On 27 June 2016 the Flemish Peace Institute published “Armed to kill”, a new research report on the weapons that were used in public mass shootings in Europe. The main conclusions are:
– In the period 2009-2015 there were 19 public mass shootings in Europe with a total of 319 fatalities. Most of these shootings were not terrorist-related. Public mass shootings by perpetrators with terrorist motives were less frequent, but caused the most deaths.
– The perpetrators used a wide range of legally and illegally held firearms. Terrorists were also able to acquire weapons on the legal firearms market.
– A comprehensive policy is needed to control the legal gun possession and to combat the illicit gun market.
319 fatalities of which 222 as a result of terrorist-inspired mass shootings
For the period 2009-2015 the Flemish Peace Institute identified a total of 19 public mass shootings in Europe in which there were at least four deaths (not including the perpetrators) and which were not carried out in the domestic sphere or were the immediate result of purely criminal activities such as an armed robbery. In these public mass shootings a total of 319 people were killed and dozens of others injured. In most of these shootings the perpetrator acted alone and had no terrorist motives. Public mass shootings by persons with terrorist motives are less common, but have caused most fatalities in this period. Since 2009, there were 222 fatalities in terrorist-related public mass shootings. This high death toll was due mainly to the shootings in Paris in November 2015 by the terrorist group Islamic State (130 deaths) and in Utøya by Anders Breivik in July 2011 (67 deaths)
Use of a wide range of legal and illegal firearms
The research report of the Flemish Peace Institute analyzed 8 of the 19 mass shootings and inquired into the firearms used and the way in which these weapons were acquired. The analysis indicates that the perpetrators of the recent public mass shootings in Europe used a wide range of firearms, some of which were several decades old. Both firearms that were legally purchased and firearms acquired on the illicit market have been used.
Perpetrators of public mass shootings used firearms that they already possessed or which they could get their hands on with relative ease. In the analyzed non-terrorist-related public mass shootings, legally held firearms were most often used, while terrorists often relied on fully automatic assault rifles that are prohibited but were obtained through their criminal connections. This does not mean that terrorists will never use the licit gun market to acquire firearms. During the shooting on Utøya island in 2011, Breivik, for instance, used firearms for which he had a license and in the 2015 shooting at the Jewish supermarket in Paris Coulibaly used several firearms that were legally sold in Slovakia as deactivated firearms.
Lessons for policy
The report concludes that there is a need for a comprehensive policy response that controls legal gun ownership and combats the illicit gun market. The lawful private gun ownership system must be optimized – both at national and European level – to make it harder for people with bad intentions to get their hands on firearms. “During the authorization procedure for legal firearms possession, but also during the follow-up, it is for example important to take into account the criminal history, mental disposition and previously aggressive conduct of the applicant. License conditions should be checked regularly and it must be able to intervene immediately when the weapon holder no longer meets the conditions to possess a firearm” said Nils Duquet, researcher at the Peace Institute.
The study also shows that the illegal firearms used in public mass shootings leaked in various ways from the legal circuit. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris last year, the European Commission announced a new Action Plan for the fight against illicit firearms market alongside a tightening of European Firearms Directive 91/477. According to the Flemish Peace Institute a sustained approach to fighting the illegal firearm market is based on three pillars: (1) adequate and harmonized firearms legislation, (2) better understanding of the illicit gun market through better data management and a better sharing of information, and (3) increased operational capacity for services in the area concerned and an intensive European collaboration between them. “It’s a positive thing that the EU pays attention to these elements in its Action Plan, but measures must be made to stick to try to prevent future mass shootings as much as possible ” says director Tomas Baum.
The report is available here.