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Coronavirus: Why are Czechs and Hungarians panic-buying guns?

Budapest, Hungary – As the coronavirus global pandemic continues to spread in Central Europe and all around the world, Hungarians are massively turning to guns, ammunition and other self-defence survival gear to protect themselves against the potential breakdown of law and order and civil unrest that might ensue.

Coronavirus crisis triggers guns panic-buying in Hungary

“We are selling five times as much as in a normal March”, said Gabor Vass,  the owner of three gun shops in Budapest. “We could sell 15 times more if we had any more rubber bullet weapons, but we ran out”.

A similar phenomenon has been reported in the Czech Republic, where manufacturers recently noted a double-digit increase in sales and skyrocketing demand compared to any other period of a normal year.

Despite authorities and experts’ calls for everyone to remain calm and reasonable in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, scenes and videos of people panic-buying products such as toilet paper, pasta or first necessity items have become commonplace in recent weeks.

Panic-buying guns takes things to a whole new level and further adds to the growing hysteria and sense of apocalyptic doom.

Have “people gone nuts” in Hungary?

“It’s a precautionary measure”, 33-year-old Rostas told Al Jazeera as he was queuing outside a gun shop in the Hungarian capital. “I’d rather be laughing later than find myself in a conflict with nothing but a broomstick”, he argued, explaining that he feared chaos and violence might erupt from the shortage of essential goods – something the Hungarian government assured would not happen.

“If people brawl over toilet paper now, what will they do later? Once shops run out of stock, people will take what they need. Police can hardly deal with every petty theft”, he continued. “I’m not planning to kill anyone, but it is reassuring to have a weapon at home”.

But “people have gone nuts”, he nonetheless admitted. “They gobble up anything they don’t need a licence for. Gas pistols, rubber bullet guns, and even things like crossbows, which can harm you seriously”.

According to the latest estimates, the Czech Republic and Hungary, who’ve reported respectively 2,062 and 300 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection, count some 300,000 legal owners of guns. Licences are not needed for smaller and light weapons.

Last year, both countries had been up in arms against an EU directive on gun control passed in 2017 implementing tighter rules for the acquisition and possession of firearms. But in December, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled against them and dismissed their legal claim.

Friction in the United States over guns sales

In the United States too, who yesterday surpassed China and became the country with the highest number of coronavirus cases in the world, people have gone on a gun-buying spree in states where weaponry and arms shops have been allowed to remain open.

Unsurprisingly, this had caused controversy in a country where gun ownership remains one of the most divisive topics. “Some anti-gun lawmakers are exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to deny you and your loved ones your fundamental right to self-defence and your Second Amendment Rights”, the NRA said.

But many are not convinced by these arguments, and don’t understand why gun shops are able to remain open while all “non-essential businesses” should be closed. “What we don’t want to happen are these kind of panic purchases like we’re seeing right now with first-time buyers”, president of Brady Campaign Kris Brown said. “This will all pass, but these guns will still be in people’s homes”.

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