Gun ownership is rising across Europe, which until recently faced far less gun crime and violence than much of the globe. Not long ago it was rare to see armed British police. The uptick was prompted partly by insecurity arising from terrorist attacks, many with firearms, and also reflects government efforts to get illegal guns registered by offering amnesty to owners, reports the Wall Street Journal. Europe is far from facing the gun prevalence and violence in Latin America or the U.S., which lead the world. Worldwide civilian ownership of firearms rose 32 percent in the decade through 2017, to 857.3 million guns, according to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey. Europe accounts for less than 10 percent of the total.
Europe’s rapid shift is notable because of strict national restrictions. In most European countries, gun permits require thorough background checks, monitored shooting practice and tests on regulations. In Belgium, France and Germany, most registered guns may be used only at shooting ranges. Permits to bear arms outside of shooting ranges are difficult to obtain. Strict registration requirements don’t account for a surge in illegal weapons across the continent. Europe’s unregistered weapons outnumbered legal ones in 2017, 44.5 million to 34.2 million, according to the Small Arms Survey. Many illegal weapons come from one-time war zones, such as countries of the former Yugoslavia, and others are purchased online, including from vendors in the U.S. “Europe represents the largest market for arms trade on the dark web, generating revenues that are around five times higher than the U.S.,” says a recent Rand Corp. report. With more weapons comes more gun-related violence. National police statistics in France, Germany and Belgium show an uptick in gun law violations since 2015. In Germany, the number of legally registered weapons rose 10 percent, to 6.1 million, in the five years through 2017.