Slovak police seize dozens of illegal firearms

by Reuters
Friday, 18 December 2015 15:34 GMT

* Five people charged after raids

* Slovaks criticised over rules on decommissioning guns

* Some disabled weapons can be restored to full use

* Gun-running under increased scrutiny since Paris attacks

By Tatiana Jancarikova

BRATISLAVA, Dec 18 (Reuters) - Slovak police have seized dozens of illegal guns and ammunition in raids this week, including decommissioned machine guns that had been restored to full operation, a police spokesman said on Friday.

Smuggling of illegal guns across Europe has come under scrutiny since the Islamist attacks on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in January and the Nov. 13 Paris attacks that killed 130 people.

The latest finds highlight gaps in the control of weapon sales in Slovakia, a European Union member that is part of Europe's passport-free Schengen travel zone. It has been criticised by security experts, especially over the sale of decommissioned weapons that can be converted back into functional firearms.

Slovak police found the weapons in a series of house searches in the central region of Banska Bystrica this week and charged five Slovaks with carrying concealed weapons and illegal gun trading, a crime punishable by up to eight years in prison, spokesman Michal Slivka said in a statement.

The seized firearms included a Scorpio submachine gun and a UK-59 machine gun, both Czechoslovak-made. They had been reactivated after being decommissioned, a process that is supposed to make guns unusable by alterations such as bolting the barrel.

Such guns are sold as collectors' items, or for making movies. But gun experts say regulations in some countries such as Slovakia allow for decommissioning that can be reversed because it fails to destroy key mechanisms like repeat-loading.

The Wall Street Journal reported that jihadists used decommissioned weapons bought in Slovakia and reactivated in Belgium in a three-day spate of attacks in Paris in January, as well as in a botched attack on a high-speed train in August.

The Slovak interior ministry has denied Slovak guns were used in the actual attacks but said several Slovak-bought weapons were seized in subsequent raids by the French police.

In April, Czech police detained two French citizens at a border crossing with Slovakia who had legally bought seven decommissioned guns in Slovakia but illegally tried to export them.

Slovak legislation was tightened in July and it is no longer possible to buy these guns over the Internet. But people can still purchase them in gun stores if they present their ID, with no gun licence needed.

The law obliges gun owners to inform the police when they plan to travel abroad with their gun, but Slovakia's Schengen membership makes it easier to export weapons illegally.

The European Commission has proposed to introduce common standards on deactivation that would be stricter than current Slovak standards. (Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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