Gun Control Debate in Czech

El Paso, Texas; Dayton, Ohio (no, not Toledo!): Two mass-shootings in less than twenty-four hours understandably has again prompted much thinking about the problem of guns in American society (not that any remedial measures are likely to be taken). They have done the same in the Czech Republic, where in a commentary on the “Plus” State Radio channel (devoted to news, debate and current events) Washington-based correspondent Jan Fingerland takes up the old conundrum: Zabíjejí zbraně, nebo zbraně? (Basically meaning “Do guns kill or do people?”)

Why would anyone in the Czech Republic be exercised by such a question? Reports of gun-related crime there are exceedingly rare; they’ve clearly got the problem under control (despite the presence of several leading firearms manufacturing firms). But why is that? It’s because of their historical base of forty-one years of Communist dictatorship (with six years of German occupation before that), during which there was never any question of anyone bearing arms except those explicitly allowed to do so by the authorities. Current Czech society started anew only fairly recently, coming up on thirty years ago; given that in the piece Fingerland suggests that “American society is not mature enough for such a widespread right to bear arms,” surely that should also be a worry for the Czechs?

Against that context there’s the second parallel between the two cultures when it comes to guns: within both, debate on the subject is conducted “between two extreme options.” Now, in the States you can see these “options” reflected on the street: “In some places,” Fingerland writes, “even mothers in the parks have a pistol on them, for instance Marge Simpson in the famed [cartoon] serial; elsewhere it is difficult to encounter anyone who ever holds a gun in hand.” Needless to say, that first picture is not the case in the Czech Republic. Nonetheless, there as well the argument tends to rage between those who insist guns are necessary to defend oneself against criminals – against terrorists! – and those wanting to ban them all.

As one could expect, Fingerland looks for a solution somewhere in-between. He seizes onto the quite apparent key fact that the big problem in the two latest incidents was the extraordinary mechanical power and speed of the weapons (both of the Russian AK series) the gunmen in Texas and Ohio wielded – particularly in the latter case, where he managed to kill nine despite being “neutralized” by police within a minute of opening fire.

On the other hand: pistols. “Depriving people of the possibility of owning a pistol is nonsense,” Fingerland asserts, “and few really want to anyway. A pistol is enough to stop a thief, maybe even to stop some crazy shooter” – who, in his world, whether in Central Europe or the USA, would never get the chance to get close to high-powered weapons, restricted to the military, in the first place.

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