the acquisition and possession of weapons (OJ L 256, 13.9.1991, pp. 51-58)

Successive amendments to Directive 91/477/EEC have been incorporated in the basic text. This consolidated version is of documentary value only.


Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council: Evaluation of Council Directive 91/477/EC of 18 June 1991, as amended by Directive 2008/51/EC of 21 May 2008, on control of the acquisition and possession of weapons (COM(2015) 751 final of 18.11.2015)

last update 17.03.2016