Fatal mass shooting in Prague sparks debate over Czech gun laws

The shooting has local authorities and the public reconsidering assumptions of safety amid changing security dynamics in Europe.

ČTK

Written by ČTK Published on 22.12.2023 14:49:00 (updated on 23.12.2023) Reading time: 2 minutes

A deadly mass shooting in the historic center of Prague Thursday that left 15 people dead, including the shooter, has reignited debates around gun control in the Czech Republic.

Czech police said on Thursday that the gunman legally owned multiple firearms, which may be explained by the fact that the Czech Republic has one of the most permissive gun ownership laws in the EU, British daily The Guardian writes.

Though shocking, the incident is not entirely without precedent, the publication said. Czechia has experienced mass shootings before, including one in 2015 in Uherský Brod that left eight people dead. As with the Prague shooting, the gunman legally owned both firearms.

Czech guns laws among EU's most permissive

In 2020 there were more than 307,000 legal gun owners, in a country of about 10.6 million people, the vast majority of them citing safety and protection concerns as the reasons for ownership.

The “right to acquire, keep and bear firearms” is recognized in Czech firearms legislation, while a constitutional amendment made to the charter of fundamental rights as recently as 2021 legally guarantees “the right to defend one’s own life or the life of another person with a weapon.”

"Ownership goes hand in hand with a proud tradition of Czech armament manufacture. And, perhaps not unrelatedly, mass shootings in the relatively tranquil central European country are not unknown," The Guardian writes.

The amendment was adopted after a petition signed by 102,000 citizens that was organized in opposition to a European Commission proposal to restrict firearm possession throughout the EU.

Time magazine quotes police data from 2022 according to which more than one million firearms are registered in Czechia. Reports say that the number of applications for a gun license has slightly increased since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

According to Gunpolicy.org, 195 deaths caused by firearms were recorded in Czechia. More recent data is not available. In 2018, 170 deaths were caused by firearms in Czechia, and in 2017 it was 174 deaths, the magazine writes.

Prague mayor: 'Our world is changing'

The shooting has local authorities and the public reconsidering assumptions of safety amid changing security dynamics in Europe. It also puts Czech gun policy under an international spotlight as comparisons are being drawn to the struggles of the U.S. with mass shootings and calls for reform.

"We always thought that this was a thing that did not concern us. Now it turns out that unfortunately our world is also changing and the problem of the individual shooter is emerging here as well," The Guardian quotes Prague Mayor Bohuslav Svoboda as telling the public broadcaster Czech Television.

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In response to questions surrounding the nation's gun laws, Czech Interior Minister Vít Rakušan told reporters Friday that no legislation can guarantee 100 percent prevention of attacks, adding that some aspects of Czech regulations are often stricter than those in other countries.

Rakušan cited an amendment to the arms and ammunition law, currently awaiting a final reading in the Chamber of Deputies, which includes provisions allowing police to preemptively seize weapons based on security information or links to extremist groups.

The amendment which aims to modernize outdated gun laws with measures like electronic authorizations replacing licenses, is set for early 2026 implementation.

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