Mon Dieu!: A Review of French Gun Laws

By Sebastian O.

So, you’re thinking about moving to France, sitting under the Eiffel Tower, sipping a café au lait and contemplating the meaning of life. Come right across the big pond…but make sure to leave your artillery at home. Owning firearms in France and using them for sport, hunting, and self-defense makes New York City laws look tame in comparison and there is no second amendment to protect the rights of French gun owners. This post is meant as a basic introduction to the nonsensical jungle of French gun laws, sports shooting, and hunting and was inspired by last year’s TTAG break-down of German gun laws . . .

While France consistently ranks among the top countries for per capita civilian gun ownership worldwide, closely behind its Teutonic neighbors to the east and Vikings to the north, French gun ownership is heavily regulated by placing weapons into different categories based on their function and caliber.

Weapons categories range from the 1ère catégorie that includes fully-automatic weapons and fighter jets to the 8ème catégorie of historic and collectible weapons. Yes, that’s right, fighter planes and full-auto rifles are in the same weapons category under French law. Go figure.

To simplify the explanation of French gun categories, it is best to divide them into the four “European” categories that will likely be adopted in the coming two years, as new gun regulations passed the French parliament in 2012 and are waiting to be signed into law.

Category A – Prohibited Firearms

Category A is a big no-no and includes everything from tanks to fighter planes. Most importantly it prohibits the ownership of fully-automatic firearms for civilians, so if you were thinking of visiting France to get some trigger time behind a FAMAS, think again. Of course, this hasn’t stopped gangs in French cities from getting their hands on some surplus Yugo-AKs or the terrorist Mohammed Mehra from acquiring an Uzi, but that’s a topic for another day.

Category B – Subject to Authorization

Category B includes anything shorter than 47cm, including handguns, or semi-automatic, with a removable magazine and a capacity larger than three rounds, and requires a sports shooting license to own. How do you get a sports shooting license? Be an active shooting club member and hit the range at least three times a year, go see a doctor every year who attests that you are physically and mentally capable of owning a firearm and prepare for some major paperwork.

Once you have cleared the hurdles of French bureaucracy, prepare to rinse and repeat every three years, as category B ownership is contingent on a time-limited authorization that can be revoked at a whim by the local police. Case in point: pump-action shotguns. Once available to hunters in category C, they were reclassified to category B in 1995 because of their perceived use in violent crimes.

Owners who did not want to become sports shooters and acquire the necessary three-year licenses had to turn them in to be destroyed, with some sources claiming as high as 500.000 weapons meeting an early demise. To illustrate how little sense the law made, it was only applied to smooth bore pump-action shotguns, so a rifled Maverick 88 is still in category C because it is considered a manually-repeating rifle rather than a shotgun.

Category C – Subject to Declaration

Category C is the universe of hunting weapons with everything from bolt-action rifles and lever guns to three-round limited, semi-automatic weapons with tilting non-detachable magazines – think California, only worse. Ownership is for life but, as was the case for pump guns, French gun owners are always just one movie franchise-reboot away from seeing an entire group of firearms moved into a higher category.

Category C weapons can be acquired with either a sports shooting license or a hunting license and must be declared to the local police office for firearms and explosives. Unlike sports shooting licenses, hunting licenses require you to take a theory and practice exam that covers areas such as safety, laws, huntable and protected species and even questions on different dog breeds. However, all of this can be done with two weeks of studying and a day of exams, a far cry from the regulations in other European countries like Germany, where getting a hunting permit can take anywhere from a month to a year of intensive instruction.

Category D – Other

Category D basically includes everything that couldn’t be squeezed into the previous three categories, such as pellet guns under 10 joules (over 10 is category C).

What does that mean for the gun owner in France? Pure silliness is the best way to describe it. You need a three-year renewable police authorization and a shrink-check to own a single-shot 22. sporting pistol but you only need a life-time hunting license to buy and declare indefinite ownership of a 6+1 Marlin lever-gun in 45.70.

It gets better though, as you can buy and own a category C lever-rifle in 357. magnum but you can’t buy the ammo because it’s category B…oops. No worries though, 44. magnum is fine, the ammo and the rifle are both in category C. Makes sense right?

Let’s not forget that all .223, .308, .30-06, and even .303 British ammo is category B, meaning it is inaccessible to hunters, while significantly less dangerous calibers such as 300 WM are in category C.

Transporting your guns

To transport or carry your firearms, you need what is called a motif légitime. So if you are a sports shooter you can transport it, locked or disassembled, to and from the range or the gun store – that’s about it. If you are a hunter, you can carry your category C long gun during approved hunting periods and hours and on the property for which you have your tags.

You might as well forget about carrying a firearm for self-defense. That requires an entirely different permit process that makes California concealed-carry look like a cake-walk. Think judges in criminal trials, high-ranking politicians, and people with enough political grease but certainly not your average Jacques.

Overall, the hurdles for French gun ownership are high by US standards, but they could be worse. At least we aren’t as screwed as the English – yet.


Sebastian O. is a German-born sports shooter, firearms enthusiast, and aspiring hunter who moved to France ten years ago to study abroad. There he fell under the spell of Paris and a beautiful woman and never ended up leaving.

31 Responses to Mon Dieu!: A Review of French Gun Laws

  1. avatarLoïc says:

    It’s the same problem for us in Belgium, complicated gun laws to make you loose the envy to buy one. And even self defense non-lethal things like pepper-spray, expandable baton are illegal. But bad guys can buy AK’s in eastern europe without too much problem. Sick of Europe.. (and that’s just one of the many reasons)

  2. avatarMatt in FL says:

    Interesting writeup.

    God bless America.

  3. avatarMike S says:

    Reading a summary of the gun laws pretty much anywhere outside the US always reminds me that I still have a lot to be thankful for (more than just gun law, but it is representative). Thank you.

  4. avatarChainsawWieldingManiac says:

    Eh, I’ve met some Frenchmen online with cat B licenses. It’s annoying to get and maintain, but it’s doable. IIRC, at least the authorities don’t start getting picky about SBRs and suppressors once you’re one of the anointed. I’d prefer the French system over the “you can’t have it ever, peon” system of CA and other ban states.

    • avatarfrankgon4 says:

      I tried to purchase a .357 magnum revolver made in France and the rules for export were so difficult, the FFL dealer said it was like trying to get a fighter plane. I never got the hand gun. MR 73 revolver.

    • avatarMoonshine7102 says:

      “I’d prefer the French system over the “you can’t have it ever, peon” system of CA and other ban states.”
      Which is very similar to choosing being beheaded over being drawn-and-quartered. The process may be slightly more appealing, but the result (surrendering of rights) is no less distasteful.

  5. avatarLaurent says:

    You forgot to mention that as of right now the number of category 1 and 4 (future category B) is limited to a total of 7 firearms … and there is a limit of 1000 rounds per year (of course everybody reloads …).

    The new law was voted in last month, but will become applicable in a year or 2 afar the details are written in such as which weapons in which category. We still don’t know if weapons in 7,62×39 will stay in category B or be banned altogether because AKs are evil … it happened before with the pump action shotguns as you mentioned.

    • avatarSebastian Ordelheide says:

      That is correct, you may only own a total of 12 category B weapons (currently categorie 1 et 4) and only 7 of those can be center-fire rifles, with a 1000-round per year limit. You can get exemptions but it’s a major pain the ass for sports shooters who go through that amount in about a week.

      As for the license, yes it’s doable but it’s a pain in the behind compared to many U.S. states. It takes the three controlled training sessions at your club, approval from your club president, approval from the police, and some serious paper work – not to forget the annual shooting license renewal.

      On the bright side, there is no such thing as limits on SBRs or magazines and silencers are just considered pieces of metal; you can pick them up without any firearm license or registration. Buying guns online, especially for category C, is as easy as emailing over your license documents and the rifles get shipped directly to your door.

  6. avatarJohnny says:

    I look at some European countries and even Canada’s laws seem pretty tame.

  7. avatarAnon in CT says:

    Is there a Mag Cap limit in Cat B? If not, that would beat some states.

    So I want to take a couple of rifles from CT to a friend’s place in PA to get some range time. Of course, you have to cross NY to get there. Since CT is a ban state, the rifles are compliant (no scary bayonet lugs), so no prob in NY – but all my mags are illegal in NY, but fine in CT and PA. Mail the mags to PA?

    • avatarKelly in GA says:

      Seeing as how NYC juries don’t seem to give a flying f anymore, you could just go thru the big Apple, just to piss off hizzoner. Okay, really, jk. Mailing is the only safe bet. But if i owned a range near the NY border in PA, I would rent high cap mags for just this kind of situation.

    • avatarHSR47 says:

      If I were you, I’d just lock and transport in accord with Federal law, as possession is legal at both the beginning and end of your journey.

      • avatarRalph says:

        Just do NOT stop for any reason in enemy territory.

        FYI, Congress is considering an amendment to FOPA that would permit not only brief stops, but even overnight stops in enemy territory, for persons legally transporting their guns from one state to another.

        • avatarAnon in CT says:

          I suppose I should also lock the lead foot up too, just to avoid involuntary stops?

          But seriously, I think I am just going to mail or UPS them – why tempt trouble?

    • avatarSebastian says:

      I haven’t heard of, or found any reference in the legal texts, about a mag limit, but it’s important to remember that guns are not as readily available in France as they are in the U.S. and acquiring firearms can be an expensive hobby. Rifles that can be bought for $300 in the U.S. will set you back 500 Euros and more over here and parts and pieces are not as readily available.

  8. avatarRalph says:

    So which is punished more severely in France — unlawful possossion of a firearm or speaking English at the Hotel de Crillon?

    • avatarSebastian says:

      Possession of an illegal firearm will soon be punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a 250.000 Euro fine, I think that even beats The Bernstein Suite at the Crillon.

  9. avatarTom says:

    I can see where the Antis get their inspiration.

  10. avatarJonathan in France says:

    Thanks for this interesting post and apologies for not noticing it sooner. As one of probably a very small number of TTAG readers in France, I agree that the rules here might seem confusing to our American cousins. They are even sometimes confusing for us! Nevertheless, I am not sure the posting really does justice to the rules of play, and it doesn’t help that the author has lumped the 8 categories into 4, and has labelled them A, B, C and D. In fact, they are numbered in 8 categories. There is nothing inaccurate in the substance of what he reports – not at least that I notice. For the sake of clarity, I will attempt to reprise:

    1ère catégorie : arms and munitions of war including semi-automatic rifles and handguns. These can be purchased with the authorisation of the prefect.

    2ème catégorie : materials required to carry or use firearms in combat

    3ème catégorie : gas and chemical warfare materials

    4ème categorie : hand guns not classified as arms of war, semi-automatic rifles that can fire more than 3 shots, rifles with a length under 80cm and a barrel less than 45cm, automatic or semi-automatic weapons with a barrel under 60cm, semi-automatic weapons like look like arms of war, or camouflaged, air weapons with energy superior to 4 joules. All these weapons may be purchased only with prefectorial authorisation.

    5ème catégorie : shotguns firing a single shot, shotguns and center-fire rifles not classed in categories 1 or 4, repeating shotguns with magazines under 3 shells. In effect, this includes most rifles in non-military calibres although not semi-automatics. All these arms can be bought by those holding a hunting licence or membership in an authorised shooting club. Prefectorial authorisation is not required but prefectorial notification is obligatory.

    6ème catégorie : combat knives, bayonettes, tear gas, kniuckle-dusters, tasers. Carrying any of thee without a ‘legitimate reason’ is forbidden.

    7ème catégorie : starting pistols, air weapons with power under 10 joules which are not subject to prefectorial notification, and rimfire rifles and air weapons superior to 10 joules, which are subject to notification.

    8ème catégorie : historic weapons and replicas, all black-powder weapons and canons – not subject to notification.

    I hope that’s clear. I see nothing in the rules prohibiting the construction of large catapults.

    Otherwise, I would only note that the byzantine quality of the rules is perhaps even more annoying that the post suggests. It is illegal to hunt with a .22 rifle. It is illegal to plink, even on your own land, and even if you possess a legal firearm. You can only shoot outdoors in the context of an authorised hunt. The gendarmes can show up whenever they want to inspect your firearms safe (obligatory for most – but not all firearms). All these rules are likely to become even more restrictive in the future, following recent events in Toulouse and elsewhere. Although of course none of these incidents have involved law-abiding shooters holding registered weapons.

    Yet you can buy silencers over the counter and order more or less anything by mail, provided you have the right paperwork.

    In Britain, which operates an even more restrictive regime, it is worth noting that at least you can shoot on your own land and assassinating bunnies with a .22 has not (yet) been banned. Although owning any kind of pistol has been banned and they have had to pass a special temporary law to allow the shooting to go ahead at the Olympics! The British team is meanwhile having to practice in, I think, Belgium.

  11. avatarJean Claude Van Damme says:

    So with all this in mind, in france……does it matter if you have suffered from ptsd? i dont mean now i mean like years ago…..would it still be a no to guns due to the risk that you could pose to others like it would be in england???

    • avatarNapoleon Bonaparte says:

      Your question about PTST is interesting. I take anti depressants and have for years but this was no impediment for obtaining my Licence de tir. Anyways the requirement is for a doctor to sign off, not a shrink, so any old doc will do, even one who has no idea how you are. My suggestion is not mention the PTST thing, if you are batshit crazy it will be evident anyways so no need to drop kick a hornets nest.

      Having been a shooter in the US (AZ) then in France I defiantly was overwhelmed by the laws here but honestly i prefer this to the craziness in the southwest. I recall many many incidents at gun ranges in the states where total idiots would endanger the whole range by their lack of safety training. Wildcatting was even worse as you could easily fall on a nutcase who wants to seal your guns.

      The major difference is that in France your guns are strictly for sporting purposes and in no case for self defense (like in the states). Shoot someone here and they will toss you under the jail regardless of the circumstances. In fact, and this is where France is f***ed up , defending yourself with anything here will probably get you tossed in prison while the shithead crook will walk!!

  12. avatarLou says:

    Hey guys. We, in the UK, are feeling for you after another deeply upsetting and depressing school massacre. Maybe it’s time to decommission those 200-million-odd privately held, easy to use, completely unnecessary firearms that you keep bleating on about – there aren’t any injuns left to kill guys, you did that already.

  13. avatarRob says:

    Aside from the “injuns”, of which there are still a great many left, those completely unnecessary firearms enabled us to get rid of you Brits and let us run our country by ourselves.

    • avatartim says:

      there was me thinking it was the french that got rid of the brits from america

      • avatarKyle says:

        The French played a role in helping the colonies win the war, but it was not solely because of them that the war was won. And whether the guns are “necessary” or not is nobody’s business.

  14. avatarjustin says:

    As a UK shooter looking to move to france, I’m actually struck by the fact that the UK is easier to own and use firearms than France albeit we don’t have certain firearms. Currently on my FAC (fire arms cert) I can own centrefire and rimfire rifles.
    Rimfire semi auto no magazine limit.
    Centrefire bolt only no magazine capacity limit.
    Ammo limits and shooting venues are capable of being increased providing I can prove need. I.e. “I’m off shooting deer at this venue and want a 308 to do it with” then police have to prove I don’t have need otherwise must grant permission.
    There’s no real limit to the number of weapons capable of being held nor ammo. I just need to prove a need. Fancy a lever action in pistol calibre? Need? Yup, I shoot In a club, tick. Want sound moderator? Need? Yup, health and safety to protect those little ears. This does have to be noted on the cert.
    there’s no limit on calibres whether military or not so I have both 308 and 22.250
    On my shotgun licence, I can have as many guns as I want in any action except auto. I.e. Saiga 10 shot semi auto.
    no licence needed for air rifles to 12 ft lb. suitable for hunting small mammals to 40-50 yrds
    I thought we had restrictions on where to shoot but this is only reasonable in a small country with 55 million. France is three times bigger for same population. Our restrictions are minimal for air rifles if you own land or have permission. More restricted for .22 as requires police authorisation to confirm land as fit for shooting over, I.e. not in towns but still lots of places.
    Centre fire is more restricted and land needs closer authorisation from police but once the land is registered then anyone with permission on FAC and from land owner can shoot there as it goes on a register.
    No limits on when to shoot except game seasons.
    no limits on need to join clubs, get doctor assessment
    Licences last upto 5 yrs

    However, no pistols to speak of, no automatic weapons of any sort, no semi-auto centrefire. BUT we have had few massacres since Hungerford or Dunblane and even as a shooter I’m very happy to live under that regime. Want to shoot heavy duty? Fly to Krakow and have cheap weekend with Glocks, AKs and Glaubert Machine pistols.

    If you want to know the results of these laws then stats on gun crime is here:

    Would like to hear similar for FR, DE, US etc

    • avatarEric says:

      It’s good to hear how things are across the pond. Would it be safe to say that UK and French gun laws are designed to seperate the weekend warriors from the true hunters/competitors/sportsmen (IDPA, IPSC, etc.)? It seems as though they’re exceedingly restrictive (compared to American standards obviously) but clearly do-able. Not exactly this southern boy’s cup of tea but I could make it work.

  15. avatarwobbly says:

    France just made a lot of its military calibers into category C:

    That is, it now looks legal to hunt with a 7.62 or other weapons previously limited to range use.

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