Top EU Court Upholds Semiautomatic Gun Ban

A variety of semi-automatic rifles. (Damian Dovarganes, Associated Press)


(CN) — The EU’s highest court gutted a challenge Tuesday from the Czech Republic over a ban on semiautomatic guns put in place following a wave of terrorist attacks.

Though the Czech government noted that no terrorist attack or mass shooting that the EU has seen in the last 10 years has involved a lawfully held weapon, the European Court of Justice found the rules justified.

“It appears in particular … that a correlation can be found between the numbers of firearms held in a state, on the one hand, and the rate of crime involving such weapons, on the other hand, that the introduction of rules limiting access to firearms is liable to have a significant impact on reducing both the number of crimes committed and the number of homicides involving firearms, that virtually all the firearms used in mass shootings in Europe were held lawfully and that those weapons were automatic, semi-automatic or reactivated firearms or firearms composed of parts from different weapons,” the Grand Chamber of the Luxembourg-based court wrote this morning.

Supported by Poland and Hungary, the Czech government raised several other challenges to the proportionality of the ban. Just as they did not sway the recommendation of an advocate general in April, however, none managed to hit their mark with the court Tuesday.

From a technical standpoint, the Czechs argued that the prohibition on permanently converting an automatic gun into a semiautomatic made little sense since it is much easier and less expensive to buy an ordinary semiautomatic new and convert it into an automatic firearm than it would be to convert a gun that has already been adjusted.

The 2017 law change also tightened the rules on replicas of antique firearms, relying on various “studies on the relationship between violent deaths and the accessibility of firearms, on the impact of control of the acquisition and possession of firearms on deaths caused by them, on the rules applicable to the deactivation of firearms, to the conversion of them, to alarm weapons and antique firearms as well as on the firearms used in mass shootings in Europe,” according to the ruling.

“Those studies highlighted in particular, taking into account the security context, the increased risk that deactivated firearms might be converted into functioning firearms and the problems of identifying the owners of those firearms,” the ruling continues.

Though the challengers again brought up the impracticality of restoring antique or deactivated guns, the court said “the risk … cannot be completely ruled out.”

“It appears in particular from the studies … that the firearms used in mass shootings in Europe included firearms reactivated from deactivated firearms or firearms composed of parts from different weapons and held lawfully,” the opinion states.

The court found that public-safety interests outweigh concerns that the law interferes with gun owners’ property rights.

“Contrary to what the Czech Republic, supported by Hungary and the Republic of Poland, claims, the measures criticized cannot be considered manifestly inappropriate in relation to the objectives of ensuring public safety and security for EU citizens and facilitating the functioning of the internal market,” the opinion states.

Only Switzerland, which for the last 50 years maintained a system of transferring military firearms to people leaving the army, is spared under the 2017 law.

Lawmakers with the European Commission began crafting the 2017 legislation after attacks in Paris and Copenhagen left scores dead.

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