Convertible Weapons in the Western Balkans

Convertible Weapons in the Western Balkans is the result of a comparative study which was carried out to determine the extent to which convertible weapons are addressed in existing legislation and the extent to which this corresponds with new European Union regulations. In 2008, the European Parliament and the European Council adopted Directive 2008/51/EC, which amended Council Directive 91/477/EEC on control of the acquisition and possession of weapons. One of the amendments included within the definition of a firearm non-lethal weapons which could be converted to fire real ammunition in order to curtail the problem of transfer and modification of convertible weapons within the European Union.

This report is the first to address the issue of convertible weapons in the region. Convertible weapons are non-lethal handguns that have the appearance of regular firearms and function in a similar way. Convertible weapons can be modified into firearms that can shoot real ammunition by the replacement or modification of main components. Throughout this research it was indicated that many countries in the Western Balkan region have been affected by the illicit trafficking, possession and use of convertible weapons, particularly in connection with other organized crime activities. Some organized crime groups have engaged in the illicit modification of convertible weapons which can be cheap to obtain and profitable to resell as firearms while being difficult for law enforcement bodies to trace. It was commonly reported that convertible weapons, after having been modified to fire bullets, have been transported through several states in the region for illegal distribution. It is firmly in the interest of European Union candidates and potential candidates in the Western Balkans to approximate EU firearms legislation as a step towards combating the illegal manufacture, smuggling and possession of convertible weapons.

For the most part, there are strict regulations on the civilian possession of firearms in the countries of the Western Balkans. However legislation of certain types of convertible weapons is currently inadequate in a number of countries. Most countries and territories in the Western Balkans could improve the accuracy and effectiveness of legislation by adopting specific definitions for firearms which encompass convertible weapons. In addition, some types of convertible weapons have ambiguous standing in the law in several countries in the region. Penalties for offenses that involve the manufacture and modification of arms and the sale of prohibited firearms by individuals were not consistently sufficient to address the illicit trade in converted weapons and their modification.

The report was researched and written between May and August 2009. Reporting is based on reviews of firearms and weapons legislation, interviews with officials from the Ministries of Interior, local and international law enforcement personnel, advisers on small arms and ammunition issues; and a review of information published by national governments and local administrations, media and other public sources.

The English version of the report can be downloaded here.

The Serbian version of the report can be downloaded here.