Czech laws may be a model for U.S. gun regulation

While Czechia has some of the most lenient gun ownership laws in Europe, owners must pass written, practical, and medical exams.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 29.11.2022 11:42:00 (updated on 29.11.2022) Reading time: 3 minutes

Fatal shooting incidents in the U.S. have been in international headlines on an all too regular basis, and have led to renewed calls for bans on assault-style weapons. Recently, The Washington Post and the lesser-known Penn Live, a regional new site for Pennsylvania, have both looked to the Czech Republic for different inspiration on how to address the gun violence issue.

One comment that people often make on social media is that people in the U.S. need to pass written and practical tests to drive a car, but almost anyone can buy a gun and start using it. Some states and cities do have strict laws, but in many parts of the U.S., a person can buy a handgun, rifle, or shotgun with relative ease.

The Czech Republic is the only country in Europe where people have a constitutional right to own a gun to defend their own life and the lives of others. The right is relatively recent, though, and was added only last year in an effort to protect hunters and other gun owners from increasingly stricter EU rules.

But there are some restrictions to gun ownership. In the Czech Republic, people have to be Czech citizens to own a gun, though in some cases legal residents can also qualify.

Tough tests for Czech gun owners

The Czech Interior Ministry oversees all aspects of gun ownership and related safety issues. Everyone has to pass a written test (in Czech only) and then show that they can safely handle a gun and shoot accurately. They must also pass a medical fitness check, which includes mental fitness. Once a gun is obtained, the owner is obliged to store it safely.

The written test isn’t easy. It has 30 questions, drawn from about 500 possibilities. The amount that you need to get right depends on the type of permit you want. A permit to collect guns, for example, requires only 67 points out of 79, while a self-defense or professional permit, which would work for concealed carry, requires 74 out of 79 points.

The test for safe handling of a gun is actually harder than the written part, Jan Bartošek, the Interior Ministry’s firearms policy director, told the Washington Post. He added that people could retake the test, but many give up after failing once.

“You can focus on regulating the weapons or the people. We focus mainly on the people,” Bartošek said.

Permissive by European standards

The Washington Post points out that by European standards, Czech gun laws are quite permissive. But last year the country of 10.7 million had only seven gun homicides.

There were, however, mass shootings in both 2015 and 2019. The former occurred after the shooter was ordered to surrender his licensed guns due to his deteriorating mental health, and the latter was with an illegally owned handgun. In response to the 2015 incident, Czech laws were strengthened so police could more easily confiscate weapons from an owner who was suspected of mental illness.

In an opinion piece for Penn Live, the editorial board cited the laws in the Czech Republic and Australia as ways of addressing gun violence as a way to start a meaningful discussion on how to move forward in the U.S.

“What works for Australia and the Czech Republic may not work in the United States. And we’re not calling for doing exactly what they did. The point is, there needs to be urgent bipartisan efforts to recognize what’s worked around the world to prevent weekly mass shootings. It just might work here,” they said.

The editorial board added that people in Australia and the Czech Republic didn’t just hold prayer vigils and memorials. “They put the right to life and safety over the right to own guns,” they said.

Different gun cultures in Europe and the U.S.

But Czechia does not have a gun culture in its society, which makes regulating guns much easier.

Gun ownership in Czechia is not very widespread, and the right to bear arms is not a hot-button topic. Ownership is high compared to other countries in the Visegrád Group according to figures from 2021, while also being low compared to Germany and Austria.

There are 12.5 guns per 100 people in the Czech Republic, while Hungary has 10.5 Slovakia has 6.5, and Poland has just 2.5 per 100 people. Austria, on the other hand, has 30 per 100 people and Germany has 19.6.

In the U.S., while not everyone owns a gun, overall there are more guns than people, and 40 percent of Americans live in a household with a gun, according to a Pew Research Center report from September 2021.  

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