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Netherlands: Proposal for Stricter Screening Process for Firearms Possession

(Jan. 7, 2015) On November 25, 2014, the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice presented to various agencies for their consideration draft legislation on tightening the screening process for licensing the private possession of firearms. (Opstelten: More Stringent Screening for the Possession of Firearms, Ministry of Security and Justice website (Nov. 25, 2014); Law …. Amending the Arms and Ammunition Act and the Flora and Fauna Act in Connection with the Strengthening of the System to Control Legal Gun Ownership: Bill (Nov. 25, 2014), Government of the Netherlands website (in Dutch) [choose “open with Adobe Acrobat” to view PDF].)

In announcing the move, the Ministry noted, “[t]he private possession of firearms and ammunition may not present any danger to society – but that is only if very strict safety and security requirements are met.” (Opstelten: More Stringent Screening for the Possession of Firearms, supra.) The amending proposal affects the Arms and Ammunitions Act and the Flora and Fauna Act. (Wet wapens en munitie (July 5, 1997, as last amended effective July 1, 2014), OVERHEID.NL; Flora- en faunawet (May 25, 1998, as last amended effective Jan. 1, 2015), OVERHEID.NL; Netherlands: Act Containing Rules Relative to the Protection of Wild Plant and Animal Species (Flora and Fauna Act) (as last consolidated on Mar. 15, 2012), FAOLEX [general description of the law and its amendments, with links to relevant texts in Dutch].)

Proposed Changes

The draft legislation’s tougher screening procedures apply to persons applying for firearms licenses even though they may have already possessed firearms previously; the rules apply in particular to competitive marksmen and hunters. Under a new article 6a to be inserted into the Arms and Ammunition Act and a new article 38a to be included in the Flora and Fauna Act, the firearms holder must submit the application in person, along with three references; be present when the storage options for weapons in his or her home or business are checked; and cooperate in an investigation of his/her psychological state to determine whether the person might pose an increased risk for the misuse of weapons and ammunition. The Police Commissioner will decide – on the basis of all the information – whether somebody is fit to be granted a permit. (Opstelten: More Stringent Screening for the Possession of Firearms, supra; Bill, arts. IB & IC.)

After issuance of a license, “[i]n order to be able to react in a timely manner” if developments make it necessary, “gun owners will be subject to constant screening on the basis of records kept under the law on special admissions to psychiatric hospitals (BOPZ).” (Opstelten: More Stringent Screening for the Possession of Firearms, supra; Wet bijzondere opnemingen in psychiatrische ziekenhuizen (Law on Special Admissions to Psychiatric Hospitals) (Oct. 29, 1982, as amended May 7, 2013), WHO MINDBANK.) Cases of forced admission to such hospitals are to be reported to the Commissioner, to “allow the police to act quickly and secure the weapons and ammunition from the person in possession of the firearm.” (Opstelten: More Stringent Screening for the Possession of Firearms, supra.)

In addition, upon the law’s entry into force, all those currently in possession of a weapon would have to undergo at least once the complete stricter permit procedures. (Id.)

Background

The impetus for changing the law is a shooting incident that occurred in 2011 in the town of Alphen aan den Rijn, in the western Netherlands between Leiden and Utrecht. The gunman, who was a member of a shooting club and held permits for weapons, killed several people and wounded a number of others before committing suicide. He apparently used an automatic weapon, however, the possession of which is illegal, to carry out the killings. (Id.; Gunman Runs Amok in Dutch Town, RNW (Apr. 9, 2011); Gunman Kills Six and Wounds 16 at Dutch Shopping Centre, GUARDIAN (Apr. 9, 2011).)

According to a 2013 report that investigated safety risks posed by shooting for sport in the Netherlands, there were about 42,000 sport shooters and 28,000 hunters as of mid-2012, who owned a total of nearly 168,000 weapons; shooting clubs numbered 784, shooting ranges 34, and arms dealers over 60. (Opstelten: More Stringent Screening for the Possession of Firearms, supra; Rapport: Met scherp schieten (May 23, 2013), at 106, Government of the Netherlands website [summary in English is available at pp. 105-113].)