Germany has one of the strictest gun laws in the world. Nevertheless it is tightened on a regular basis, even if that does not bring any real safety gains. Our neighbouring Country, the Czech Republic, takes a different approach: The right to possess firearms was established as a constitutional right. We talked with the Czech MEP Dita Charanzová about these differences.
JAWINA: While in Germany many people and politicians regard owners of legal firearms as a kind of threat and danger, the Czech parliament just voted with a vast majority for a constitutional right to possess guns. How do you explain this difference? Does the difference lie in a specific Czech culture or tradition?
Dita Charanzová: I am not sure I can comment on the German situation, I am definitely not an expert. When it comes to the Czech context, yes, indeed, there is a long tradition of hunting as part of community life, but also sport shooting. You should consider as well the fact that private ownership of firearms was fully prohibited during the Communist era and it is now, therefore, considered as one the rights gained when the Czechs became a free and democratic society. I think that all these factors contribute to a certain difference between our two countries. On the other hand, I have to say that some of my German colleagues in the European Parliament were very critical to the proposal of the revised firearms Directive and voted, in the end, against it.
JAWINA: In Germany pro-gun-advocacy is widely (mis)judged as a right-wing political activity. But the Czech Minister of the Interior, Milan Chovanec, is a social democrat and you are a liberal democrat – quite centrist, isn’t it?
Dita Charanzová: Yes, our political group stands somewhere in the middle. But the Firearms Directive had opponents from all political parties, so I would not claim that it is a matter strictly of a political orientation. Some thirty per cent of the MEPs were against its adoption, which included Members from different political families.
JAWINA: As a member of the EU, the Czech Republic has to transpose EU-directives into national law. So what is the use of that constitutional right?
Dita Charanzová: That is a good question. I am myself a little bit sceptical about the concrete impacts of the adoption of the constitutional amendment with regards to the transposition of the Directive. In practical terms, I think that it is crucial now to transpose the Directive into the Czech law in a way which would bring the least harm to legal gun holders. Our national legislation is extremely well drafted, the Directive has to be therefore transposed very carefully. Also, the Czech government will most probably raise a formal complaint to the European Union Court of Justice which would address the issue of the revised Firearms Directive.
JAWINA: Do you think, the Czech decision to implement a constitutional right to possess firearms is an anti-EU-statement?
Dita Charanzová: I do not see it this way. I think it is above all a domestic statement, sort of reassurance – our political representation wants to make sure people understand that their rights will be maintained.
JAWINA: What will be the practical consequences for Czech hunters, shooters and other gun owners?
Dita Charanzová: It is important to see this in the context of other legislative initiatives that are currently ongoing in the Czech Republic. On one hand, it is the transposition of the Firearms Directive, on the other draft legislation on new reservists-based defence units composed of trained and armed private persons. All these initiatives aim to strengthen the internal and external defence capacities but also give people legal options to possess certain types of weapons.
JAWINA: In an interview you described the “enormous amounts of pressure” the EU-Commission exerted to adopt restrictions as severe as possible. Can you describe, how this pressure is exerted? Which forces – governments, lobby groups – are responsible for that?
Dita Charanzová: I do not want to name and shame people, but it is more than obvious that European Commission leadership, especially its representatives responsible for this agenda, were extremely active so that the Directive is adopted as soon as possible and as strict as possible. Here, in the European Parliament, they were using influence within their specific political groups to make sure the decision-makers fight for the Commission´s proposal. On the other hand, I must say that I was surprised to see how many Member States, who were also part of the negotiations, did not oppose more to tightening of the rules for their citizens.
Photo: The Czech MEP Dita Charanzová. (Copyright: Dita Charanzová)