Europeans want to own guns, but their governments are trying to stop them

In the wake of terrorist attacks across the continent, Europeans are attempting to arm themselves. But gun laws are holding them back.

The fascination with which some American exchange students are met in Europe speaks volumes about the gun culture of Europeans. “You’ve actually used a gun before? Wow! And your family even owns guns? Dang!” There is no gun culture in Europe, and apart from countries currently at war, such as Ukraine, or that just came out of war recently, such as the Balkan states, guns aren’t something you see regularly. With one notable exception.

The state of emergency in some countries, triggered after the multiple terrorist attacks hitting Europe, has brought soldiers back into the streets. In Paris or Brussels, it’s hard to miss patrolling and heavily-armed soldiers in the streets. Their guns are proving effective. In February 2017, soldiers shot a man who was charging them in the Louvre museum. In October 2017, police shot dead an assailant in Marseille, France, after he had stabbed two women in the main railway station. Just last month, both soldiers and special police unitsshot at and killed the man who committed a terrorist attack in Strasbourg, France. The citizens protected by these soldiers are drawing the logical conclusion: guns work against terrorism.

France and Belgium have seen a significant increase in memberships in shooting clubs and in the number of gun license applications over the last three years. The latter almost doubled after the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels. In Germany, the amount of legally registered weapons has increased by almost 10 percent in five years, and there were 6.1 million guns in 2017. Between 2012 and 2017, the number of permits to carry weapons for use outside shooting clubs more than tripled to 9,285.

According to ONS data, the UK showed a 2 percent increase in firearm and shotgun certificates in the year ending March 31, 2018—rising to 157,581.

Numbers by the Switzerland-based Small Arms Surveyshow that unregistered weapons outnumbered legal ones in 2017 by 44.5 million to 34.2 million.

According to a recent Rand Corp. report:

Europe represents the largest market for arms trade on the dark web, generating revenues that are around five times higher than the US. Firearms listings (42 percent) were the most common listings on the dark web, followed by arms-related digital products (27 percent) and others, including ammunition (22 percent). Pistols were the most commonly listed firearm (84 percent), followed by rifles (10 percent) and sub-machine guns (6 percent).

The reason why Europeans are stockpiling arms is understandable: With terrorism came a growing sense of insecurity. Soldiers may be patrolling the big streets, but they cannot be everywhere. Furthermore, terrorist attacks can happen in small towns where police aren’t on high alert, such as theCarcassone and Trèbes attack in France in March 2018, which killed five, theNormandy church attack in France in July 2016, where one person was killed, or the Würzburg train attack of July 2016 in Germany, which resulted in five people being injured with an ax.

But applicants for firearms will soon find themselves in an uphill battle against their own governments.

While some American media outlets are glorifying the perks of gun-free Europe, it would seem that the market speaks for itself. Europeans are buying guns. But the task is easier said than done, as legislation varies significantly by country.

In countries such as Belgium, psychological tests, shooting practice, and a series of other formalities are required to own a firearm. All in all, the process takes about a year. Gun owners are often (according to national legislation) subject to random police checks to assess whether or not the guns are stored correctly. Many of the rules and regulations regarding storage, as well as the fact that carrying firearms is illegal almost everywhere in Europe, make these guns practically useless in self-defense situations.

A few exceptions stand out, including the Czech Republic.

Czechs are fond of the right to bear arms, especially in comparison to their neighbors. In a population of about 10 million, over 800,000 firearms are registered to date. This number has been increasing dramatically since the fall of the Soviet Union. The Czech Republic allows concealed carry and does not even specifically ban guns in bars and clubs (though many owners have their own policies on that). “Gun-free zones” on schools and campuses do not exist; the law does not prohibit concealed carry there, either.

In 2017, President Miloš Zeman and the lower house pushed an amendment to the constitution that would guarantee gun rights for all citizens, as the country finds itself in conflict with the European Union on gun legislation. A constitutional provision would have held up at the European Union Court of Justice against Brussels, but the move was ultimately stopped by the Czech Senate. Nevertheless, the internal disagreement over the clash with the European Union on firearms isn’t over.

In 2015, the European Union Commission proposed a revision of the 1991 firearms directive, ultimately passing a watered-down version of the amendment that went into effect in May 2017. The Czech Republic, however, has not carried out the directive, and in September of last yearmissed the deadline to implement changes to its national gun legislation. The changes would have entailed a complete ban on civilian ownership of category-A firearms and the inclusion of semi-automatic weapons that look like automatic firearms into the category of banned firearms.

Switzerland, which is not a member of the European Union but practices bilateral agreements with Brussels, found a compromise agreement in September of last year, and the EU made concessions to Switzerland’s more liberal gun laws. However, the Swiss government will be challenged by its own people on the matter: a popular initiative against the agreement has gathered the necessary signatures to organize a referendum. The vote is likely to take place in May of this year.

In fact, many governments have surrendered their own policies to the European Union in an attempt to shift the blame. After all, “it’s just Brussels deciding this, we can’t do anything about it” is a common excuse in the decision-making process of unpopular policies. As a result, increasingly gun-friendly Europeans will find themselves blocked by their own governments in the process of protecting themselves.


This article was first published by the Foundation for Economic Education.

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About Bill Wirtz

My name is Bill, I'm from Luxembourg and I write about the virtues of a free society. I favour individual and economic freedom and I believe in the capabilities people can develop when they have to take their own responsibilities.

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