Low key commemorations as Czechs hope to have learnt lessons from shooting spree

Photo: CTK

Wednesday marks the first anniversary of a shooting spree in a small Czech town which left eight dead and one seriously injured before the gunman turned his weapon on himself. Uherský Brod is set to commemorate the massacre in a subdued fashion. Both the police and government have sought to learn some of the lessons from the shocking event.

Photo: CTK
Stun grenades preceded the police intervention at a restaurant in the far south-eastern town of Uherský Brod on February 24, 2015. They found eight people shot dead and one seriously wounded with the 63-year-old gunman having eventually turned his gun upon himself.

The massacre was described as the worst on record in a country where many believed such events only happened abroad.

A commemorative mass will be held today in the town of around 17,000 but the local council has shunned any major public events saying that it is up to individuals to decide how they want to mark the anniversary.

The restaurant where the shooting took place is still closed. A small memorial to the events of February 24 stands a few dozen metres outside.

Questions about the armed gunman, the adequacy of the police response, and the communication channels between the town and police quickly followed the massacre. The mayor at one stage during the police operation revealed on television that a man was hiding in the restaurant building. The special police intervention squad had taken around an hour to arrive on the scene from Brno around 100 kilometres away. The first police on the scene had beaten a retreat after they came under fire.

Former Družba restaurant in Uherský Brod,  photo: CTK
And it turned out that the gunman, who lived nearby, had been suffering psychological problems for a long time but that he was the holder of legitimate licenses for the two guns used in the killings.

The police probe after the killings largely exonerated the way the force reacted. But changes were recommended. Some have already taken effect and others are on the way.

A proposed new law on law on firearms that was approved by the government last December should result in gun licenses being cut to five years from the previous 10. Doctors will be allowed access to the lists of gun owners allowing them to highlight where risks exist. And police will be allowed to confiscate arms immediately without having to go through trees of paperwork and procedures.

And the police themselves have introduced rapid reaction forces consisting of at least two armed officers equipped with bullet proof vests and ready for immediate action. Around 120 such units spread across the country should be able to get to any incident anywhere within 10 minutes. Police say such units were already being rolled out before the Uherský Brod shootings but they were all in place 10 months later.

Memorial in Uherský Brod,  photo: CTK
And police and local councils have agreed a new framework to keep each other better informed if such incidents happen again.

But gun possession is still high with around 700,000 licenses issued in a country of just over 10 million with the last amnesty for arms in 2014 bringing in just 6,000 of those which don’t make it onto the official list.