At the same time the European Union bureaucrats in Brussels are trying to foist further gun controls on the continent, Europeans are exhibiting a newfound interest in acquiring the tools of self-defense. Though restricted by EU mandate and often severe national gun controls, following a series of high-profile attacks on women, Europeans are buying up whatever means of protection they can still legally obtain.
The surge in interest in firearms and other self-defense products dates back several months and relates in part to European unease surrounding mass immigration from the other parts of the world. In October, Fox News and others reported a marked increase in firearm sales in Austria. In the piece, Thomas Ortner, a spokesman for Austrian gun retailers, noted, “Nearly all shotguns are sold out because you don't need to have a firearms permit to buy them… Registration courses for pistols are usually held only every five weeks but are now held weekly.”
As 2016 neared on Dec. 31, however, some 1,500 men, including some newly arrived asylum seekers and many other immigrants, had instead assembled around Cologne’s train station. Drunk and dismissive of the police, they took advantage of an overwhelmed force to sexually assault and rob hundreds of people, according to police reports, shocking Germany and stoking anxieties over absorbing refugees across Europe.
As a January article from Reuters pointed out, a look at the best-selling products on the “Sport & Leisure” section of Amazon.de (the German Amazon.com) immediately following the attacks revealed brisk sales of defensive sprays. The report also noted that the president of German defensive spray manufacturer DEF-TEC told the news outlet that sales of the products had “rose seven-fold in the final three months of last year.” On January 15, NBC News reported that so far in 2016 over 300 people had applied to Cologne police for licenses to carry gas pistols and imitation firearms; while only 408 such licenses were granted in all of 2015. Further, the New York Post pointed out in an article titled “Europeans stocking up on guns after mass sex attacks,” actual firearms are also in great demand.
More recently, German state news agency Deutsche Welle noted this trend. According to the article, “most customers want a pistol that can fit easily into a handbag or a small drawer in the night table.” Moreover, a “social media expert” told the news outlet, “There has been an increase of at least 1,000 percent or more in Google search queries for gun permits since January.”
To their credit, rank and file German police officers appear to support the decision many Germans are taking to arm themselves. German Police Union Chief Rainer Wendt told Deutsche Welle that the police do not intend to obstruct citizens in their attempts to lawfully arm and that he does not support new laws that would make it more difficult for the public to obtain self-defense products.
As we pointed out back in November and December, this all comes at a time when the EU is seeking to crack down on firearm ownership in its member states. Pursuant to the European Firearms Directive, EU nations are already required to adopt a minimum threshold of gun restrictions. However, on November 18, in the wake of terrorist shootings and bombings in Paris, the European Commission announced that it was expediting previously contemplated gun control legislation. An extensive overview of current EU firearms law can be found at Library of Congress’ website.
Under EU legislative procedure, typically the transnational government’s executive branch, the European Commission, drafts and proposes legislation. The proposed legislation must then be approved by the European Parliament, which consists of members of parliament (MEPs) elected by the citizens of member states, and the European Council, which consists of the leaders of the various member states, in order to be adopted. These entities may also provide amendments to the proposed legislation.
The centerpiece of the recent proposal would place semi-automatic firearms in the same category as automatic firearms, barring civilian use. Other provisions offend the privacy rights of gun owners with stricter firearm registration requirements, and “standard medical tests” for firearm licensing. Additionally, firearms licenses issued by member states could not be valid for a period longer than five years.
Predictably, the gun control-crazed United Kingdom government, led by Tory Prime Minister David Cameron, offered their full-throated support of EU-wide gun control measures prior to a December 17-18 meeting of the European Council. In a December 13 press release that echoed the November 18 European Commission announcement, Cameron cited concerns over terrorism and noted, “I’ll be calling for a new EU-wide ban on all high-powered semi-automatic weapons.”
However, many EU member governments and shooting organizations have made clear they have no intention of caving to Brussels’ onerous dictates.
Revealing that many in the UK don’t agree with the efficacy of additional firearm restrictions, UK shooting organizations the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and Countryside Alliance have worked in concert to oppose the current EU proposal. A February 2 article from the UK’s Western Morning News noted that the groups have shared their concerns about the proposed rules with several MEPs and UK government officials. In conveying their position to the news outlet, a Countryside Alliance spokesperson explained, “We believe the current set of proposals will have a serious effect on sporting and target shooting, collectors, museums, re-enactors and the gun trade, resulting in heavy restrictions and a great deal more work for the already overburdened police force… In fact it appears that the only group that will not be affected by these proposals is terrorists.”
Similarly, representatives from German shooting organizations have met with German government officials to explain their opposition to the new restrictions. A December 21 Deutsche Welle article noted that the German Interior Ministry invited the groups in for a meeting. Following the session, Director of the German Federal Association of Shooting Ranges Joachim Streitberger told the news outlet, “The proposal contains things that the [German Interior Ministry] said would be difficult for them, and where changes would be called for,” adding, “After this conversation I do not expect the draft to come into force in the present form.” Streitberger also noted, “The criminal doesn't care one bit what is in the law. The paradox is to try to use the law to avoid disadvantaging the law-abiding, while regulating the law-breaker, and that's a paradox that a lawmaker can't solve. Which weapon used in Paris was legally owned?”
Additionally, the article cites Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine, which reported, “confidential EU reports suggest that the German government - along with its Austrian, Czech and Finnish counterparts - is keen to put the brakes on the EU's plans.” Der Spiegel’s contention is in line with December statements made by Finland Security Minister Petteri Orpo regarding the importance of civilian semi-auto use to their national defense, and reports that the Czech Republic has significant concerns with the proposed changes. Further, Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Lithuania, Norway, Portugal, Slovakia, and Spain have all issued formal comments on the proposal.
Having been adopted by the European Commission, the proposed changes to the Firearms Directive are currently under the jurisdiction of the European Parliament’s Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO), chaired by MEP Vicky Ford of the UK’s Conservative Party. IMCO has released a timetable for their work on the proposal. The next major event in the timetable is a scheduled “first exchange of views” on February 23, followed by a hearing on this matter March 14-15.
It is deplorable that the EU would seek to further restrict access to firearms when so many Europeans are finding it necessary to exercise their human right to self-defense. Thankfully, diverse members of the European shooting community, including shooting and hunting organizations, members of the firearms industry, and military officials are coalescing to oppose the changes to EU firearm law. NRA has been, and will continue to be, in contact with members of the European shooting community regarding this matter. Moreover, NRA will continue to monitor the situation as it unfolds in the European Parliament and keep our members informed of important developments.