France - Guns - please provide insight


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Right off - this is not meant to be political. However, in light of the recent events in Paris I am admittedly in the dark on guns, gun laws in France.

I have stalked enough now in the UK to at least have a passing understanding of your laws and how they differ from our own. I am quite ignorant of the same in France. Would some one enlighten me without opening the door for contentious politics?


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I don't have any knowledge on French gun laws, but I reckon I can state with some confidence that the cowards responsible for this heinous attack would've been using illegally-obtained weapons :(


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Thank you TT, that was exactly the starting point I was looking for. Do you know or have any links to their laws about police/military firearms possession?
The French have a 3 teir police system, Municipal, State and Gendarmerie. All are technically armed although the Municipal police aren't routinely armed in every location. I believe the Gendarmerie are always armed and the state police are usually too.

private fraser

Well-Known Member
On holiday to Lille a few years ago we often saw a trio of 1 policeman with pistol sidearm along with 2 soldiers armed with Famas rifles. There is a big military base there and I think that was standard practice.
There USED to be eight categrories. 1 to 8. That's logical. Except that it isn't so when I first lived in Paris single shots such as my .22LR BSA Martini were no Permis de Chasse or target club membership but just a free sale with proof of ID only and nothing else. So it was get at taxi to Holland and Holland's shop on Avenue Victor Hugo in the 16th Arrondissment and collect it and take it back to my flat in the 17th Arrondissment.

Shot guns, however, even a traditional side-by-side required a Permis de Chasse. But that has now all changed and the link posted here appears fairly correct in what it says. Inerestingly Category 4 was "Prefectorial Approval" that meant that permission from the French equivalent of the Sheriff here in UK had to be obtained.

Here's what it USED( AFTER CHANGES IN THE MID 2000s) to be then...this cut and paste from a very good post made by a French shooter on an old thread on another forum some years ago. But bera in mind that there were two fairly quick changes to the law so depending on which internet resource you loacte you'll get different information! Be aware of that.

So IMHO the link to the American article is a false friend as it seems merely a re-hash of the EU Firearrms Directive without any understanding of the subtleties of French gun laws.

I think in a first time we must explain we have 8 categories of weapons.

1st and 4th categories are the main important for us here.

The 1st category

Chapter 1 :
It’s all semi-automatique handgun weapons over 7.65 mm. caliber.

Chapter 2 :
For the rifle and carbines in military caliber (semi-automatique or bolt action carbines and rifles). A military cliber is a caliber used in regular army (5.56 nato, 7.62x51, 7.62x39, .50 BMG, etc..)

The 4th category is a bit more complex.

Chapter 1 :
It’s for all revolver with central primer cartridge (38 spe, 44 mag, 357 mag, 45 LC, etc.) and the semi-automatique handgun in caliber 7.65 or less big like the 6.25mm using central pimer and with barrel under 110 mm lenght.

Chapter 2 :
For all semi-automatique handgun, rifles and carbines and revolver using rimfire ammo (22 LR, etc.).

chapter 5 :
For semi-automatique rifles in civilian caliber. Like the AR15 in .222 remington.

1st and 4th categories weapons could only be buy by a shooter member of a shooting club over 21 years old after 6 months of shooting and with an authorization delivered by authorities. Authorization you have to confirm every 3 years.

2nd and 3rd categories are completely prohibited. It's machinegun, full auto weapons, bazooka, grenade and explosives, war plane, combat ship, tank, nuclear chemical or bacteriologic weapons.

5th and 6th sorry, I dont remember details, but you have edge weapons in one of this category and all the rifle in bolt action or lever action using civilian caliber.
For all bolt action rifles in civilian caliber, as 300 Winch Mag, 338 Lapua magnum, 7.08, 30.30, etc... no problem. If you are shooter or hunter, you could buy all that you want. Same thing for the ammo, you could have 10 000 cartridges, no limit. This is the reason why I prefer My AR15 in hunting caliber 222 rem. I have no limit for my cartridges.

7th category is for "armes de salon" if I try a translation, I said weapons for exposition more than for shooting. For exemple all the copy of muzzle loading weapon (uberti, pietta, etc...) are in this category. Compress air guns are in this category too.

8th category is for weapons of collection. If it's a french weapon, this weapon is in this category if older than 1890. For other country’s weapons it must be older than 1873.
Modern production of this weapons using metallic cartridge (schofield, SAA1873, etc.) are not free. They are in 4th category.
Only original model of metallic cartridge and modern or old model of muzzle loading handgun are 8th category free access like remington 1858, colt dragoon, paterson, etc....

Summit :

For 2nd and 3rd categories. Impossible to possess this weapons models.

For 1st and 4th, you must be sport shooter, over 21 years old and need to have an authorization delivered by authority. Authorization you have to confirm every 3 years.

For all other categories 5, 6, 7 and 8th it's free.
You must just be over 18 years old and be member of a shooting club or hunter. No limit about quantity of weapons you possess and same thing for ammunitions. You are registered on the Gunsmith book of sell and you declare too your police office you have this guns and that’s all.

Just some specific points:
a) Silencers are completely free access.
b) Night vision are only class 1 access (maybe class 2 ??).
c) NVG are classified like weapon in 1st category.
d) Laser are free access but usually max power is 5 mW.
e) Classic 2 shoot 12/70 or 12/76 rifles for hunting are free access for hunter and shooter.
BUT !! If it's a semi-automatic rifle it must be maximum 3 shoot (2+1)
If is tubular magasin is over 2 cartridges capacity it became a 4th category.
Finally, if this rifle is a riot gun (pump action gun) it's completely prohibited. Because in popular imagination it's the weapon of bad guys. Therefore, authority prohibited this weapon completely. Stupid!? Yes !

Last point for explain that all is not so easy:
If your weapon is in a definition free and than only one element is classified in 1st or 4th categories. Your weapons become a 1st or 4th categories weapon.
Example: I want buy a modern henry rifle carbine from Uberti manufacture. It’s a lever action, conception older than 1873. I could think no problem. It’s a 7th category. But in reality it’s a 5th category because it’s a rifle or a carabine and not a handgun. And it could become very fast a 4th category. The nightmare begins!
If I want buy it, I need to choice 44.40 caliber. It’s a caliber unclassified. If I buy it in 45 L.C. it’s a classified ammo (4th category ammo), so The rifle follow the cartridge and become a 4th category rifle. Other point, If the rifle is too short (total length under 81 cm and/or barrel under 45 cm) the weapon is consider like too compact and is classified 4th category. Last point, If you decide to buy the long rifle model, the problem is the number of cartridge in magasine. If over 10 ammo, you become again a 4th category weapon.
Finaly you could only buy a long rifle model in 44.40 Caliber with a maximum capacity of 10 cartridges. Complex!! Really, you think!! HA HA HA HA !
It’s not a law we have in France, it’s a labyrinth.

I hope I was clear. If you have any questions, we are here for you.
I hope this explanation make you understand that we are a small country, with a small shooter corporation (approximately 150 to 200 thousand sport shooters and 2 millions hunters), but we have guns and we love shoot!! YES !


I dont know if it's clear but this is my personal collection.
Picture is a bit old (december 2006).

Some guns have changed. But it's a good view for see what we could buy in France.

We have discover next week with my best friend that .22L.R. was restricted in Belgium.
It's a caliber completly free buying here. Like the silencer. It's an accessory we could buy like a bread baguette without any paper. I see, I pay, it's mine.
French Gun Laws

by Philippe Mullot

Firearms legislation in France is vastly different from what is being foisted onto the Australian public.

Traditionally, gun law in that country has been based on the idea of responsibility of the individual. One similarity between France and Australia is that recently the European Community did force the introduction of new gun laws that are more restrictive, further evidence that what we are faced with here is not isolated but is an international move.

French gun law is based on legislation of 1934 with amendments from 1939, drawing a distinction between military and non-military calibres. Fascist Germany and Italy tried in the thirties to establish illegal storage of military arms for terrorist use, and this influenced legislation.

During the second world war, the population was divided between obedience to the official Vichy government, in political cooperation with the Germans, and obedience to the illegal government of General de Gaulle which was fighting with the allied forces to repel the Germans.

This background no doubt introduced into the mind of the French people the idea that it is always possible for conditions in a country to worsen - something Australia seems not to have picked up, officially, anyway, despite the events of the last war - and that the country's law and order do not necessarily fall into instant decline if the authorities do not know about every gun in the hands of every law-abiding citizen. Perhaps they at least share this second idea with Australians. At any rate, only a small proportion of the arms given to the Resistance by the allied forces have since been surrendered, so they must still exist stored right throughout the country.

In France Today
There are three categories of gun owners, made up of the private citizen, the hunter and the target shooter-member of the French Shooting Federation (Federation Francaise de Tir), the French equivalent of the SSAA.

Persons treated for established mental illness are ineligible for gun ownership - something the SSAA has been proposing for years.

What sort of guns are allowed in France, and who owns them?

Firearms there are divided into different classes, numbered 1,4,5,6,7 and 8.

The first category comprises any centrefire handgun or longarm in a designated military calibre.

As an aside, it is interesting that during the period 1973 to 1995 the French were allowed three fully automatic assault rifles per shooter, a right only lost with the introduction of this last European law, and during this time not a single problem occurred with a legally owned fully automatic firearm. This aligns with American experience, where nearly a quarter-million fully-automatic arms collectors' licences have been granted since 1934, without a single offence ever having been recorded with one of the legally-owned guns. If it does nothing else, this experience common to both countries speaks eloquently of the paranoia of our own Australian authorities.

The fourth category comprises what are called defence firearms, and includes any revolver and pistol, centrefire or rimfire, of a non-military calibre, short rifles having a total length of less than 80cm or a barrel length of less than 45cm, semi-automatic rifles with more than three shots capacity, repeater rifles with a magazine capacity of more than ten shots, riot guns with over five-shot capacity, semi-automatic or repeating military lookalikes, and disguised arms such as pen guns.

We will touch on this category again shortly. Guns of the classes still to be described, however, five, six, seven and eight, may be bought and owned in any number by the private citizen, along with the ammunition. No firearms certificates are needed, although the buyer's name and address are registered for the fifth and seventh categories. Break-action shotguns need not be declared to the authorities at all.

The fifth category is the hunting arms class. It includes shotguns, riot guns with a five-shot limit, semi-automatic shotguns with a three-round capacity, repeating rifles in non-military calibre and with a magazine capacity of no more than ten shots, and also semi-automatic rifles in non-military calibre with a capacity of no more than three shots and with no removable magazine. Total length of this class must be over 80cm and barrel length must be more than 45cm.

The sixth category is the blades and any-weapons class designed to incorporate any object that can be a danger to public safety. For example, a stone is a stone, but carried in a crowd with the intent to be thrown at security forces it becomes a sixth category weapon. A rusty hand razor carried at night in the pocket of a person who cannot explain why he needs that item is no longer a razor but a sixth category weapon, and not allowed. Mace and other such sprays have recently been included in this category, so they are still available to buy, but not for carry.

The seventh category is rimfire single shot or repeating rifles and air guns. It also includes single shot .22 pistols with a total length of over 28 centimetres.

The eighth category covers all guns (or copies), handguns as well, made before 1870 and not using a metallic cartridge. It includes all deactivated guns.

The new gun laws of 1995 brought a significant change. At this time, semi-automatic rifles were transferred to the fourth category, that of defence arms. This was of course before the latest round of worldwide gun legislation activity, and is further evidence of the international nature of gun laws.

For these the French gun owner must now have an autorisation de d'tention, a firearm certificate.

In order not to infringe the property right of the owners who have bought them legally before the law was changed, French authorities have automatically issued owners a certificate for each of these firearms already in their possession. It cannot be renewed if the guns are sold, but it remains current for as long as the owner retains the gun.

This measure was adopted for two reasons. In France when the government wants to bring on a forced sale of property in the public interest the citizen is not obliged to agree with the price, so he can go to court for a ruling on it. Property rights are heavily protected under the French Constitution.

However, the other reason is much simpler and more powerful, and it is something that the advisers of the Australian government have not been intelligent enough to work out for themselves before making a bad mistake - despite a world of evidence that was crying out to be seen. If the French government wanted to buy these guns the citizens would simply not have given them back.

The French government, in other words, did not choose the futile line of coercion and heavy-handedness culminating in bans that was followed by the Howard Government. It did the research and knew that these do not work.

Handguns for Citizens
Another important fact should be noted. In France, on a firearm certificate renewable each five years, the private citizen is allowed to have one fourth category handgun with fifty cartridges for home defence, pursuant to a police background check. This can be in any non-military calibre from .22 to .44 Magnum. The handgun cannot be moved outside the house. Sometimes a second handgun is allowed for a secondary house.

Under current anti-gun dogma as practised by Australian Federal and State authorities, this fact alone ought to lead to a massive increase in danger to the public. The truth is that murder rates in France are within the usual bands in countries of comparable type and culture, as the accompanying graph shows.

Not only that, but in 1968, at a time when .22 break-action pistols were available unrestricted and unregistered from department stores, there was a very unpleasant time of political unrest. The Algerian troubles were still fresh and there had been terrorist activity, but as has been so often the case this did not connect itself with civilian gun ownership. This was a time of tremendous turmoil and riots were expected. It was feared the government could be brought down.

The Republic's President De Gaulle disappeared, gone to Germany to meet with his generals and see if they would return and support him if the insurrection against the government succeeded. In these electric circumstances, of a type not experienced here, still the only shot fired was by a single panicky policeman.

One wonders just what kind of unrest it must be that the Howard Government fears.

So here is a brief breakdown of what the private French citizen can buy and own, from the age of eighteen years.

To be classed as a hunter, he or she has to pass an examination, of which knowledge of wildlife, gun handling and safety are most important. The permis de chasse is then issued for life.

The hunter is entitled to have the same arms as a private citizen, but also the fourth category ones which are restricted. This would include a semi-automatic non-military rifle with a removable magazine, or a short-barrelled bolt action rifle for scrub hunting.

The other difference is that the hunter is also entitled to have a gun at the age of sixteen, with parental agreement.

These variations aside, there are few differences between the hunter and the private citizen.

The accredited target shooter and member of the FFTir, however, is the only citizen to be allowed to have military calibre arms. To be so classified requires membership of a shooting club, and a six-month probation period forbidding purchase of first and fourth category firearms, but providing unrestricted use of any in the fifth, seventh and eighth categories. After that six-month period, application is accepted for an autorisation de d'tention for a first or fourth category firearm. This done, the shooter is then allowed to buy and own up to seven centrefire handguns or rifles and five rimfire handguns or rifles in the first or fourth category. Centrefire ammunition is allowed up to a thousand cartridges per gun per year. The certificate is renewed each three years.

This refreshing attitude to gun ownership indicates that the French authorities have recognized the foolishness of restricting individual guns - whether short or long, big or small of bore, black, brown or brindle - from those people who have satisfied reasonable licensing restrictions. Assuming sensible attempts have been made to ensure the good character of the applicant, then no further social benefit accrues from increased bureaucracy attached to the gun-owning process.

Pistols have been heavily regulated since the 1930s in Australia, and this has not prevented criminal misuse with illegal ones. By the same token, international research indicates strongly that the number of licensed handguns in the community belonging to licensed shooters does not increase crime.

Then, of course, there is the matter of French firearm education and safety. While first and fourth category arms are restricted from applicants aged below twenty-one, instead of denying the right to gun ownership at every turn, the French allow accredited target shooters to buy fifth, seventh and eighth category arms from the age of sixteen. Airguns can be bought at the age of nine with the approval of the parents. From this, it is hardly difficult to work out where French gun safety training takes place, and in what circumstances. Early education is the demonstrated best way to prevent firearm accidents - again, the opposite line to that taken by the Australian government.

A Realistic Approach
There is no gun control problem in France. There are 2.5 million hunters, 142,000 members of the FFTir, and, exactly as it is in Australia, an unknown but large number of guns in the hands of ordinary people.

Concerning accidents, the sport of shooting there is safer than almost any other. In 1996, for the FFTir, there was one personal injury. Gun accidents in France are considered of such small statistical importance that there are no official figures on them.

Public opinion there is not against guns, nor is the opinion of university teachers and criminologists. As an example, in the proposals published in the International Criminology Review concerning the control of criminal behaviour in big cities, no gun control measures have been suggested as relevant. Those measures proposed concern better liaison with youth by social workers, more direct police action against drugs, and better town planning to give suburbs more places where young people can meet for productive social activities (libraries, youth centres, and school help structures are suggested), instead of being left alone on the streets.

Also interesting to modern Australia is their suggestion of social centres to increase the options of foreigners seeking better integration into the society.

There has not been an increase in the pressure from the authorities to prevent ordinary folk from owning guns in the mistaken belief this would alter crime rates. Guns are seen to be objects, and the ordinary dictates of personal responsibility require the individual to think about what he is doing with a firearm, exactly the same way as with a car. They are not toys, even though they bring pleasure when properly employed in target shooting or hunting.

Concerning the protection of personal property using a gun, French criminal law recognizes the acceptability of shooting at somebody to save life, but only under precise conditions does that right exist. When it occurs, trial by jury follows, and if the law has been respected there is normally no problem. Rural areas of the country, where quite everybody owns a shotgun, have a very low rate of criminal activity where there is direct assault against the person. This is well known to both criminals and to the police forces, which agree with the use of this mean of defence.

In another point of contact with Australia, what is really curious is that the media strongly condemn the use of lethal force by a citizen to protect his life, and yet when the odd case does go to court the jury usually understands the common sense application of the law and acquits where appropriate.

Actually, criminal behaviour is not increasing in France, but this has nothing to do with misplaced notions of so-called gun 'control'. It is mainly due to the efforts of the French police to be more present in the streets. The patrol car response has been replaced wherever possible by a change of emphasis in favour of the foot patrol, encouraged to have good contact with the population and to know exactly what is going on in their patrol zone. This system is effective.

What work there is on the subject of gun legislation is being done by the media, probably because of their perceptions of American conditions, but the population and the authorities are not concerned.

The world's two recent mass murders have not influenced the French approach, because in that country a multiple killing is not seen as a function of a gun that has somehow run amok, but a problem of the inadequate detection and treatment of madness.
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