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EXPLAINED: How gun control laws work in France

The Local France
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EXPLAINED: How gun control laws work in France
Photo: AFPs

France has strict gun control laws, but illegal weapons are widespread and these have been used in most of the deadly terror attacks in the country in recent years - here are the rules and the reality on gun ownership in France.

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1. French people must undergo psychological test before getting gun licence

Unlike in the United States, there is no right to bear arms in France.

To own a gun, you first need to acquire a hunting or sporting licence, and this has to be regularly renewed and requires a psychological evaluation. Applicants with any criminal record are automatically refused.

There is also a blacklist of around 18,000 people who are banned from owning a gun.

Being in possession of a gun without the correct registration carries a maximum penalty of €75,000 and five years in prison.

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2. French gun ownership among highest in the world

France is in 12th place in the world in the rankings of gun ownership, according to the Small Arms Survey. The estimated total number of guns held by civilians - both legally and illegally - in France is around 10 million, according to figures published by Gun Policy, a project run by the University of Sydney.

But other studies say that there may be as many 20 million weapons owned by civilians in the nation of 66 million people.

3. Hunters own most of the legal weapons in France

Millions of these weapons are owned by hunters, who number around one million and make France the biggest hunting country in Europe.

Hunting accidents are an increasing source of controvery in France - every year people are accidentally shot dead by hunters, often passers-by, hikers, cyclists or even people hit while standing in their own garden. During the 2022 presidential election several candidates called for increasing regulation of hunting such as bans at weekends and during school holidays.

In recent years extra safety measures have been introduced in an attempt to tackle hunting-related deaths, including requiring hunters to take gun safety courses.

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4. Millions of illegal weapons 

France is awash with illegal weapons, with some experts saying that the number of illegal guns may be twice the number of legal ones.

Weapons such as Kalashnikovs, many of which were originally used in the Balkan wars in the 1990s, can be bought for less than €3,000 on the black market and have frequently been used in score-settling between drug gangs in Paris and Marseille.

Assault rifles have also been used in several radical Islamist terror attacks in France in recent years.

The worst single mass shooting took place in the Bataclan concert hall in Paris in November 2015, when gunmen sprayed concert-goers with bullets, killing 89 of them. Dozens more were killed in other attacks the same night in the French capital.

5. 1,800 French people die each year in gun-related incidents

Overall France has a low rate of gun deaths in a global context - with 2.83 deaths per 100,000 people in the population - but this still transmates to around 1,800 deaths per year.

The USA which has 12.21 gun deaths for every 100,000 people

France does have a high rate of firearm-related suicide - in 2019 it ranked 9th in the world for firearm-related suicides per 100k of the population - many of these suicides relate to French police officers, who have tragically high suicide rates and frequently have their service weapons in the home. 

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