People across Europe are seeking means to purchase firearms and other self-defense devices following an increasing number of attacks by radical Muslims. Many purchasers also attribute their need for firearms to the massive increase in migrants, which are flooding Europe.
Specific statistics are very hard to come by in all of Europe, nevertheless, applications for gun permits are climbing in Switzerland, Austria and the Czech Republic. Their larger neighbor Germany has some of the strictest gun control laws in the world, and many people are turning to the black market to obtain weapons. Also, many Germans are seeking permits for carrying devices designed to scare off assailants, such as blank guns and those that fire pepper spray. Those applications have risen almost 50 percent.
Little research into the reasons for the recent apparent trend has yet been published, but the assumption is that attacks in the past year including in Paris, Brussels, Nice and Munich have stirred fear among some citizens.
“There’s no official explanation for the rise, but in general we see a connection to Europe’s terrorist attacks,” said Hanspeter Kruesi, a police spokesman in the Swiss canton of St. Gallen.
Kruesi advised against buying weapons, saying they did little to improve citizens’ security while presenting problems over safe storage and raising legal questions over their proper use in a conflict. “People could actually make themselves criminally liable,” he said.
After he spoke to Reuters, the canton was the scene of an attack aboard a train this month. The suspect and a woman victim died later, although police said his motive was unclear. What is clear is that 10 days after the attack, police have refused to release his name or any information other than he “may have had ties to an extremist group.”
One Swiss resident who has just bought his first ever weapons – a pistol and a pump-action shotgun – pinned his decision on a feeling of insecurity created by the attacks combined with criminality that he blamed on North Africans, as well as concern over recent break-ins in his neighborhood.
“Buying weapons for self-defense won’t protect you from terrorist attacks,” said the 55-year-old who lives in a town near the capital, Bern.
“Nevertheless these attacks are contributing to a subjective sense of threat, as is the rising pressure from migration and the high crime rate among migrants from the Maghreb,” he said, requesting anonymity due to concerns about his safety.
Like Kruesi, authorities in Europe – where levels of gun ownership are comparatively low and controls are often tight – have avoided encouraging their citizens to buy weapons.
But Czech President Milos Zeman broke ranks after an 18-year-old with a history of mental illness killed nine people in Munich in July. “Citizens should be able to arm themselves … in order to be able to act against these terrorists,” he told TV Nova.
Czechs may already be doing so. Gun permit holders grew by almost 6,000 to close to 300,000 in the first five months of 2016 after several years of declines.
In Switzerland, the land of the legendary crossbow marksman William Tell, a rising trend emerged last year. Of the country’s 26 cantons, the 12 that responded to a Reuters inquiry all reported higher 2015 applications for permits entitling people to buy guns. Interim 2016 figures show a further rise.
While those from people with serious criminal convictions or suffering from mental illness are rejected, most are granted.
Switzerland’s defense relies heavily on tens of thousands of citizen soldiers who store their automatic rifles at home, but almost no civilians have the right to carry loaded guns in public.
Some people want this changed. Jean-Luc Addor, a parliamentarian and member of the Swiss gun lobby, aims to introduce legislation in September to ease the restrictions.
Addor contends that more armed civilians mean safer streets.