(CN) – European firearms passes were properly denied to several members of a target-shooting group in the UK territory of Gibraltar because the EU law at issue is not applicable, Europe’s highest court ruled Tuesday.
Though EU law applies fully on Gibraltar, a provision of the 1972 Act of Accession stipulates that the territory is excluded from EU customs.
Tuesday’s ruling from the European Court of Justice goes on to quote precedent involving this statute, which says the free movement of goods is excluded on the territory of Gibraltar.
Albert Buhagiar, the president of the Gibraltar Target Shooting Association, ran headlong into this exception when he requested firearms passes in May 2015 for himself and six members of his group.
The five-year passes are available under an EU directive from 1991, but Gibraltar’s minister for justice refused, noting that it is the position of both the European Commission and the UK government that the 1991 firearms directive does not apply on the territory of Gibraltar.
This is because the directive is intended to facilitate the free movement of goods, and the Gibraltar government had decided not to transpose it, the minister noted.
Buhagiar challenged the decision before the Supreme Court of Gibraltar, which in turn stayed proceedings pending Tuesday’s ruling by the European Court of Justice.
“The provisions of Directive 91/477 relating to the transfer of firearms for civilian use must be regarded as falling within the free movement of goods, irrespective of whether the transfers are effected in a commercial context, including through dealers or in a mail order sale, or outside such a context, that is to say, by individuals, in particular by hunters and sports target shooters in order to be used in their respective activities,” the ruling states.
The Luxembourg-based court disagreed with Buhagiar that EU acts harmonizing the laws of member states relating to the free movement of goods are dependent on the reasons for transferring the goods concerned.
“If that were so,” the ruling states, “it would create … a situation of legal uncertainty as to determination of the rules of EU law relating to the free movement of goods that are applicable on the territory of Gibraltar, and this would also be liable to affect adversely the interests which the regime that Gibraltar was granted by the 1972 Act of Accession is intended to protect.”