Myths of European Gun Laws

Friday, August 29th, 2014

Gary Mausera and Darrin Weiner debunked two myths about European gun laws in their study “Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide: A Review of International Evidence,” Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, vol 30 (2007):

First, that European gun laws are much more restrictive than American; and second, that Europe has less violence than America.

Now it is true that European gun laws are often different from ours. This is largely because they aim to stem political violence, not apolitical gun crime. But they are not generally more restrictive. [...] Moreover European gun laws generally allow far more extensive gun use against crime than American law does.


In the 1920s a German farmer was tried for shooting starving children who were stealing from his orchard. Now under our law, which is based on what is deemed reasonable, the farmer was clearly guilty. But he was exonerated by the German court because European law follows the thought of Immanuel Kant: There is the Right and there is the Wrong — and never need the Right yield to the Wrong! The farmer is in the Right and the starving children are in the Wrong. So if the only way to stop their thefts is to shoot them, then shoot them he may.

A later German statute overturned this – but in a way that reinforces it. The statute only overrules the case if children are shot. But the farmer may shoot if an adult steals his fruit.


A rapist attacks a woman but retreats when she draws a gun from her purse. The woman, frightened and outraged, shoots him anyway. Under our law this is called “imperfect self-defense.” It is manslaughter (not murder) if the rapist dies; assault with a deadly weapon if he does not.

But under Austrian, Dutch, French, German and Italian law the result is entirely different. If she shot him from “outrage” (i.e., vigilantism) at his attack the court can just acquit her.

As to buying and owning guns, European laws are generally as permissive as American. It is true that you need a special permit to buy a 9 mm. handgun in many European nations. What ignorant American gun prohibitionists don’t understand is that this is a special control on “military-caliber weapons.” Similar controls ban military caliber rifles without special permission. But there is no restriction on other rifles or on handguns in, for instance, .380, .38 Super, 9mm Ultra and many more powerful handguns e.g., any of the magnums or .40 S&W, .45 auto, .45 Long Colt, .454 Casull, .460 S&W Magnum, 475 Linebaugh, .480, .500 and other powerful handguns.

Unlike residents of New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts or California, law abiding responsible Italians can buy any revolver or semi-auto they want. No permit is required nor is there any waiting period. Though the handgun must be registered, buying it involves less fuss and red tape than Americans face even in Texas.

Austrians require permits for semi-automatic pistols but not to buy a revolver. Moreover law abiding responsible adults have a specific legal right to a permit for a semi-automatic pistol for home defense. Permits to carry are much more available to law abiding Austrians than to Americans in New York, Massachusetts or California. For a population of over 37 million, California has about 40,000 carry permits. For its population of around seven million, Austria has over 200,000 carry permits.

In France and Germany permits (easily available to responsible adult householders) are required to possess a handgun of modern design. But if you are satisfied with a cowboy-style gun, France requires no permit at all to buy a newly manufactured revolver of pre-1895 design.

Consistent with its focus on political crime, European law precludes stockpiling guns. You might be able to own multiple guns in different calibers, but not 10 or 20 in the same caliber.

There are no magazine size restrictions on semi-autos.

Nine European nations have fewer than 5,000 guns per 100,000 population. Seven have more than three times as many guns per 100,000 population. The nine nations’ violent crime situation is disappointing, even shockingly contrary to the myth that restricting guns diminishes murder. Their murder rates are three times higher than those of the seven high gun ownership nations!

We collected many examples: Norway has far and away Western Europe’s highest household gun ownership (32% of households), but also its lowest murder rate. Holland has the lowest gun ownership in Western Europe (1.9%), and Sweden lies midway between (15.1). Yet the Dutch murder rate is half again higher than the Norwegian, and the Swedish rate is even higher yet, though only slightly. Greece has over twice the per capita gun ownership of the Czech Republic, yet gun murder is much lower in Greece and the Greek murder rate with all weapons is also lower. Though Spain has over 12 times more gun ownership than Poland, the latter has almost a third more gun murder, and its overall murder rate is almost twice Spain’s. Poor Finland: it has 14 times more of these evil guns than its neighbor Estonia. Yet Estonia’s gun murder and overall murder rates are about seven times higher than Finland’s.


  1. Praetor says:

    “But there is no restriction on other rifles or on handguns in, for instance, .380, .38 Super, 9mm Ultra and many more powerful handguns e.g., any of the magnums or .40 S&W, .45 auto, .45 Long Colt, .454 Casull, .460 S&W Magnum, 475 Linebaugh, .480, .500 and other powerful handguns.”

    That is, unfortunately, complete and blatant lie. Even in the gun heaven of Europe, the Czech Republic, you need gun license for any of these.

  2. Toddy Cat says:

    Too bad. There are so many lies circulated by the anti-Gun nuts out there, it’s really important that our side get it right.

  3. Grasspunk says:

    France eased up its gun regs last year. I think there are only four calibers in the military section now, and that includes .50 cal. All these .303s and Mausers are now classified as hunting weapons and much less restricted. Our local gun club has all sorts shoot there.

    I’d say the big difference they skim over is you can’t carry them around with you unless you are transporting them from home to the gun club or gun shop. Or hunting. At home they are supposed to be locked up, although every farm has its battery of shotguns, often up on the wall.

  4. Isegoria says:

    When the article says that “there is no restriction on other rifles or on handguns” in other (very similar) calibers, I think that means that you do need a special license to own a military-caliber weapon, but you don’t need a special license, just an ordinary one, to own a (very similar) weapon of a different (very similar) caliber.

  5. Mike in Boston says:

    Toddy Cat: +1. The article is, unfortunately, too thin on supporting details and citations. I know many reflexively anti-gun folks (didja notice my location?) and they also tend to be knee-jerk pro-European. So I’d find it truly rewarding to see how much cognitive dissonance they’d get reading a more in-depth exploration of gun laws in Italy, Austria, etc. Unfortunately they’d too easily be able to dismiss the linked article as propaganda from the dreaded gun lobby.

  6. Isegoria says:

    Wikipedia provides an overview of gun laws by nation — but, as we’ve seen, a quick overview can give the wrong impression.

  7. XXX says:

    They are wrong when they say “Austrians require permits for semi-automatic pistols but not to buy a revolver.” Handguns in general, pistols or revolvers, belong to category B, and for that you need a special license. The only type of revolver that you may own that does not “count” in your “license book” is the black powder from before 1900 or something like that, but to buy then you still need a license.

  8. Toddy Cat says:

    Thanks, XXX. As noted, those of us who advocate firearms rights can’t be too careful about this stuff. Gun “control” advocates are forgiven all their misstatements — we’re forgiven nothing. That’s OK, we have the truth on our side, but we have to make sure we tell it. We can leave the “noble lies” to the Commies.

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