By Aneta Zachová
(EurActiv) — A constitutional amendment would enable Czechs to acquire and possess a gun for security purposes. This is a partial response to the proposed EU Firearms Directive.
The right to be armed could be included in the Czech constitution. This controversial proposal was discussed by the Czech government this week, with the proposed EU Firearms Directive being mentioned frequently in the debate.
The amendment was backed by the Social Democrats, the main coalition party. The position of other coalition members was not so favourable. ANO 2011, which is currently leading in the polls, was the strongest opponent.
The government has not reached any conclusion on the matter. However, the author of the proposal – Interior Minister Milan Chovanec – perceives this as a positive sign.
Now it is time for the Czech parliament to decide. In order to pass, the amendment would have to get the support of at least three fifths of deputies and three fifths of senators. Chovanec hopes that the act will be approved before the parliamentary elections in October.
“I think that we have very good negotiating position to get 120 votes needed to pass in Chamber of Deputies,” Chovanec said.
According to Martin Plíšek from opposition TOP 09 party, the proposal is useless. “It is pure pre-election populism, because there is no need to set the right to possession of weapon by a constitutional law.”
Chovanec claimed that there is only a peripheral link between the amendment and the EU’s Firearms Directive restricting acquisition and possession of weapons.
But the explanatory memorandum of the Czech act reads that “the proposal has to be perceived in the context of European Commission’s efforts to limit owners of legal weapons under the pretence of fight against terrorism”.
The original proposal presented by the Commission aimed at a ban of all semi-automatic weapons. The European Parliament’s internal market and consumers committee (IMCO) revised the Firearms Directive and added specific exceptions for current legal owners, sport shooters or military reservists. Semi-automatic weapons with low-capacity magazines should remain legal, too, according to the committee.
“There are still some provisions full of contradiction in the proposal such as restricting the rights of legal owners, groundless limits for magazines capacity and also some sanctions and obligations for sport-shooters,” EURACTIV.cz was told by Czech MEP Dita Charanzová (ALDE) who is the vice-president of IMCO.
Gun owners in the Czech Republic are still strongly opposed to the European proposal and called politicians for help. Almost all of the Czech MEPs have already expressed their negative position to the Firearms Directive.
They are also preparing new amendments to the proposal and convincing other MEPs to vote against at plenary session scheduled on 14 March. Czech ANO 2011 MEP Pavel Telička, vice-president of ALDE, has already announced that his faction will not support the Firearms Directive.
“There is a rare consensus among Czech MEPs on this matter with only one exception,” Czech Křesťanská a demokratická unie MEP Tomáš Zdechovský (EPP) said.
The only Czech in the European Parliament who supports the new directive is TOP 09 MEP Luděk Niedermayer (EPP). In his point of view, the amended version of the directive is acceptable. It does not demand any expropriation of weapons from current legal owners and includes useful provisions such as the better sharing of information among member states or common rules on marking of firearms.
“No directive will stop terrorist attacks. But it sets clear rights to possess weapons for whole Union, where people and guns can move quite easily,” Niedermayer said.
The Czech government debate on the constitutional amendment was preceded by meeting of the interior minister with representatives of gun owners. He received new package of signed petitions against the Firearm Directive. It has so far been signed by 50,000 people.
Currently there are more than 300,000 gun owners in the Czech Republic. “We will do our best to protect their rights,” Chovanec said. He also noted that “in the beginning Europe had good intentions, but the realisation could be given an F-“.