I will be on a river cruise on the Danube river for the next few weeks. I wrote before about a previous Danube river cruise and the gun laws in the countries along the way. Three of those countries (Austria, Hungary and Croatia) we will visit again on this trip. But now I want to write about the other countries that I have not visited before- Romania, Bulgaria and Serbia.
Let’s start with Serbia which has experienced a lot of violence in various wars over the decades and centuries. It turns out that there are a lot of legal and illegal guns in Serbia according to this article:
No one knows just how many illegal weapons Serbians are hiding in their homes. Even authorities give vague estimates, ranging anywhere from 200,000 to 900,000. Experts suggest that those numbers are conservative. The weapons concerned are handguns, assault rifles, bombs – even anti-tank grenades. Add to that another 1 million legally registered sport and hunting firearms, as well as yet another 1 million weapons in the hands of the army, police and private security companies. The internet portal gunpolicy.org estimates that the United States is the only country in the world that has more guns per capita than Serbia.
Most of the weapons are leftovers from the bloody wars that raged in the 1990s after the fall of Yugoslavia – in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. Not even the regular armies bothered to bureaucratically administer the inventories of their arsenals back then. When violence erupted, mercenaries and those with a desire to fight arrived on the scene, and no questions were asked. After the wars, some 4 million illegal guns were said to have remained in circulation in the seven republics of the former Yugoslavia – most of them in Serbia.
And more about the culture of guns in Serbia:
A poll conducted by another Belgrade NGO, the Public Policy Research Center, found that 70 percent of Serbs in fact felt safe in their homeland. Not because they believed the country’s institutions or security apparatus would protect them, but because they felt that they themselves, neighbors or friends could. “Of course people should be able to have guns, too bad we can’t have more of them. Do you want an unarmed and defenseless citizenry, so you can do whatever you want with them?” read a recent comment from a reader at DW’s Serbian Facebook page. Hundreds more comments were of a similar opinion.
Yet the news tells a different story: One searches in vain to find examples of people successfully fending off attackers or stopping crimes with handguns. Rather, one sees daily tabloid headlines and lots of stories about murders and occasional shooting sprees. In July, an incident in the northern Serbian village of Zitiste shocked the nation: A jealous husband killed his ex-wife and four others in a bar, injuring another 22 people in the process. Had he not had an illegal firearm at home, the night certainly would not have been so gruesome. But he did – and that firearm was an AK-47 assault rifle.
The annual rate of gun deaths in Serbia according to gunpolicy.org is 3.23 per 100,000 ( 2015) The total number of gun deaths in 2015 was 232- 154 of which were suicides. Regulations are strict, including registration and restrictions on private ownership of automatic and semi-automatic guns. But according to the article above, there are many illegally owned and unregistered guns in Serbia.
Now let’s move to Romania. The laws are very restrictive not allowing private ownership of handguns. Only long guns for hunting are legal in Romania. There were 27 gun deaths in 2016 which is a rate of .13 per 100,000. So two countries as close as Serbia and Romania have very different laws and very different outcomes. Of he 27 deaths, 12 were suicides.
And now, Bulgaria. From the same source as the above link, in 2014 there were 108 gun deaths, with a rate of 1.51 per 100,000. 53 of the total number of gun deaths in Bulgaria in 2014 were suicides. Licensing is required for all guns owned, including automatic, semi-automatic and handguns. In order to get a license to buy and own a gun, the purchaser must provide a reason for needing a gun.
In the U.S. the rate of gun deaths per 100,000 is 12.21. We know that compared to almost all other democratized countries not at war, our gun death rate is right at the top. Our laws are right at the bottom.
When I compare the gun laws in other countries as I travel, what I find is that inevitably where there are more guns and looser laws, there are more gun deaths. This should come as no surprise to anyone. More guns do not make people safer. The opposite happens to be true. The corporate gun lobby loves to tell us that we all need guns to keep us safer. Why would they not? We know that the gun industry benefits when people are paranoid and filled with fear. If people are led to believe that guns will make them safer, they may just go and buy one, or two or many. Unfortunately, too many people suffer death and injury as a result and we end up being one of the deadliest countries in the world.
Who else has the rate of mass shootings that we have experienced in America? The link here points to the deadly phenomenon of American mass shootings since 1966 noting that the rate has increased in the past decade. The age of the shooters has become younger. From the article:
Although the data goes back to 1966, nearly a third of the 1,196 total victims have died since Charleston, and the two deadliest shootings in U.S. history fall into that time frame.
In October 2017, a 64-year-old gambler with a cache of high-powered rifles fired from his Las Vegas hotel room window and shot 480 people in a country music festival below. Fifty-eight of them died.
Less than 15 months earlier, a security company employee killed 49 and wounded 53 in a gay nightclub in Orlando, the second-highest toll.
The 169 shooters ranged in age from 11 to 73, but they were mostly young to middle-aged men, and they have trended still younger recently. Shooters before Charleston averaged just under 34 years old; from Charleston to the present, they have averaged 32 years old. (…)
While there may be trends in the types of places targeted, the geography remains unpredictable. Mass shootings have occurred all over the country, in red and blue and purple states, in huge metropolises, medium-sized cities and tiny rural towns.
I just know we will be safer in the countries we will be visiting- at least from bullets. Travel is always risky. But I know that since we are doing little or nothing to keep people who shouldn’t have guns from getting them another 1000 plus Americans will die from gunshot injuries while I am gone.
It’s hard to ignore what is going on back home while traveling and a lot is going on right now. But hopefully we can enjoy this area of southeast Europe and the history of the countries we will visit. Many of the countries along the Danube have experienced mass deaths and violence in the wars that have ravaged their countries over the decades. It’s hard to forget the early 1990s when the area in what was Yugoslavia left millions dead. And certainly the 2 world wars affected Romania and Bulgaria in ways it is hard for us to understand here.
It is a complicated area with a lot of interesting and controversial history.
We have a lot of work to do in the U.S. regarding gun safety reform and keeping our democracy safe from an authoritarian leaning President in the midst of an impeachment investigation. We should all be alarmed that our own President is threatening armed insurrection when he tweeted that there will be a Civil War if he is impeached. We all know what that means. And we get a view into his twisted mind when he suggested that immigrants should be shot in the legs to slow them down.
We have our own complicated problems and our history books will in the decades to come have chapters about our mass shootings and a President who used violent rhetoric to foment his base.
We are better than this.