Czech lawmakers get fired up after approval for new European gun rules

Photo: Sgaba, CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported

Proposals for stricter European gun rules achieved almost the impossible by uniting Czech MEPs and creating a broad front of domestic opposition to the plans. While backers of the changes maintain they are clamping down on terrorism, opponents say the new rules are wide of the mark and merely make life difficult for legitimate and licensed gun holders. And Czech lawmakers have pledged to fight on.

Photo: Sgaba,  CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported
The European Commission proposal to tighten gun rules united Czech MEPS like almost nothing before. All of the around 20 MEPs from across the political spectrum united to vote against the revised rules.

But it was largely a symbolic stand as 491 votes were mustered in favour of the new rules with just 178 against. Czech European lawmakers complained that allies in other countries, such as the Baltic states and Finland, were bought off with various concessions. And some conceded that amendments to the proposed changes meant it was not as offensive as the first draft.

One of the Czech MEPs who voted against the new gun rules was ANO’s Dita Charanzová:

"Unfortunately, right from the start of these negotiations the process has been very politicized by the European Commission and the president of the European Commission, Mr [Jean-Claude] Juncker, and unfortunately most succumbed to this political pressure.ʺ

The new rules have been justified as tightening up on the availability of blank-firing and inadequately deactivated guns which can be relatively easily changed back into lethal weapons. The Paris attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices in 2015 used such reactivated weapons, allegedly bought from a Slovak seller whose main clients were film makers. There would also be stricter rules on certain semi-automatic weapons and automatic weapons converted into semi-automatic ones. National databases will have to be created to track all firearms.

On the Czech domestic political scene, the results of the Strasbourg vote were a starting gun for condemnations and frenzied preparations how the proposed new gun law could be challenged or circumvented. Minister of Defense Martin Stropnický clearly favours the second option.

Martin Stropnický,  photo: Filip Jandourek
"We have created a small working group at the Ministry of Defence composed of lawyers, people from the army and experts to deal with this."

One possible option to be explored is to use the wider and more relaxed gun ownership possibilities offered to members of gun clubs or associations. Finland’s army reserve is likely to be used in this way to sideline some of the stricter gun rules. There is also the option of a direct challenge to the new rules in the European Court of Justice.

And why all the furore in the Czech Republic? Well there is the fact that there are around 300,000 legal holders of firearms licenses with around 825,000 licensed weapons out there. The Minister of Interior, Milan Chovanec, is currently pushing legislation that would enshrine legal gun possession in the constitution. And while some spokesmen for hunters’ groups say the new rules might not affect them that much now, they warn that they could be looking down the barrel when they are revised in the future.