Dita Charanzová is a Member of European Parliament and also the leader of the Czech ANO party’s EU Parliament election campaign. She was declared one of forty most influential people in the EU Parliament in 2017. She was also declared one of twenty most influential women in Brussels by the Politico Magazine in 2017 and 2018.
Czech firearms owners know her primarily due to her effortful work on the EU Gun Ban Directive. In an exclusive interview with zbrojnice.com, Dita Charanzová talks about the process of its adoption and future of gun rights in the EU.
Rozhovor v češtině si můžete přečíst zde: Dita Charanzová: Nerozumím, jak se Evropská komise vyhnula odpovědnosti za selhání při nevydání pravidel pro znehodnocování zbraní
Zbrojnice.com is a Czech language website that deals with practical, legal, cultural and social issues of civilian firearms ownership. Dita Charanzová is a key personality when it comes to the civilian firearms possession in the entire European Union, and thus you can read the interview also in English translation below.
Civilian firearms ownership as an EP election issue
Mrs. Charanzová, do you think that civilian firearms ownership will play an important role during the campaign before the European Parliament elections?
I would prefer that issues concerning firearms were dealt with at home in the Czech Republic, not in Brussels. The debate about the EU Firearms Directive raised, of course, concerns among Czech gun owners, so this topic might have an impact on the European elections. I believe that the entire thing and the manner in which it was debated caused a lot of damage as regards the perception of the European Union in the Czech Republic. And I must say – justifiably so. Legitimate firearms possession was curbed under the guise of fighting terrorism. The entire process was very politicized. The Commission was refusing our arguments, the pressure for adoption of the Directive was enormous. Moreover, the existing Czech gun legislation is great and it could be used as a model for other countries. So, to answer your question. Yes, I believe it can affect the elections.
In February 2017, ministers of ANO party didn’t initially support the proposal for the amendment of the Constitutional Act on Security of the Czech Republic which was supposed to provide constitutional protection of firearms possession. Later, during the final reading in the Chamber of Deputies, almost all ANO Members of Parliament voted in favor of the amendment. What is the official position of ANO party towards civilian firearms ownership?
I’d prefer not to comment on particular votes of ANO party parliamentarians. I can say that when I was fighting for changes in the Directive proposal on the European level, I had full support of the party’s leader Andrej Babiš whom I was informing on continual basis. I believe that the party has a right attitude towards firearms regulation. We need to have precisely defined conditions (as we have them nowadays) and once they are fulfilled, there is no reason to further infringe on gun owners’ rights.
What is your personal position on civilian firearms possession?
The same as I just described. We must have precise conditions. Once gun owners fulfill them, nobody should further infringe on their rights. If they fulfill their duties towards the state, they shall be free to make use of firearms.
Current issues of civilian firearms possession in the EU
Nowadays there are three current topics as regards firearms: the legal action at the Court of the European Union, the implementation and expected future tightening of rules, as foretold by the EU Commission President Juncker. Let’s start with the legal action. Do they take it for granted in Brussels that the action will be dismissed by the Court, or is there any significant hope for success?
I believe we can expect the court decision in autumn. I don’t want to raise false hopes, but the Czech arguments are drafted very well, so we will see. By the way, it will be interesting to see developments in Switzerland where they are as critical towards the EU Gun Ban as the Czech Republic.
As regards implementation, the most resistance is coming from countries that have systems of civilian firearms possession which do not fit into the typical European template, such as the Czech Republic and Switzerland. How strict attitude of the European Commission do you expect when it comes to the enforcement of the EU Gun Ban?
It is mostly Czech lawmakers’ job to make full use of exemptions that are included in the Directive. For example, we need to make some system of voluntary reserves that would include some of the current gun owners. This is a way to ensure that their gun rights won’t be infringed. On one hand, we need to come up with a system that will be the least bothersome to the people, and which will at the same time allow us to substantiate that we transpose the Directive correctly. Current Czech legislation already includes 80% of what the Directive requires. It is about finding mutually acceptable way of dealing with the remaining one fifth. Also, the process of implementation enforcement is not straightforward. In case that EU has any doubts, it must be able to identify them. Member State then describes and substantiates that all is fulfilled, etc. In any case, we will have an opportunity to defend our position.
Immediately after the EU Gun Ban was adopted, EC President Juncker said that further restrictions are inevitable. Directive itself includes provision according to which there should be a periodical review of its effectiveness in order to facilitate further changes. What can we expect in this regard?
I’d like to say that President Juncker is leaving his post in several months. He won’t be reelected. We must hope that his successor will be more reasonable. We already know where the real issues lie concerning firearms. We must focus on the black market. Not only as regards trade with deactivated firearms from Slovakia, but now also with Turkish gas pistols. But surely there should be no path taken towards further restrictions on legal firearm owners. I trust that what we have witnessed in connection with the Firearms Directive won’t be repeated.
Process of adoption of the Firearms Directive
Commission advanced restrictions on legal firearms possession as a follow-up to terror attacks committed with illegal firearms. Their justification lied in the link regarding inadequately deactivated firearms from Slovakia. Parliament and Council ordered the Commission to adopt rules on deactivation of firearms already in 2008. How is it possible that politicians or media didn’t hold Commission responsible for its failure in the area of deactivation?
That is a very good question. I was inquiring the Commission repeatedly in this regard, including in public sessions. I have never received a satisfactory answer. This was a great deficiency in the EU legislation and definitely the Commission’s fault.
The Czech Republic has a unique system of civilian firearms possession and carrying for protection of life and health. The Constitutional amendment was supposed to protect it. What do you think about the Czech Republic’s attempt to “escape” from some of the EU Gun Ban provisions by utilization of the “security exemption” provided by the EU Treaties?
I am not a lawyer and I can’t answer that. Moreover, two lawyers would give three different opinions on that issue. I have heard various interpretations of that measure. For me personally, the ideal outcome would be to prevail at the Court of the European Union. Definitely. If not, then we must find the best way to most effectively utilize all exemptions, including haggling with the Commission as regards how far we can take them.
I can’t but return to the original process of adoption of the EU Gun Ban. We know from our representatives at the Ministry of Interior that their suggestions to the proposal were ignored. We also know your declaration that Commission was entering the meetings with versions of proposal that nobody had a chance to read beforehand and that the Commission officials were defending its text with Wikipedia articles. Is that a “Brussels Standard” or was the Firearms Directive unique?
This is definitely not a standard, I have never experienced any similar process. We were under enormous pressure. Nobody wanted to hear factual arguments. There were many non-standard situations, it was clear that the highest posts had interest in adoption of the Directive. I was often leaving meetings in the morning. Atmosphere was very tense and altercations were a commonplace. That is not common in negotiations of this format. This was definitely the toughest job I have experienced in the EU Parliament.
What was the source of expert information for your work on the EU Gun Ban?
Politicians are not omniscient. If they deal with a technical issue like Firearms Directive, they need to study the topic. I was successful thanks to cooperation with the Ministry of Interior and particularly thanks to the gun rights organization LEX with whom I was in regular contact. We were debating in great detail why this or that magazine, what are the technical differences between various firearms. We were preparing very sophisticated materials that I was bringing to the negotiations, consulting various versions and counterproposals. As if it wasn’t challenging enough, I also had to learn all of the terminology in English. And by the way, I still have in my office drawer a 3D printed magazine that I was bringing with me to the negotiations.
Vicky Ford (UK), IMCO Chair, was also a very visible person when it comes to challenging nonsense in the Directive proposal. But by the end of the negotiations she hung out a white flag, for example when it comes to a ban on standard capacity magazines. What were your most important merits in this regard?
I focused especially on mitigation of effects on current firearm owners. So I am very happy that the final version includes a grandfathering provision. I.e. that current owners can keep firearms they had before the change of rules entered into force, even though some of them were recategorized and banned for future civilian possession. This was accompanied by other exemptions that I pushed through, such as the already mentioned voluntary reserves.
Note: “Voluntary reserves” means an exemption from the EU Gun Ban for the purposes of national defense. The exemption is included in rec. 16 and Art. 6(2) of the EU Gun Ban Directive.
When the Directive proposal was being debated, before plenary voting, I also hosted a meeting of firearms experts. All heads of parliamentary fractions that were involved in the Firearms Directive got a chance to clear things out with the experts. They included technical experts, UN specialists on firearms as well as court experts. The experts themselves voiced their disagreement with many aspects of the Directive. For example they declared their opinions against magazine limitations. They had further reservations as regards changes in categorization of firearms and deactivation of firearms. This was purely technical debate on expert level. Its aim was to depoliticize the issue and expose material defects of the Directive.
Gun owners organized public screenings and viewings of live broadcast related to the hearing on the Directive in the EU Parliament. But the whole thing was done in 4 minutes and 50 seconds. Of that 4 minutes related to dismissal of your proposal to allow votes on amendatory proposals. Votes on that dismissal were not even counted. This is connected to the fact that a vast majority of legislation today is adopted in “trialogue”. How would you explain trialogue in simple terms to the readers? What do you think of this process?
Legislation procedures in the EU are really extremely complicated. I first succeeded in pushing through a bundle of changes within the trialogue. That is a process that includes representatives of the Commission, Council and Parliament. I was trying up until the very last moment to have further amendments adopted by the plenary session of the Parliament during the final vote. But as you said, that didn’t succeed. I managed to convince “only” about a third of Members of the European Parliament present. That was the last chance to have anything changed.
Trialogue itself is a process where, as I said, representatives of the Commission, Council and Parliament try to reach a compromise version of the proposed material. Each of the sides has a little different opinion on some of the issues. The opinions may vary more or less but in the end they should reach agreement on a text of a Directive which is then presented for a vote by the Parliament and the Member States. This is how the process was set up historically in the Treaties. Personally, I think that some processes, especially when it comes to priority concerns such as security, should be simplified and expedited. We must draw a line where, as I say, we need less and more efficient Brussels.
Future of civilian firearms ownership and of the Czech Republic in the EU
For many citizens, firearms represent a symbol of freedom. After all, it was only Nazis and Communists who were confiscating firearms from Czechs. Many now feel that they have to make a choice between the European Union and firearms possession, that there is no option allowing preservation of both. What is your view on that?
This is an extremely unfortunate outcome of political process called the Firearms Directive. I blame the Commission for it. As I said, they did a lasting damage. It is very easy to make such a misstep and twice as difficult to repair a broken reputation.
The Czech Republic same as other V4 countries have in the past several years collided with the EU on more issues. What is your view of this trend, its causes and future direction?
You are right and it is not only a problem concerning V4, but also other countries of Central and Eastern Europe vs. Western Europe. Back in the day when I was studying EU the talk was all about the North-South EU divide. Now it has moved towards West-East divide. I blame the outgoing Commission for that. It is an issue far beyond things like double standard of quality of food and other goods that I personally fight against. We are also debating requests from Western States for restrictions on freedom of movement of workers, how to complicate work of our truck drivers, etc. We should not even be talking about this. Such ideas go against the cornerstones of single market. They are trying to raise borders where we worked so hard to remove them. I put my hopes in the next administration, in the new Commission. I believe that this will change. At the same time, we need to reexamine Brussels bureaucracy. We must set priorities – safety, prosperity – and stop with spouting new legislation on anything that gets into our sight. Brexit was a slap in the face of the European project and it could be fatal not to learn a lesson from it. We must listen to the people, something that we’ve forgotten to do.
Many Eurosceptic movements are entering elections with the assertion that only they constitute the only chance for a real change. What is your reaction in this regard?
We are playing with fire. Many of these movements want to have referendum and to leave the EU. But look what it has done to such a stable and strong economy as Great Britain. They are stockpiling medicine, food, they are preparing for lines of trucks at the borders. Kilometers of trucks will be idling and waiting for custom checks. Economists are trying to count whether food will be more expensive by ten or by twenty percent, how many people will lose their jobs and how many companies will move to mainland Europe. This would be a catastrophe for the Czech economy. 84% of our exports go to the EU markets. We are an extremely open economy – price increases, layoffs and bankruptcies would be much worse here. These parties try to package it nicely, but we need to remember this reality.
What is your final message to Czech legal gun owners, many of whom nowadays worry about the future EU progress towards confiscations and further restrictions on civilian firearms possession?
I personally believe that there will be no confiscations. Rights of gun owners will remain as they are. The Firearms Directive was a piece of work done by a Commission that is ending by the midyear. I believe that the new Commission will be more reasonable and no more nonsense of this kind will be proposed. Also, as long as I will be in the European Parliament, you will always have my vote. If needed, I won’t budge and I will again go and fight the entire Commission.
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