By Sebastian O. [Originally published on April 12, 2012]
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.