Czech coalition divided over populist gun law amendment

By bne IntelliNews February 27, 2017

The Czech government failed to agree a stance on February 27 on a proposed amendment enshrining the right to bear arms in the constitution and allowing gun owners to use their weapons in the event of a terrorist attack.

The populist measure was introduced for consideration by outspoken Interior Minister Milan Chovanec of the coalition-leading CSSD. It is just one of a number of high-profile topics Chovanec has led the conversation on in recent months, with elections due in October.

The failure by the CSSD to form a consensus with its partners in the Ano and Christian Democrat parties means the progress of the issue will be left up to a vote in parliament. The bill would need support of 60% in both the lower and upper house to be adopted.

Chovanec claims that is a realistic target, although at a press conference he was left to stand mostly alongside MPs from the communist KSCM and centre-right opposition ODS, according to CTK. A total of 35 MPs are reported to currently support the move, which the interior minister says would enshrine gun ownership as a fundamental right.

"I think we have a very good negotiating position to obtain the necessary 120 votes in the chamber of deputies," Chovanec said.

The memorandum explicitly calls the possession of weapons in accordance with the law a part of ensuring the security of the country. The MPs stressed that the amendment does not call for mass arming of citizens and is not expected to lead to an increase in the number of weapons in the country. Instead, they claim a pre-emptive strike is necessary against plans by the EU to tighten gun ownership rules.

However, critics - and notably the Ano party, which holds a healthy lead in the polls ahead of the October election – claim that opening the way for citizens to take up arms against a case of terrorism without special training could make matters worse. They also blast the authors for self promotion.

"This proposal is a clear pre-election populism,” claims Martin Plisek, an MP from the centre-right Top 09 party. “The right to possession and use of guns does not need a constitutional act. The current laws are satisfactory.”

Like other countries in the region, the Czech Republic has seen populist calls multiply in recent years in response to attacks in France and Germany amongst others. However, the country has not suffered a single terrorist attack, but media in the country often equate migrants – of which there are very few - with the danger of such attacks.

The random shooting in a bar in Uhersky Brod in 2015 by a Czech with a gun licence that killed eight people appears, paradoxically, to have raised support for the ownership of firearms. In the last five years over 100,000 guns have been sold, bringing the total number owned by private Czech citizens to more than 800,000, according to Hospodarske noviny.

The European Parliament is expected to vote on a directive to tighten gun ownership regulations in March. That threatens to take thousands of guns from Czech citizens, Chovanec claims.


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