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Gun-toting Euros

We’re all familiar with the popular cartoon caricature of Americans as gun-crazy cowboys who would shoot you as soon as look at you and peaceful, sophisticated, post-history Europeans who only need their directives to keep them safe from harm. In fact, I have lost count of the number of sneering British lefty journalists who prefix every reference to Americans with the words ‘gun-toting’ as a means of driving home the impression that they are dangerous, violent, atavistic non-communautaire people.

True? Well, probably not:

“Contrary to the common assumption that Europeans are virtually unarmed, an estimated 84 million firearms are legally held in the 15 member states of the EU. Of these, 80 per cent – 67 million guns – are in civilian hands,”

Good gracious! And to think that Tony Blair wants political union with these gun-loving maniacs!

Finland, with its strong hunting tradition, has the most legally registered guns in the EU at 39 per 100 people, the UK has 10 – one third of the German and French figures – and the Netherlands has two. Gun laws are tightest in the UK, the Netherlands and Poland, while France has more legal handguns than the Czech Republic, Denmark, Poland, England, Wales and Scotland combined.

Just one quibble: there are no legally held handguns in the UK at all so maybe France is not quite as awash with hand cannons as the article would suggest. Nonetheless it is clear that most Europeans have not, in fact, been gripped by the same anti-gun hysteria that has swept over Britain.

25 comments to Gun-toting Euros

  • Alfred E. Neuman

    This is good to hear, though it does point out the moderate hypocrisy of the Euro-dolts who constantly deride America’s “gun culture”. After all, what do we have, 200 million guns? That’s only a little over twice this Euro number.

    However, what’s really depressing is how the British public has really bought into the whole “we’re morally superior victims because we don’t have handguns” bullshit.

    Whever I see a Brit post a snarky comment about how Americans have to have their guns or whatever, I can always feel that desperation at their core; that need to feel that being deprived of their right to self-defense is more moral or right; and not just some horrible, horrible policy gone wrong from their government that they’ve followed without complaint. Even as a thief mugs them or steals their stuff.

    It’s not a pretty thing (I assume you know, but I am of course not referring to you guys, but just limeys who regurgitate the state line on firearms without thought or analysis).

  • Geo

    Good post.

    Of course, there is no monolithic “gun culture” in America, despite a large number of people who do own and enjoy them.

    In Arizona, I have friends that are avid hunters, cowboy marksman competitors or military / law enforcement folks, some of whom have several firearms each, as well as friends that feel that owning guns is crazy and stupid and to whom the term “gun culture” doesn’t apply in the slightest degree. When I’m back home, we all regularly get together for barbecues and movies without thinking there is some kind of cultural divide between us because of this.

    The former group doesn’t think the latter is a bunch of leftist pacifist sissies and the latter doesn’t think the former is a bunch of dangerous, violent militamen. The reason it works is because of the underlying theme, or value, that you can do what you want as long as it doesn’t affect me.

    Plus, my friends are very cool (of course)!

    In fact, with all of those guns floating around, I’ve only known one person who’s ever shot anyone outside of a war. An acquaintance, an avid hunter, met an intruder at his door one night. After twice warning the fellow to leave and making it clear he had a shotgun trained on the guy, the intruder ignored the warnings and continued to try to break in. He was shot and killed.

    An autopsy confirmed later that the fellow had been on drugs. My acquaintance was acquitted of any crime but felt he had to move his wife and two young daughters out of that neighborhood.

  • G Cooper

    Alfred E. Neumann writes:

    “It’s not a pretty thing (I assume you know, but I am of course not referring to you guys, but just limeys who regurgitate the state line on firearms without thought or analysis).”

    It is absolutely no excuse at all, but the anti-gun message is imbibed with mother’s milk here. Advocating the (relatively) unrestricted ownership of firearms is possibly second only to using th ‘N-word’ in polite society.

    Trying to shfit people’s perspectives on this is an astonishingly hard task – not far from trying to convince a devout Christian that simply because s/he has been told something from birth does not mean it is true and that it should be subject to critical and rational analysis, as should all other notions.

    I can think of no other issue in this country (though the inherent and saintly virtue of the NHS runs it pretty close) where people are as locked into unthinking orthodoxy as they are by their faith in anti-gun creed.

  • S. Weasel

    Handgun Control, Inc. <spit> puts it at 192 million privately owned firearms in the US, of which 65 million are handguns.

    The ‘guns per 100 people’ stats used in the Independent article is a pretty meaningless way of looking at it, though, since individual hobbyists may own quite a few guns and throw the numbers off. Armed households would be a more useful comparison (it’s 39% in the US).

    [Damn. I have a sudden hankering to go out and buy me another shootin’ iron.]

  • mad dog barker

    Personally I am waiting for the UK to catch up with the liberal gun laws of Belgium. Walk into a gun shop in Brussels. Select your weapon of choice. Pay. Walk out as the proud new owner of a gun.

    Thank God those damned statist Belgians aren’t given a chance to change British law. Just think, we might all be able to go out and arm ourselves….

    …just before being taxed out of existence!

  • Tony H

    G.Cooper, it depends where you live. Perhaps you’re in the city? Devon & Cornwall Police administer the largest number of Firearm Certificate holders of any UK police force, and here in the countryside the admission that one owns guns, and goes hunting, is not necessarily looked upon as evidence of derangement. But I agree there’s a prevailing anti-gun orthodoxy, verging in some circles on hysteria.
    Pedant’s Corner: David Carr, it’s not strictly true that there are no legal handguns in the UK. Apart from a number of people who retain handguns on a collector’s ticket, because they’re antiques or something (my friend has his uncle’s RAF-isssue Colt .455 auto from the 1930s e.g.), there are several thousand handguns on issue to civilians in Ulster as “Personal Protection Weapons”
    Mad Dog – I thought the liberal Belgian regime had tightened up… In French supermarkets you can sometimes buy shotgun ammo to stick in your trolley, which is fun, and single-shot .22 handguns need no licence. In Finland I found bullets loose in a sort of pick-and-mix display, like sweets in Woolworths, in a department store.
    It’s familiarity. In the late ’60s I & my fellow Army Cadets ambled through Reading with rifles over our shoulders, on the way to camp; do that now, and there might be mass alarm. Difficult not to feel it’s all some kind of plot…

  • Jacob

    Mad dog is right !
    Britain, beeing a member of the EU, should harmonize it’s gun laws with Belgium or risk expulsion from Europe.

  • Tony H,

    Not pedantic at all – a worthy correction. I forgot about N.Ireland but, strangely, it is the only part of the UK not mentioned in the article either.

  • zack mollusc

    I am probably asking something that has been answered many times, but has the EU got a stance on civilian firearm ownership?
    I just assumed that it would be in line with the ‘guns are only for criminals’ policy of the UK.

  • G Cooper

    Tony H writes:

    “G.Cooper, it depends where you live. Perhaps you’re in the city? Devon & Cornwall Police administer the largest number of Firearm Certificate holders of any UK police force, and here in the countryside the admission that one owns guns, and goes hunting, is not necessarily looked upon as evidence of derangement. But I agree there’s a prevailing anti-gun orthodoxy, verging in some circles on hysteria.”

    Ah, but I did say ‘polite society’ didn’t I…?

    Sorry about that and you are absolutely right. As in so many things countryfolk tend to be more sensible and the hysteria about guns is far more prevalent in cities. Sadly, it is there that policy is forged and, as the fox hunters are about to have done unto them, is rammed through.

  • Tony H

    G.Cooper – thanks for that. But in passing, I find society down here in the SW distinctly more polite…
    Zack – I thought straight away that I’d put you straight on the EU/guns thing, then realised that my knowledge was sadly outdated. I knew that there was pressure for “harmonisation” and that this, as in other fields, might tend to take the most illiberal EU state as its model. But a quick search threw up this interesting site, which I invite Samizdataistes (correct? as in “Dadaistes”?) to ponder for themselves:
    The “Hippokrates” Programme has a sinister ring to it IMO.
    Harmonisation is at least recognised as being fraught with difficulties, given the considerable national differences in attitudes toward firearms ownership. Might be something to be said for staying in the EU, IF the Swiss joined and IF we adopted their model…

  • Doug Collins

    I noticed that the Independent article ended with a list of gun related fatality figures for the US and various European countries. I wonder what proportion of the fatalities were: 1. Inflicted by police on criminals? 2. Inflicted by people defending themselves or others?

    If that proportion is significant, it may indicate that countries with relatively low gun related fatality rates have relatively high victimization rates.

    An analogous statistical blurring is the one done by American do gooders who habitually mix fatalities of 18 year old hoodlums shot by police with those of cute 4 year olds who are accidentally shot with father’s pistol by their 6 year old brother. By doing so they can make a small number into a very large one.

  • I know very little about guns and gun law in Europe, but need to learn a bit more soon. Can anyone on this thread save me a bit of time and suggest any good web sources for statistics on gun ownership and legal rules in different European countries?

    Just if it comes easily to anyone’s mind. Thanks!

  • David Mercer

    In all of the rural counties I have lived in in the US there are generally more guns than people! One of them (Reserve Co., NM) passed a law that unless you were a consciencious objector, you had to have a gun in your house, as the time for law enforecement to respond would be too great to do any damn thing due to distance.

    The already very low burglary rate there shortly dropped even more. When even granny has a piece and knows how to use it, people do NOT mess about!

  • Tony H

    Mark, the site that springs most readily to mind is this:
    – which is run by Steve Kendrick (W.Midlands, UK), very clued up, and when he doesn’t know something himself about UK/EU firearms regulations he should certainly be able to point you in the right direction.

  • I guess this is yet another reason why Switzerland won’t be joining the EU. In Switzerland, every adult male is required to own a rifle and required to fire it at least 100 times per year on a target range. However, it doesn’t take much urging; marksmanship is virtually the national sport of Switzerland. (And a lot of women are into the sport, too, even though they’re not legally required to participate.)

  • A friend of mine who is a British artist once told me that, in practice, it was relatively easy to buy guns illegally in England. Without (for obvious reasons) being too specific, can anyone confirm or comment on this – even, uh, “hypothetically”?

  • zack mollusc

    Regarding gun fatality figures in the states, I have been told that these include suicides. Since a gun is an obvious choice for a suicidal person and if a gun was not an option then some other method would be used it seems that this skews the figures quite a bit.

  • Liberty Belle

    John Sabotta – Someone above mentioned that you can buy guns legally in gun shops in Brussels. Wouldn’t it be easier just to go over on the ferry and buy a gun from someone you didn’t have to meet in a dark alley and bring it back. Then if you’re ever caught with it, you can show your sales slip and say you thought guns were legal in the EU as they’re for sale in shops in the capital.

  • To Ms.Belle:

    It can’t really be quite that easy in Brussels, is it? No waiting period at all, even for handguns? No permit? Perhaps the spirit of John Browning still hovers over Belgium, but still…

    I’m just curious about how big the “black market” in England is for guns.

    (I vaguely remember stories in a collector magazine about some collector being contacted by a little old lady in Belgium or Holland or somewhere about some old “military surplus” stuff she had in her barn. He got there and found a collection of WWII French Hotchkiss 32mm anti-tank cannon – I’m quoting from memory – and stacks of live ammunition.He decided not to needlessly inform the authorities and bought the lot. he didn’t write about who or where he sold it all to, though.)

  • Liberty Belle

    John Sabotta, mad dog barker, posting near the top of this thread, says you can just walk into a gun shop in Belgium, select your gun of choice, pay and walk out with it. The waiting period seems to be the time it takes to work the till.

  • Tony H

    Sorry to be a wet blanket, but let’s nail this business about guns being freely available in Belgium – I cast doubt on it earlier, but having checked my bookshelf, I can confirm that a licence is needed to own/buy a handgun there, just like everywhere else in Europe. And part of getting it involves a written test, in French or Flemish… One relatively good feature is that non-residents can get licenced, though if you’re a Brit you have to get your local UK police to issue a certificate of approval for you to own a gun in another EU state. I know that there are a few Brits who have handguns over there, and shoot them at Belgian clubs.
    Liberty, nice idea but way too optimistic – even if you arrive back at UK Customs toting a pepper spray, CS gas canister, or other handy anti-mugger device (readily bought across the Channel) they will treat you with extreme hostility at best and take it away from you. Turn up with a gun of any sort, saying you thought it was OK, and you might find anti-terrorist cops pointing guns at you… Then you’ll be in for lots of questioning – and if you have a Brit FAC, they might punish you by taking it away.
    Re the UK black market, it’s common knowledge that if you move in the right (i.e. very criminal) circles, guns can be had for sale or rent. Just visit the right pub in a bad part of any big city – no, I can’t recommend one – and take the risk of speaking to a police informer. Five years in the pokey, mandatory, for illegal possession of a handgun.

  • LibertyBelle

    Tony H – Oh well … The reason I mentioned the ferry, rather than Eurostar or a plane, is there is relatively little in the way of security checks. I don’t know whether you have to go through immigration when you get back. On Eurostar, you don’t go through customs and immigration at the British end, but of course, there’s always spot checks. I don’t know whether security on the French side would bother stopping someone with a gun in their case. Perverse set of priorities this government has though. It’s obviously fairly easy to sneak an entire lorry-load of illegal immigrants into our island nation, but a can of pepper spray will be detected and punished. The name of the game is iron control over the citizenry.

  • Tony H

    Liberty, depressingly right about the “iron control” and perverse priorities. Re the ferry, yes, a family car with normal-looking Brits is unlikely to be stopped – but the vigilance is far higher now as you drive through the barriers, and if they do find you with a gun in your car, they’ll throw the book at you. Same for driving one’s car onto the Shuttle: I got picked out once, and they used sniffer devices inside my car, which would have detected explosives or ammunition propellants.
    And on Eurostar they make you walk through metal detectors, luggage likewise.
    Probably not worth the risk IMO.

  • A_t

    Can we just clear this Swiss thing up for once & for all? The Swiss gun situation is *not* analogous to that in the US; the price the men pay for having these guns is they must spend a significant amount of time in the army. They’re only given the guns to protect the state, not themselves. Using your military rifle to, say, dissuade a burglar would probably land you in some court or other.

    Plus, I really wouldn’t hold Switzerland up as a bastion of freedom; in most countries it feels like most things are permitted except those which are banned, Switzerland’s more like “the things you are not explicitly permitted to do are probably banned, so don’t try it”. They have rules about when you can hang your duvet out the window ferchristssake!

    Having said that, they’re doing well on the old freedom-to-smoke-cannabis front, & it *is* an extremely beautiful place to live, not to mention far more democratic than most of our countries.