Lower house passes gun amendment

The constitution may be changed to allow gun owners to intervene in national security

The lower house of Parliament approved a constitutional amendment that would allow legally registered owners of guns to intervene if the security of the Czech Republic was at stake.

Some 139 of the 168 deputies present were in favor of the amendment, and nine were against.

For the amendment to pass the Chamber of Deputies, it needed 120 votes, or three-fifths of the 200 parliamentary deputies.

The proposal was supported by Social Democrats (40 voted for, three abstained or didn't log in), ANO (39 voted for, one against, three abstained or didn't log in), Communists (24 voted for, one against, seven abstained or didn't log in), Civic Democrats (all 15 present deputies voted for) and the original Dawn of Direct Democracy deputies (nine voted for and four abstained or didn't log in).

The support was lower in TOP 09 (nine voted for, two against and 11 abstained or didn't log in) and the KDU-ČSL (three voted for, five against and four abstained).

The amendment now goes to the Senate, where three-fifths of the members there would have to support it as well.

The constitutional amendment would give owners of legally held weapons the right to intervene when necessary to ensure the security of the Czech Republic. It expressly acknowledges that the possession and carrying of weapons under the law is part of national security.

The Ministry of Interior proposed the amendment Dec. 15, 2016. If passed it will add a new section to Constitutional Act No. 110/1998 Col., on Security of the Czech Republic, providing the right to be armed as part of citizen's duty of participation in providing internal order, security and democratic order.

The amendment aims at using the conditions of firearm ownership in the Czech Republic, where 2.75 percent of the adult population has a concealed carry license. Gun owners under the law could react to isolated attacks against soft targets.

An explanatory note in the amendment explains that unlike in the rest of the EU, where most guns are owned for hunting, most Czech gun owners possess firearms suitable for protection of life, health and property, such as semi-automatic rifles, which are being targeted by the new EU firearms rules.

While there is constitutional right to self-defense, its practical utilization without any weapon is only illusory, the notes to the amendment state.

The measure is partly in response to the European Union's recent efforts to tighten fire arms laws, which many Czech politicians have opposed. Changes to the European Firearms Directive were approved earlier this year, and EU members have 15 months to implement them. The Czech Republic will challenge the EU directive in the European Court of Justice.

Critics of the EU directive characterize it as a gun ban.

Parliamentary Deputy Roman Váňa (ČSSD), who is chairman of the security committee, said that the Czech amendment is a framework for further legislative changes, and without it the situation for Czech gun owners would be a disaster. The amendment has also stirred up the debate on how citizens can look after their own security and that of the state, he added according to broadcaster ČT24.

“We do not want to disarm our own people when the security is deteriorating,” Interior Minister Milan Chovanec (ČSSD) said.

Jana Černochová of the ODS said that forbidding legal ownership of guns is a tactic often used by undemocratic and totalitarian regimes.

The Christian Democrats are concerned over the amendment. Jiří Mihola (KDU-ČSL) said it was ill-conceived, and that while it looks like the right for citizens to bear arms, it in fact establishes a new obligation to participate in the defense of the country.

Ivan Gabal (KDU-ČSL) said that the illusion that people were helping in the defense of the country could bring a lot of people before the courts due to their actions with guns.

Váňa said that the number of people in courts would not increase due to the amendment. The law does not allow the creation of militias, for example. It also does not simplify access to weapons, which is already complex. Applicants must pass a medical examination and take written and practical exams to show proficiency with the weapon they are seeking. Mental health is also a factor.

Constitutional lawyer Jiří Hřebejk of Charles University said the amendment was not necessary. It does not change anything for gun owners. He considers the amendment an attempt to bypass EU rules aimed at making it more difficult for terrorists to access weapons.

Supporters of the amendment say that it would fall outside of EU jurisdiction as under the Treaty on European Union, issues of national security are excluded and not subject to EU review. The amendment does not deal with sporting weapons, which is the focus of the EU directive.

The amendment also only applies to Czech citizens and not foreigners living in the Czech Republic.

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