Most Americans would recognize the political battle that has occurred in Europe over the course of the last five years.
Massive influx of refugees and migrants, upticks in violent crime and terrorism, European Union citizens started turning to gun ownership. Meanwhile, the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack in January 2015 — perpetrated mainly with illegally obtained small arms — set off a political firestorm as politicians use the attack as a pretext to crackdown on legal gun owners in Europe.
Europe doesn’t have a Second Amendment equivalent, nor a codified history of armed self-determination. Since the rise of populism around 2015, however, things started changing.
A new gun rights organization named Firearms United, a European equivalent of the National Rifle Association (NRA), emerged to stop the E.U. from passing further gun restriction laws. One law, proposed the week after the Charlie Hebdo attack, aimed to prevent all Europeans in member-state countries from possessing semi-automatic weapons. (RELATED: Gun Use Surges In Europe)
Due in part to pressure from Firearms United, this legislation failed to pass through the European Parliament.
“Nobody expected us to become so successful: We were just a small group of activists communicating through social media, but we have been able to generate enormous pressure that ended in the proposal being watered down considerably,” said Andrea Favaro, the Italian representative for Firearms United. “The results were astonishing, mainly because we did this with almost no money and support.”
Like the NRA, Firearms United is at least partially made up of volunteers who want to ensure that gun rights in Europe are not restricted even further, and possibly have gun rights expanded as well.
“However, we understand that gun rights in Europe could never be the same as in the United States because we have a completely different history,” said Giulio Magnani, president of the Italian gun rights organization UNARMI.
Americans enjoy a constitutional right, which could simply not be applied in most European countries. The Czech Republic, where civilians can possess firearms after acquiring a license, is its ideal model.
“Few people know this, but the Czech people enjoy concealed carry, can own any kind of firearm, and the country is constantly ranked amongst the 10 safest places in the world,” Favaro said.
He explained how he works closely with Czechs to make their gun rights model more widely known in Western Europe, where the E.U. is increasingly attempting to crackdown on gun owners, a response to the rise in terrorism and criminality since the advent of the migrant crisis.
What most anti-gun advocates are unaware of or refuse to admit is that while gun sales recently went up in Europe, gun crimes went down, and people who illegally obtain firearms — not legal gun owners — commit most gun-related crimes.
Among Western European nations, gun rights are beginning to gain special attention in Italy. Under the new populist government with the anti-immigration party Lega (League) gaining momentum, guns started making headlines again. In March, the League’s “Castle Doctrine” — a self-defense law not unlike American “stand your ground” laws — was passed in the Italian parliament. The doctrine allows civilians the right to defend themselves from intruders with legally obtained firearms without fear of later punishment.
“The League has been the party which has shown us the most interest, together with the right-wing Brothers of Italy,” Magnani said. “But we don’t like to be ideological – this is a non-partisan issue.”
During a conference he organized in Milan called “Arms in Italy” last Friday, the panel discussed how the first near-blanket ban on arms possession was introduced under the fascist government by decree in 1931. In order to have complete control over civilians, it declared: “Arms will be confiscated.”
The anti-fascist partisans had to illegally obtain firearms during the resistance to defeat the fascist regime, and the partisans succeeded precisely because they had used firearms. Gun rights in Italy were effectively reinstated, even if under stringent control, after the country was liberated from fascist control. Thus, it makes little sense to describe gun rights as a cause belonging exclusively to the right.
In a country like Italy, the right to self-defense through the possession of firearms is also especially important because of the prevalence of organized crime, where firearms and bombs are obtained and used illegally against a largely disarmed and law-abiding civilian population.
“By nature, Europe is collectivist because of its history – we lived through the monarchy and then 20th-Century statist ideologies like communism and fascism, and so an individual right to possess a firearm guaranteed by a constitution, like in the United States, is simply unthinkable, since Europeans see themselves mostly as subjects, while Americans see the state as a subject” Favaro explained.
“However, the Czech model, where citizens can apply for shall-issue carry licenses, would be perfectly applicable in the rest of Europe with excellent results in terms of public safety.”
Through this organization, Europeans are seeking new opportunities for self-defense with the right to legal gun ownership at a time when tensions and criminality are on the rise.