More Europeans arming themselves with guns

The president of the Swiss weapons dealers' association, Mr Daniel Wyss, says terrorism has fostered a sense of vulnerability in Europe.
The president of the Swiss weapons dealers' association, Mr Daniel Wyss, says terrorism has fostered a sense of vulnerability in Europe.PHOTO: REUTERS

ZURICH/BERLIN • Europeans in a number of countries are seeking to arm themselves with guns and self-defence devices in growing numbers following a series of attacks by militants and the mentally ill.

Some weapon sellers also link their increased business to the arrival of huge numbers of migrants in Europe, although a German police report stated that the vast majority do not commit crimes of any kind in the country.

The picture is patchy, with no up-to-date data available at a European level, leaving national and regional authorities to release statistics that are far from comprehensive and not always comparable. Reasons also vary for civilians to own guns legally, including hunting and sport as well as self-protection.

Nevertheless, applications for gun permits are climbing in Switzerland, Austria and the Czech Republic. Their larger neighbour Germany has not followed the trend in lethal firearms, but permits for carrying devices designed to scare off assailants, such as blank guns and those that fire pepper spray, have risen almost 50 per cent.

No research has been published yet but the assumption is that attacks in the past year, including in Paris, Brussels 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 Mr Hanspeter Kruesi, a police spokesman in the Swiss canton of St Gallen. He advised against buying weapons, saying they did little to improve security while presenting problems over safe storage and raising legal questions over their proper use in a conflict.

Like Mr Kruesi, the 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 last month. "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 this year after several years of decline.

In Switzerland, 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 applications from people with serious criminal convictions or suffering from mental illness are rejected, most are granted.

"Nobody says directly: I'm buying a gun because of the attacks in Nice or Munich," said Mr Daniel Wyss, president of the Swiss weapons dealers' association who runs his own gun shop. "But the sum of these events has fostered a general feeling of vulnerability."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2016, with the headline 'More Europeans arming themselves with guns'. Subscribe