Gun Violence in Europe
A glocal phenomenon
Gun violence can be defined as all criminal violence committed with a firearm, including both fatal violence, mainly homicides, as well as non-fatal incidents, such as robberies in which a gun has been used to threaten the victim. This phenomenon has received a significant amount of attention from policymakers and members of society in general. In the US, more than 14.000 people were murdered with a gun in 2017, and it is estimated that around 1000 citizens of the European Union become victims of firearm-related homicide. These numbers even exclude unintentional, accidental deaths, non-fatal gun violence and suicides committed with a firearm. Reliable and detailed data based on rigorous research, however, is scarce, at least in some parts of the world. The main body of research on the topic of non-conflict related gun violence has been conducted in the United States, and focuses on various perspectives on the topic, such analyses of gun violence in the context of gangs, evaluations of prevention programs or the exploration of the connection between gun control laws, the widespread availability of firearms and rates of gun violence. In other parts of the world, mainly in Europe, there has been less academic and public attention for gun violence.
In 1991, the European Union issued its first firearm directive, which regulates the possession and trafficking of firearms and other weapons. Yet, even after several revisions of the original directive, experts and practitioners criticize that the proposed regulations do not effectively take into account the local disparities and variations of rates and types of gun violence. A report by the Flemish Peace Institute supports their conclusion that gun violence varies within the European Union: for example, the death rates related to firearms, including both homicides and suicides due to shotgun wounds, differ from 0.25 per 100.000 citizens in Romania, to 8.2 in Montenegro. Other disparities include trends in firearm ownership. Whilst some countries, such as Belgium or Norway have experienced a decrease in households that own a gun, Germany and England have seen rising numbers, as stated by that same report. Some of these variations can be explained by acknowledging the historical and cultural contexts of each European country. The Balkans, for instance, have had to deal with the consequences of the Yugoslav Wars which released thousands of weapons into society that are still circulating today. Other countries are known as hotspots for illicit trafficking of drugs, humans or other goods that sometimes go hand in hand with targeted killings in the criminal milieu.
Variations of gun violence can even be recognized within one single country. The Dutch Homicide Monitor gathers data on all homicides in the Netherlands since 1992 up until 2016, including all deaths that were caused by firearms. A comparison of data on the four biggest cities – Amsterdam, Rotterdam, the Hague and Utrecht – show for instance: 70% of gun violence incidents in 60% of cases in Amsterdam can be allocated to killings in the criminal milieu, specifically in relation to trafficking and trading of drugs. In the Hague, on the other hand, most homicides caused by a firearm take place within a family, while less than 20% of fatal gun violence takes place within the criminal milieu. Those examples showcase how different cities are confronted with different types of gun violence, though both could be potentially affected by changes of gun restriction laws on the supranational level.
Consequently, gun violence needs to be treated and tackled as a glocal phenomenon: global trends, such as transnational firearm legislations or an increase in illicit trafficking of firearms, can have an impact worldwide, but the realities of gun violence can vary significantly across nations and even on a local level. Though these variations can be interpreted as an obstacle to global efforts against gun violence, they also offer opportunities for smaller, local gun violence prevention or reduction programs to have an impact: In Amsterdam, a recent collaborative effort by the mayor’s office, local police and other criminal justice partners hopes to directly target the main source of gun violence by focusing their security strategy on youth at risk and on gun violence that is linked to illegal drug trades. Yet, other cities need to find approaches that fit their own context, both in the Netherlands and abroad. For such a targeted approach to work, reliable and detailed data on the glocal phenomenon in European states is needed. With new, EU-wide initiatives, such as project TARGET, we hope to come to an in-depth understanding of the varying realities of the phenomenon to support effective counter-measures against gun violence.