Militias, hunters reprieved from post-Paris EU gun control

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Finnish volunteer militias on the Russian frontier, boar and elk hunters and the Swiss army’s pensioner reserve won reprieve on Thursday from tighter European gun control following last year’s Islamist attacks on Paris.

At a meeting of EU interior ministers in Brussels, officials accepted an array of objections and agreed to review draft plans that could have barred minors from owning firearms, restricted online weapons sales and, notably, banned private use of most semi-automatic rifles, like the Kalashnikovs used by Islamic State militants in the French capital in November.

EU and French officials, who have pushed to block loopholes, stressed that after the return to the drafting table the new regulations were still on schedule to be agreed by governments in June before sending to EU lawmakers. Diplomats and officials said the review should secure exemptions for special interests.

These include hunting associations, especially in central and northern Europe, which were concerned that a minimum age of 18 for gun ownership or a ban on sales over the Internet could hasten the demographic decline of their sport. Some governments argued that with fewer hunters, animal populations such as wild boar in the Baltic regions, could multiply out of control.

And while there are standing exemptions for states’ military reservists, there were concerns that tighter limits on infantry-style weaponry in private hands could disrupt security in countries like non-member Switzerland. Bound by EU gun laws and fiercely proud of its citizen army, many Swiss soldiers retain their service weapons in their homes after retirement.

Finland, which long counted on military weaponry held by private volunteers to protect its edgy Russian border, was also vocal in resisting restrictions and its interior minister, Petteri Orpo, said he was satisfied the draft would be revised.

Reporting by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Sandra Maler