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'Gun laws are stupid': The Europeans pushing for looser gun controls

Alex Phillips of Paradise, Texas, poses for a portrait holding his rifle, as he and members of the Open Carry Tarrant county group gathered for a demonstration, 2014.
Alex Phillips of Paradise, Texas, poses for a portrait holding his rifle, as he and members of the Open Carry Tarrant county group gathered for a demonstration, 2014. Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Joshua Askew
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Possessing firearms is the "measure of a free and open society", one UK-based firearms advocate told Euronews.

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“Civilian gun ownership can make authoritarian drifts very difficult because it gives people the ability to resist,” Andrea Favaro told Euronews. 

He is part of Firearms United, a pan-European firearms lobby, which claims to bring together more than 100 million law-abiding gun owners in the region. 

It's a movement which wants to loosen gun control laws in Europe, bringing them de facto more into line with US gun laws. 

“We are not ideologically driven,” he said. “I am a libertarian. But we have people who are conservatives and those on the left. All of us just want common sense gun laws.”

One place that has "good" firearms controls is the Czech Republic, says Favaro. Here restrictions are relatively lenient compared to other European countries, with Czech citizens able to obtain a gun if they meet limited criteria and carry it in public. 

The Czech Republic's law "is very streamlined, allows people to carry firearms and focus on vetting who gets a license. Most gun laws focus on technical minutiae and miss the point entirely," claimed the Italian from Milan. 

‘Allow good people to defend themselves'

There are many reasons why some advocates want to see more guns in Europe. 

Favaro – who owns three pistols, three rifles and a shotgun – claimed "being able to carry a firearm deters violent crime, especially those that by nature are committed against victims of opportunity." 

Experts fiercely contest this claim that guns protect people, however. 

“Pro-gun advocates have an almost romantic notion that if you could give everybody guns, everybody would be safer. But that’s simply not true,” said Dr Brian Wood of the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA). 

Research suggests areas with higher rates of gun ownership do not have lower crime rates. In fact, a Harvard University review found gun availability is correlated with more homicides.  

European gun lovers allege firearms make people freer, besides improving safety.

Gun ownership “is a measure of a free and open society and people’s ability to live their life on their terms in pursuit of their happiness”, said a spokesperson from Firearms UK, an organisation campaigning to protect firearms rights. 

Again this is contested by Wood, who argues guns can actually rob people of their liberty. 

“When a society is saturated with guns there are much higher levels of deaths and injuries,” he said. “What is free about that”?

The arms trade expert, who has worked for Amnesty International, also pointed to the fear loosely regulated firearms can engender in communities, especially for more vulnerable members of society.

“High levels of gun violence in communities lead women and girls, young and old people to feel like they cannot walk safely on the streets.”

“That’s not freedom at all.”

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Brennan Linsley/AP
In this July 20, 2014 photo, with guns displayed for sale behind her, a gun store employee helps a customer at Dragonman's, east of Colorado Springs, Colo.Brennan Linsley/AP

Favaro pushed back against this. 

"Gun ownership doesn't make society more dangerous, as can be attested by countries like Switzerland with its high gun ownership or the Czech Republic, where any citizen can carry a firearm and many do so."

"Both are some of the safest places in the world." 

Each country's unique social, economic and political circumstances make drawing parallels complex. 

The Czech Republic is the 12th safest country in the world, according to the 2023 Global Peace Index. Above it in the ranking are a selection of countries, such as Ireland, Austria and Iceland, which have much tighter gun laws.  

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“European countries with high rates of gun ownership tend to abide by the rule of law, respect human rights, their policing policies are mostly pretty ethical, and they generally have low levels of violence,” said Wood. 

“Civilians don't need a gun to solve their problems here.”

And even when mass shootings do take place, Favaro believed guns weren't to blame. Instead, he alleged the media was playing a part in fuelling the phenomenon. 

Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP
James Everard of Killeen, Texas, holds a sign at the Protect the Second Amendment rally at City Hall in Austin, Texas, on Saturday June 2, 2018.Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP

"Gun laws are ineffective at stopping mass shooters because these people either arm themselves through illegal channels, with self-made firearms or manage to fool the authorities into releasing a license," he claimed. 

"In the US you could mail-order a belt-fed machine gun in the 50s and 60s, and mass shootings were an extremely rare phenomenon. Today mass murderers, both extremists and people who feel somehow wronged by society, know that if they use firearms the media coverage about their actions will be extreme and they will be immortalised. Their face and name will be shown everywhere, their ideas read by millions. They know they will end up dead or in jail for life, they do it because it gets them what they want," Favaro said. 

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"Take that away, and mass shootings will disappear," he continued, suggesting a "good policy would be to "report the facts but omit the name, face and motivations of the murderer while giving space to the victims and the people who tried to stop them."

Although mass shootings generate significant attention, they only account for a relatively small fraction of total gun-related deaths in the US. The majority of deaths are due to suicides, homicides, and accidents. 

In the eight years between 2015 and 2022, more than 19,000 people were shot and killed or wounded in the United States in a mass shooting, according to data from Everytown. 

More than double that amount of people - 48,830 - were killed by a firearm in just 2021, the most recent year for which the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention has data

'F***ing nut jobs'

Firearms United was created in 2016 in response to efforts by the EU to introduce stricter firearms rules following the Paris attacks.

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Assailants used AK-47-style rifles and explosives to kill 130 people and injure hundreds more in what was one of the deadliest attacks on French soil since World War Two.

Favaro criticised parts of the EU directive which placed greater controls on semi-automatic weapons. 

"The directive is a perfect example of a law that doesn't do anything to reduce violence, while impacts heavily sport shooters who have no role and no place in violent crime."

AP Photo
Two women stand outside the Petit Cambodge restaurant, a site of last Friday's attacks, in Paris, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015.AP Photo

Though the rifles used were decommissioned weapons legally bought in Slovakia and reconverted to fire live ammunition, EU legislation has specifically toughed rules around purchasing such weapons and made it easier to track them.

As an Italian, Favaro pointed to his country's fascist past, noting that its current firearms laws can be traced back to the Mussolini era.

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"Any authoritarian regime will enact strict gun control as one of the first measures, Italy was not the exception," he suggested. 

"Civilian gun ownership is important, especially in a continent that gave rise to all the worst regimes of the 20th century."

Wood criticised this, saying there was no consistent correlation between high levels of gun ownership and political freedoms.

Some of the most gun-saturated societies such as Afghanistan, Yemen and Iraq have authoritarian and corrupt rulers.

Arguments in favour of gun ownership rooted in the past are outdated, he explained. 

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"Loose gun controls in the US relate back to the history of the country's war of independence and its former need to protect itself against imperial powers."

“History has moved on.”

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