Berlin (CNSNews.com) – The Czech Republic has resisted calls by the European Union’s executive Commission to tighten gun controls in response to terror attacks, forcing the E.C. to alter its proposals, allowing for the private ownership of semi-automatic weapons.
The Czech interior ministry now wants to loosen its own laws a step further, proposing a constitutional amendment on Monday that would allow its citizens to bear legally-held firearms against the perpetrators of terrorist attacks, such as those in Nice or Berlin, the Czech news agency ctk reported.
The government says that putting weapons into the hands of citizens is the best defense against terror.
The move comes despite the European Commission’s ongoing advocacy for stricter gun control laws in Europe.
The Czech parliament blocked the E.C.’s earlier attempt to introduce tighter European gun laws, after the attack in Nice.
While the E.U. Firearms Directive and Czech laws already prohibited private ownership of fully automatic weapons, the commission’s initial campaign aimed to further narrow the E.U. regulations to rule out semi-automatic and self-loading weapons – which make up about half of firearm ownership in the Czech Republic – and limit magazine sizes to ten rounds.
The Czech parliament rejected the proposal, arguing that such tougher gun laws would not be the solution as terror attackers only use illegally-held weapons. The government derided the E.C.’s plans as “legally ambiguous and in some cases excessive.”
The E.C. was last month finally able to reach agreement by all member states, including the Czechs, after allowing exceptions for hunters and gun collectors and only banning a select few semi-automatic weapons.
“Mass shootings and terrorist attacks in Europe have highlighted the dangers posed by certain firearms circulating across the E.U.,” it said in a statement, but also expressed regret at the concessions it had to make, such as not banning all semi-automatic weapons or limiting magazines to ten rounds.
Despite the E.U.’s concerns, the latest Czech proposal argues that armed citizens would be the best defense against terror attacks.
In a statement on Monday, Interior Minister Milan Chovanec said that amending the constitution would reduce the chances of attacks by enabling “active and rapid defense.”
Citizens should be given the right to use firearms to defend their “life, health and property” and contribute to “ensuring the internal order, security and territorial integrity” of the country, he said.
As December’s truck attack in Berlin demonstrated, security forces have not been able to guarantee the full prevention of attacks. In light of the threat, the Czech ministry argued that the proposed amendment would help to prevent the loss of lives by allowing civilians to contribute to “internal order and security.”
The proposal is scheduled to be considered in March. To pass, it must be agreed upon by at least three-fifths of all deputies and three-fifths of all senators present.
The exact details of the interior ministry’s proposal are still to be worked out, and for now simply indicates that it is subject to “terms and details prescribed by law.”
However, it appears likely to expand the range of “genuine reasons” for possession of a firearm to include those of “national security” – and thus, theoretically, allow anyone to own a gun.
Gun ownership is currently legal in the Czech Republic. As per E.U. regulations, firearms are required to be registered, and Czech law also requires a license and a genuine reason to possess a firearm, such as for hunting or personal protection.
Gun holders are also required to pass a background check which considers factors such as mental health and criminal history.
Unlike gun ownership, there are no laws explicitly covering civilian use of a firearm in self-defense, nor in regards to terror attacks specifically. Such an incident would fall under general criminal provisions regarding self-defense, which may allow the use of a gun, but only in cases of absolute necessity (including the threat of “imminent” attack).
Self-defense case law in the Czech Republic has applied only to violent assaults such as rape and robberies, and not to terrorism. It is not clear yet how the constitutional amendment would, if at all, build on or deviate from this established law.
The country was shaken by a mass shooting in 2015, when 63-year-old Zdenk Ková fired on a group of 20 people, killing 8. Ková, had a gun holder’s license despite a history of misdemeanors and concerns over his mental state.
The incident prompted calls for a re-examination of Czech gun laws, but they are still considered among the most lax in the E.U., partly due to the fact semi-automatic weapon possession is allowed.
According to data collated by Gunpolicy.org, a firearm injury prevention NGO, an estimated 7.6 percent of Czech’s 10 million residents legally hold weapons, with 810,046 registered privately owned firearms in the country.