The Right to Own a Gun Isn't Just for Americans
Listen to the Audio Mises Wire version of this article.
The United States is unique for its tradition of gun ownership, which often shocks foreigners and leaves them in a state of disbelief at how ubiquitous firearm ownership is. Moreover, the idea of people carrying firearms almost seems unreal to many. Indeed, gun ownership is as American as apple pie and will not go away so easily, much to the dismay of the most rabid of gun control proponents.
Just look at gun sales since the covid-19 pandemic lockdowns took place. In the first six months of 2020 alone, 10.3 million firearm transactions went through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). From January to October, 17.2 million background checks were conducted, which surpassed the 2016 record of 15.7 million.
In short, gun ownership in America won’t go away so easily. It’s a firmly established tradition that has its roots in practices that go back to the British Isles. The Assize of Arms of 1181 issued by Henry II obligated all freemen of England to possess and bear arms in service of the king.
Further, Ryan McMaken has observed that America’s militia system drew a considerable amount of inspiration from the Levellers—English libertarian-minded reformers who were advocating for a decentralized militia that stood against the British Crown’s efforts to centralize political power in the mid-seventeenth century.
The “folkway” of firearm ownership made its way to the American colonies, where it took on a more radical twist and became a unique part of the American experience. Through its codification in the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms became an integral civil liberty and a unique aspect of American political culture that has largely withstood government overreach. But now there’s reason to believe that this concept will likely be going international.
Will Europe Embrace Gun Rights?
Switzerland has traditionally been one of Europe’s outliers on firearms, thanks to its well-established custom of firearm ownership, which dates back to the Middle Ages. However, that is gradually changing due to a voter-approved initiative in 2019 which clamped down on the ownership of certain firearms the European Union deems dangerous. Bullying from the EU likely contributed to this outcome: the supranational entity revoke passport-free travel for Swiss nationals if they rejected a ballot initiative that would have harmonized Swiss firearm regulations with the EU’s draconian restrictions.
Although Swiss voters have set the country back on gun policy, there are now renewed calls for liberalized gun laws following a high-profile terrorist attack in neighboring Austria. The imminent threat of terrorism on the European Continent and the limits of law enforcement’s ability to protect citizens makes proposals such as liberalized gun ownership more alluring to certain members of the Swiss political class.
On the other hand, countries like the Czech Republic have been moving in the other direction. The Czechs have confronted the EU’s overreach in a bolder manner during the last few years. Back in June 2017, the Czech government announced its support for a plan to codify individual firearm ownership for the purpose of self-defense in its constitution as a response to the passage of a restrictive amendment to the EU’s European Firearms Directive.
This law applies to all twenty-seven EU member states and heavily restricts EU citizens’ ability to purchase and own firearms. The Czech effort to enshrine the right to self-defense in its national charter was able to make it past the lower house of the Czech Parliament but could not receive the final green light in the Senate.
Efforts to expand gun rights in the Czech Republic did not go quietly into the night after this initial loss. They were renewed once again in 2019 after thirty-five members of the Czech Senate introduced a bill to modify the Czech Constitution’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms. At the moment, the bill is still being debated in the Czech Parliament, but there is increased optimism regarding its passage. The Czechs are likely aware of their history as part of Czechoslovakia, a Soviet satellite state that suffered its fair share of political repression at the hands of the Soviets. They will not take chances in relying on supranational governing bodies micromanaging their security affairs.
Although the EU’s reaction to a potential passage of a pro-gun bill will likely be hostile, such confrontations should be fully embraced. Disputes between political jurisdictions can often yield dynamic policy results and could put the idea of liberalized gun ownership on the map in a region where these discussions have been noticeably absent. Not only has the Czech Republic changed the firearm policy discourse within its jurisdiction, but it may also inspire other countries, notably its fellow members of the Visegrad Four, to follow in its footsteps. The Visegrad Four, which is made up of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia, has already established itself as a contrarian political alliance within the EU on issues of mass migration and overreach by Brussels. It can continue to stir the pot by using the Czech Republic’s behavior as a guiding standard and challenging Brussels on gun policy.
Other Countries Are Changing Their Firearm Policies
Under the leadership of controversial former interior minister Matteo Salvini, Italy also lightened its firearm restrictions. In 2018, the Italian government relaxed laws on firearm licensing and the kinds of firearms Italians can legally possess. The following year, Italy approved a law allowing Italians to use firearms in self-defense against home invaders. In the Western Hemisphere, Brazil relaxed its restrictions on firearm ownership after the election of Jair Bolsonaro in 2018. According to a New York Times report, firearm sales have been on the rise under Bolsonaro’s administration, which has not only loosened its gun laws but has actively used the bully pulpit to promote gun ownership as a means of taking on crime. Perhaps we’re witnessing an international pro-gun movement begin to take root. Whether it’s out-of-control crime or the perceived threat of terrorist acts, many countries are beginning to recognize the validity of civilians having easier access to firearms. If these trends hold, the US may no longer be the sole country that respects firearm ownership.
The West May Not Be So Exceptional
Due to how radicalized political culture is becoming in the US and the pervasiveness of anti-gun tropes in the media and popular culture, it may be just a matter of time before anti-gun public policies start becoming a reality across America. Institutions can only last so long in a cultural milieu that is becoming increasingly hostile toward private property and personal freedoms.
To its credit, the West has not fully bought into the global governance model that many political elites wish to impose on it. The West still nominally maintains a competitive nation-state structure that lets countries experiment with regard to political decisions. Several countries in central and eastern Europe have taken advantage of this and have blazed their own paths while the rest of the West flounders in a sea of statism.
This harkens to a speech that Mises Institute president Jeff Deist gave in Vienna last year in which he called upon followers of the Mises Institute to look eastward—the Balkans, the Baltics, Eastern Europe, and even Asia—for saner political climes. Many of these former Soviet bloc and satellite states have not been as infected by the mind virus of political correctness and its mutant offspring of “wokeism,” which have engulfed developed countries in the West. The experience of going through communism not only broke down and hardened these populaces but also made them skeptical of any radical efforts to reengineer society from the top.
With the developed West buying into woke thought control, mass surveillance, exploding debt, and a greater state role in the economy, other countries will have to step in and assume the mantle of political rationality in this era of mass delusion.