Open letter to Cecilia Malmström on European gun control

Dear Mrs. Malmström,

your initiative for European gun control has a serious flaw obvious to anyone familiar with security engineering and terrorism.[1] And that's while you are explicitly referring to some unspecified gun attack in Norway in your press release. The most prominent shooting in that country happened on Utøya island and was an act of terrorism. You also refer to a survey that supports gun control. However that does not take the impact of possible terrorism against gun control into account.

As the Austrian lobby group IWÖ points out your planned regulation may de facto be prohibitive to legal gun ownership. So gun owners, instructors and gunsmiths across Europe have a motive for terrorism, even if they just want to reduce the fear, uncertainty and doubt that might keep people from becoming legal gun owners.

Image you do not hear the happy message on New Year's Day about the first new born child in town, but instead are confronted with the victims of an incendiary composition thrown into a newborn nursery by pro-gun terrorists. This would change public opinion almost instantly, because people don't care whether there are victims of gun violence or victims of fire. And while gun violence (with legal guns) happens sporadic, terrorists are motivated to create ever more victims, until the problem cannot be ignored any more. Do you remember the fabricated evidence about Iraqi soldiers pulling babies out of incubators? Just as the fabricated evidence helped preparing Desert Strom, a real terrorist attack will have a major impact on public opinion. (While we can only guess, what terrorists will actually do, it is helpful to visualize their potential acts just as vividly as the gun incidents of the past, because „As a species, we're hardwired to fear specific stories“ and thus have a cognitive bias. I think the scenario is quite realistic as an attacker may speculate on severe burns causing some deaths with one or two weeks delay giving him extra press coverage for free.)

As Max Abrahms points out[2], terrorism fails, if people believe that the violence will not stop, after they have succumbed to the terrorists demands. However this is not plausible when it comes to gun control. As gun control devalues expertise, skill and material assets acquired through many years, there is no strong motive for terror, if the status quo is maintained. An escalation of demands to the legalisation of e. g. machine guns let alone atomic bombs would be odd and non-credible.

You could claim that you do not succumb to terrorist demands based on principle. However that would be non-credible as your plan for gun control is not based on principle in the first place. Terrorists will always be able to cause greater fear than all the gun incidents of the past.

A conservative estimate of psychopaths in society is one percent (though erosion of empathy seems to happen on a spectrum). So one can expect that ten thousands of legal gun owners are ruthless enough for such a crime in Germany alone. You may come up with good reasons why the number of potential terrorists might be a few orders of magnitude lower (lower percentage of psychopaths among legal gun owners, age, lack of motivation (e. g. keeping reportedly stolen/missing guns might do it), etc.). However a single isolated terrorist is enough to spoil your plan. Remember that the 2011 Norway attacks happened without any prior threats and authorities where clueless.

So be realistic: The planned gun control cannot accomplish your stated goal in the real world. Stop gambling with other people's lifes and limbs for a political pipe-dream. Time is short.

Yours sincerely
 T. Leske

Post Scriptum: I would appreciate your permission to publish your answer.

[1] recommended book on these topics: Bruce Schneier's „Beyond Fear“
[2] Max Abrahms, „The Credibility Paradox: Violence as a Double-Edged Sword in International Politics,“ International Studies Quarterly, 2013, abstract


Unfortunately the reply of the commission does not address my concern for terrorism against gun control at all. It seems to be a standard reply.

The fact that representatives of gun owners react on the plans with appeasement does not rule out terror by individual gun owners.