By Stephen A. Petroni
The Mediterranean country of Malta has a new and sensible arms law, thanks to an intrepid group of enthusiasts. The new Arms Act 2005 and the corresponding Arms Licensing Regulations 2006 (LN177) came into effect on August 15, 2006, repealing the old Arms Ordinance of 1931. Several years of intensive negotiations between the authorities and the gun lobby led by the Association of Maltese Arms Collectors & Shooters (AMACS) are finally beginning to bear fruit.
The Republic of Malta has a population of 400,000 living on three islands forming an archipelago in the central Mediterranean with a total area of 121 square miles. It is the smallest member of the European Union, which it joined on May 1, 2004.
The Maltese islands have an extremely colorful history. They have been inhabited since around 5000 BC and the earliest civilization to take root there built structures that predate the pyramids of Giza by a millennium. Malta’s strategic location and its incredible natural harbor drew the powers that held sway over the Mediterranean Sea; the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Angevines, Hohenstaufens, Aragonese, Knights Hospitallers, French and finally the British controlled the islands in that order until the Maltese gained Independence on September 21, 1964.
The presence of so many different peoples and cultures and particularly of their naval and military forces left an indelible mark on the Maltese and their unique language and culture. Moreover, each successive power left a wealth of artifacts that are found in the national museums and in private collections. Arms which were used by the garrison and those which were captured from invading or attacking forces (particularly during the Ottoman Siege of 1565 and the Axis aerial attacks of 1940-1943) enrich the country’s historical heritage.
It comes as no surprise therefore that the Maltese are keen collectors of arms and militaria. Moreover, the Maltese excel in shooting sports which until recently were heavily restricted to shotgun events and hunting.
The Arms Act, 2005 and the Arms Licensing Regulations, 2006
The new law introduces significant changes that place Malta in a leading position among EU countries when it comes to arms legislation. The Act faithfully transposes the EU Arms Directive 91/477/EEC into national law, granting enthusiasts full opportunities in their sport and hobby against a background of sensible control. The Act defines various categories of arms and the activities for which they may be kept and/or used. The Commissioner of Policethen licenses persons who qualify to participate in such activities and are therefore permitted to acquire and keep the corresponding type of firearms.
The accent is on the license holder rather than on the firearm. The rational behind this is that there are no public safety and security issues if firearms are only kept and used by properlyvetted persons. Moreover, the mandatory membership and endorsement of a club guarantees a better understanding of a person’s motives for firearms ownership and use.
The Act empowers the Minister responsible for Home Affairs to appoint a “Weapons Board” on which are represented the Police, the Armed Forces and representatives of collectors and sport shooters organizations. The Board advises the Commissioner of Police with regard to the issue of licenses. It is also empowered to make its recommendations to the Minister for further regulation under the Act. At the very basis of the Act is the classification of arms under three main Schedules:
- Schedule I covers fully automatic firearms and other weapons of military use as well as the ammunition for such arms. Although these are prohibited, licensed collectors may acquire and keep them provided that the weapons are approved by Weapons Board as being of pre-1946 manufacture.
- Schedule II covers most firearms that have a sporting use such as pistols, rifles, shotguns, airguns, muzzleloading revolvers and their ammunition as well as crossbows. All these are subject to a Collector License (to acquire and keep for collection purposes only) and/or a Target Shooter License (to acquire, keep and use on a licensed range).
- Schedule III lists all firearms manufactured prior to 1900, replicas of single shot muzzle loaders, deactivated firearms, non-firing imitation guns and edged weapons. These are exempt from any license or permit but are subject to a declaration.
The Collector License
The Arms Act introduces two new licenses that did not exist under the ordinance. The first of these is the Collector License. The regulations establish two classes of Collector Licenses termed “A” and “B”. Collector License A is aimed at active collectors who are either starting from scratch or who intend to continue building their collections. Collector License B may be considered as an ad hoc license issued in specific cases as explained later.
Collector License A
Endorsed members of a recognized organization for arms collectors are eligible to apply for this license. Once approved, they will be able to acquire and keep any number of firearms (and ammunition) from all three Schedules provided that they were manufactured before 1946 or are considered to be rare, artistic or historical. Additionally, they may acquire and keep up to ten Schedule II handguns and rifles which are of post-1945 manufacture as well as any number of shotguns, muzzleloaders and airguns. Holders of a Collector License A are obliged to maintain proper records of their collections and ensure adequate security in keeping their collection. The License is renewed on a yearly basis provided that the holder presents his club’s endorsement.
Collector License B
This license is issued to persons who, after the coming into effect of the Arms Act, already held firearms licensed under the old Arms Ordinance for collection purposes only. It is also issued to persons who come into possession of firearms by way of inheritance and wish to keep them for collection purposes. This license does not entitle the holder to acquire more firearms. This is possible only if that person applies for the Collector License A as explained in the previous paragraph.
It is important to note that all firearms manufactured prior to 1900, replicas of single shot muzzle loaders, deactivated firearms, non-firing imitation guns and edged weapons are now listed under Schedule III and are exempt from any form of license or permit. However one is obliged to submit a declaration to the Police within seven days of acquiring a new piece.
The Target Shooter License
Schedule II lists firearms that are permitted for sports shooting, although some items in Schedule III may also be used for such purposes. Enthusiasts may apply for either a Target Shooting License A or a Target Shooter License B or both. The process to obtain a license consists of a three-tier vetting system.
The Act also provides for the participation of suitably authorized minors in target shooting sports under supervision only. They will not be allowed to acquire and keep a firearm.
Target Shooter License A
The Target Shooter License A is a totally new license category that allows both the keeping and use (for target shooting sport only) firearm types previously prohibited under the repealed Arms Ordinance. A person who intends to pursue the sport of target shooting must first sign up with a licensed shooting club and obtain a club recommendation after having attended a firearms handling and safety course. His license is issued by the Police provided that the Weapons Board endorses the application. The Target Shooter License A gives an entitlement to acquire, keep and shoot a maximum of 10 cartridge firearms with rifled barrels i.e. handguns and rifles, plus a maximum of five thousand rounds of ammunition for the firearms held under this license. The license holder is obliged to keep the arms locked safely and separately from ammunition. The club’s endorsement is required for the renewal of the license and this is only issued provided that the Licensee participates in a minimum number of yearly shooting events.
Target Shooter License B
The Target Shooter B License caters for target shooting with firearms already allowed under the old Arms Ordinance – shotguns, airguns and muzzle loaders which are now listed under Schedule II and Schedule III plus a maximum of five thousand rounds of ammunition from Schedule II. This license follows a similar procedure as for Target Shooter A License. However, besides totally new applicants, it is issued for target shooters already licensed under the old Arms Ordinance to carry and use firearms that where already available for target shooting before the new Arms Act came into force – meaning shotguns, airguns and muzzle loading firearms.
The license is also issued without the need for additional formality to persons who are in possession of a valid hunting license and who wish to practice clay pigeon target shooting only. The obligations of the Target Shooter B License are the same as for Target Shooter License A.
The Significance of the New Law
This new law should be considered in the light of arms legislation in other EU countries which do not have the safety net of a “2nd Amendment” embedded in their constitutions. EU states’ gun laws still vary widely in spite of the EU Arms Directive of 1991, which sought to harmonize such legislation. The Directive specifically excludes collectors from its provisions and allows sufficient room for the practice of sports shooting. However, there are various attempts being made within the EU institutions to revise this Directive. Although the stated objective is to clamp down on the criminal use of firearms, there is no doubt that the proposed measures only serve to hinder and hassle the law abiding citizen. In their ignorance, some politicians tend to propose inaccurate regulations which seldom hit the intended target.
Thus, the new Maltese law comes through as a refreshing example of what can be achieved when politicians listen to persons who are fully conversant with the subject, instead of yielding to pressure from groups driven by emotion rather than reason. Malta’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs, Tonio Borg, described the exercise as a unique example of collaboration between all parties concerned, which finally produced a refined and sensible law. Both sides of the House of Representatives were consulted prior to its enactment and their support was unanimous.
Malta’s new law is now featuring on the European level where it is acknowledged to be a good model for arms legislation. On November 3rd, AMACS President Stephen A. Petroni was appointed Chairman of the Foundation for European Societies of Arms Collectors (FESAC). The Foundation is represented in most EU countries. It is currently analyzing their arms legislation to be in a better position to protect its members’ interests. FESAC is also collaborating with other bodies representing sport shooters, manufacturers and hunters as it firmly believes that unity among legal gun owners and users is the only way forward. At the same time it is willing to play a consultative role with law makers who are genuinely interested in finding sensible solutions.
As the FESAC motto goes: “We are not the problem but we would like to be a part of the solution.”
Association of Maltese Arms Collectors and Shooters (AMACS)
AMACS is made up of six individual clubs. One of these caters to arms and militaria collectors while the other five promote specific forms of target shooting. The combined membership of all five clubs is nearing eight hundred male and female enthusiasts from Malta and the sister island of Gozo.
- Malta Arms & Militaria Society (MAMS)
- Malta Muzzle-Loader Shooting Club (MMSC)
- Malta Airgun Shooting Club (MASC)
- Malta Rifle and Pistol Shooting Club (MRPSC)
- Malta Crossbow Shooting Club (MCSC)
- Malta Tactical Airsoft Club (MTAC)
The Association is affiliated with several international regulatory bodies and events are carried out under the rules and regulations of these organizations:
- Foundation for European Societies of Arms Collectors (FESAC)
- International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC)
- International Metallic Silhouette Shooting Union (IMSSU)
- Association Europeenne de Tir Sur Silhouettes Metalliques (AETSM)
- Muzzle Loaders Association of Great Britain (MLAGB)
- World Field Target Federation (WFTF)
- World Crossbow Shooting Association (WCSA)
Public Relations Officer
Association of Maltese Arms Collectors & Shooters (AMACS)
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V10N7 (April 2007)