Tomasz W. Stępień is a president of Firearms United Network (FUN), a pan-European movement aimed at preservation and promotion of civil rights in the area of firearms possession. FUN rose to prominence after 2015 when the European Commission introduced a proposal for restrictions and bans on law-abiding citizens as its answer to terrorist attacks committed with illegal firearms. In second part of an exclusive interview with zbrojnice.com, Tomasz talks about civilian firearms possession in Poland.
Rozhovor v češtině si můžete přečíst zde: Rozhovor – Tomasz W. Stępień: Poláci stále věří komunistické indoktrinaci, že jen zločinci potřebují zbraně
Zbrojnice.com is a Czech language web that deals with practical, legal, cultural and social issues of civilian firearms ownership. This interview was conducted in English and thus you can read it also in original language version below.
Interview with Tomasz W. Stępień:
- In Firearms United we expect the EU to go hard after legal gun owners in 2020
- Poles still believe the communist indoctrination that only criminals need guns (2/4/19)
- Firearms & Tomasz W. Stępień, president of Firearms United Network (3/4/19)
Poles and firearms
Poles are the most disarmed population in the EU. One of the most disarmed nations in the world. What are the roots of that? Why firearms possession failed to rise after fall of communism as it did for example in the Czech Republic?
Well, Some research shows that Poles are the most disarmed nation in the world. I know that there are three kind of lies in the world, namely: lies, damn lies and statistics, but… But we have 1.2 pieces of firearms per 100 citizens, which is extremely low by any standard.
Why it didn’t pick up after 1989? That’s a good question. Prevailing argument from Ministry on Interiors and Police HQ is that the state is responsible for security of citizens. Which is debatable at best. For me, it shows the general approach of state towards citizens. The state does not trust us. And that’s that. They are also immune towards any scientific based argumentation. There ZERO crime with legally hand firearms in Poland. And I mean ZERO. Yet every single time there is a discussion on firearms laws, there is a push to limit our rights for no reason. Personally, I believe that plenty of government functionaries forgot one simple thing. The work they do is called: civil servant. SERVANT is the part they forgot.
Alongside freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and free elections, Czechs understand ability to be armed as one of cornerstones of liberty. What is the public perception of civilian firearms ownership in Poland?
Again, I think that Poles has been heavily indoctrinated by communists, when the propaganda was saying that only criminals have guns. And the state. Hunting was allowed for a narrow number of people, and a result common view of average Pole is “why do you need a gun?”. Which for me, is a horror came true. Why do I need to prove to anyone what I own? Is anyone asking me how many cars and what kind can they own? Nope. And I am not interested. So it boils down to the fact hat majority of Poles has a problem with understanding civil liberties.
Often there is an also ‘argument’ of ‘but the guns have been designed for killing’, which is not true in the first place, but is also a hypocritical statement. Because if there is an aversion to all things military, I would expect people to give up their mobile phones, their GPS navigations systems, ca. 70% of lung cancer medicines (which come from yperite) and bloody internet which has been designed to provide comms for IBCMs in case of nuclear war.
How difficult is it to promote civil rights in the area of firearms possession in a country with so low civilian firearms possession? Is it a divisive issue in Poland?
It is hard, for the arguments above. As a gun owner, you are treated with automatic mistrust. But there is only way you can do. I take people to a range. Show them firearms, allow them to shoot. Have fun with them. Enjoy the time together. This is the only way. Never ever I’ve seen a person walking off a range without a banana smile on their face.
Once you take unknown from equation, it makes people feel safe. And once they feel safe, you can relate to them. They see that a firearms is just an object (and a cool one, btw), which they can master. And use as THEY see fit. It changes their world. It changes ours. Makes it larger. More friendly. This is the way forward for me. To show the rest of a society that we are simply people with passion, which we practice in a safe and sane way, and there is nothing to be afraid off.
Firearms legislation in Poland
What is the process of legally obtaining a firearm in Poland? What limitations are set on gun owners once they have the license?
The process is not unified. A lot depends on what kind of permit you apply for. In Poland, you can apply for a permit, which is connected with a goal. The goal might be:
- Sport shooting
To name the most popular ones.
From the above list, self-defense is pretty much dead. Last year only 9 people in country of 36 million qualified. This due to a fact that the rules for self-defense permit are a bit on an uncommon side. In order to get it, you need to prove, that there is a clear and present danger to you, for at least 6 months, and there is at least one occurrence weekly. So basically, self-defence permit is something politicians get.
The most popular permit these days is a sport shooting. In order to get a permit you need to:
- Sign up to a sport shooting club
- Take a 3 months introduction time (which includes training on safety and basics of shooting)
- Pass the practical exam
- Get medical and psychological check
- Pass the exam (test) on the current law (in regards of firearms)
- Provide the judicial statement that you have no criminal record
- Take a part in some competitions
Having done so, you pay an administrative fee of ca. 80 Euros and apply for a permit. If you fulfill the requirements the Police is obliged to issues it.
In order to maintain it, you need to participate in a number of shooting competitions per year, in order to maintain your sport license. And that’s that. What is important, since 2014 sport shooters are allowed to CCW loaded and chambered (with exception of aircrafts, trains and public transport). Which is one of the reasons why self-defense permit is dead. You can get CCW using much easier sport shooter path.
For a long time, it was impossible for average Pole to get a concealed carry license. Now holders of sport shooting licenses can carry. Are they limited when it comes to carrying hot? For example, only to and from a shooting range?
Nope. The only limitations are:
- Aircrafts (you cannot carry at all. You may have a gun and ammo in your checked in bag. They have to be kept separate and you need to inform an airline at least 48 hours in advance).
- Trains and public transportation (you can carry, but you need to keep your gun and ammo separately, and you can’t have ammo in a magazine).
- Public gatherings.
A system that makes “self defense” concealed carry licenses difficult to obtain but lets “sport shooter” license holder carry is a little difficult to understand. Could you explain the reasons behind it?
There is no reason whatsoever. This is just Polish peculiarity and our way of actually finding ways around stupid regulations.
As far as I understand, sport shooter license holders can carry based on regulation of the Interior Minister. Does that mean that a simple change of government can lead to loss of ability to carry by vast majority of gun owners?
Unfortunately, yes. That’s why we work at the moment to make it a part of the law itself.
Implementation and other changes
Are there works underway to completely overhaul Polish gun legislation in connection with changes necessitated by the EU Gun Ban? What direction are the changes likely to go?
Well, this is a touchy subject, as we have many players involved with varied agendas. To name just few of them:
- Parliamentary majority – there is no clear view amongst them. Basically, they would prefer to leave things as they are. For the simple reason that the matter is complicated and would be used by both sides of the political spectrum to heat up the atmosphere. Unfortunately, this option is not possible, because we need to change the law.
- PM Office – they lean towards soft implementation, as they perceive EU Gun Ban as unreasonable and unnecessary. Also going across many governmental projects (like ‘A shooting range at each county’).
- Ministry of Interior (MOL) – who would like to make the new law as repressive as you possibly can imagine and they use the EU Gun Ban as an excuse to further their agenda. One of vice-ministers responsible for the Police oversight (Zieliński) said openly that “a citizen cannot be responsible for their own security, this is Police responsibility”. Which gives you a clear indication of how they would like to treat us.
- Police HQ – works hand in hand with MOL – they would like to completely eradicate firearms from civilian hands.
- Pro-gun organizations – this one is no brainer, we would like to dissolve the EU Gun Ban, and go back to our daily lives.
And you need to put things into context here. We have two major elections in Poland this year. First EU Parliament, then (October-November) PL Parliament. And no side of political spectrum is actually perceiving firearms owners as a significant player. Which is mistake. We did research in Poland, and when you take into account all different firearms owners (hunters, sport shooters, collectors), but also people who are loosely connected (reneactors, ASG community, commercial ranges customers etc), we talk about roughly 770 k people in Poland.
On top of that, plenty of politicos live by the hope, that if European Court of Justice will approve Czech Republic’s complaint on the Directive, the pain will go away without a need to do anything. Yes, I know that this is a lot of wishful thinking, based on assumption that ECJ is actually an independent body (which I personally doubt), but that’s their modus operandi. The path of least effort.
Poland is now one of the few EU countries that is fulfilling its NATO obligations as regards development of national defense capabilities. Are there any plans for wider inclusion of armed civilians into nation defense, like in Finland or Switzerland?
We created several proposals on this subject. Some of the were very well received. Like the one to include each willing firearms owner into the Training Reserve for Armed Forces. We are in serious talks with the government and General Staff on this subject.
Self-defense in Poland
EU Parliament recently encouraged Member States to evaluate possible ban on carrying of knives as a way to fight terrorism. What are Polish laws on knives, pepper sprays, telescopic batons or other means of self-defense?
None. I mean we are not that deep in brown substance yet. We do use knives as, it may surprise you, knives. To cut things. Leathermans as work tools. Pepper sprays to fend off dogs (mostly). Some carry telescopic batons. I carry tomahawk in my backpack. The EU is completely wrong on this. It is enough to look at UK. After they banned pocket knives, you have a plague of Police confiscating screwdrivers and steak knives. Such decision takes valuable resources, which Police has in limited quantities, and channels them to something completely nonsense. We have a saying in Poland “nature abhors a vacuum”. The meaning is simple. If the regulation is stupid and provides more hassle to an average person than does good – there will be work around created. One more time let’s take UK. They banned firearms – knife crime soared. They banned knives – crooks carry screwdrivers. What’s next to be banned? Glass bottles? Wooden sticks? Where is the point at which politicos will finally understand that you can’t regulate everything, and you can’t make lives risk-free.
Is carrying of pepper sprays, batons or knives customary among Poles?
Depends on the community. I believe majority of people carry small pocket knives. But I am biased, as I am usually surrounded by people who would say ‘you carry only one?’. People, especially women, carry pepper sprays. Same for mailmen. And so it goes. Not because there is a high crime level. But because plenty of Poles prefers to be prepared. I remember a slogan from United Arab Emirates I saw during my time in Middle East “Buckle up your seat belt, there is no such thing as planned accident”.
If you could introduce three changes into Polish gun legislation right away, what would they be?
Oh boy, three? I would introduce just one. And not only into Polish law, but also Czech, Finnish, German, Spanish, Austrian and every other EU country. That would be:
“The right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”
But on more serious note.
- I would re-write several articles which are interpreted differently by different Police units across country – and would use a language which is nigh impossible for interpretation
- Membership deregulation for sport shooters – currently, you need to be a member of a single, government approved sport federation. That needs to go from my perspective
- I would remove increased security requirements for safes to store your firearms – they were introduced sometime ago, and they will hit almost 130k hunter and large number of sport shooters without any reason – there is close to zero firearms stolen from legal owners. The new safes requirements will not increase public safety – they will simply force law-abiding citizens to spend money of safes
Interview will continue in 3rd part
- MEP Dita Charanzová: I don’t understand how the EU Commission managed to avoid responsibility for its past failure to deliver legislation on deactivation of firearms
- Jim Smith: Legally armed and properly trained populace assist the government with safety and stability
- Pia Clerté: It is not possible to have any tool for the purpose of self-defense in Sweden
- Vítor Teixeira: The gradual erosion of gun rights in Portugal since 2006
- Hans Deutsch: Possession and carrying of firearms for protection is considered a taboo in Germany
- Mike Lindsay: Having any tool for purpose of self-defense is a crime in the UK