IF YOU open the most recent “Mafia Lists” from 2012, you notice one thing (apart from the scowling, troglodyte faces): almost everyone has a gun, and many more than one. Which, in Slovakia, is intuitively as it should be. Private handgun ownership here is still mainly associated with organised crime. Among the rest of us, disputes are still largely settled with fists and curses.
But this may be changing. Last year, according to police statistics, Slovaks legally owned a record 277,000 guns. Gun expert Ľudovít Miklánek guessed that people are now more willing to spend months obtaining a permit because “they generally feel a sense of imminent danger”.
So what is this “imminent danger” that these new gun owners are feeling? Violent crime over the long term is down (the number of people murdered in 2012 and 2013, in the mid-to-high 70s, was the lowest since communism ended). Could it be simply that as more and more people own guns, mundane barroom conflicts or traffic disputes are more likely to result in someone pulling a 9 millimeter?
Slovakia has imported many fine traditions from the West, including democracy (however illiberal), recreational running and Netflix. But life remains highly livable in large part due to those Western ills we have been able to avoid, such as widespread gun ownership and the misery that accompanies it.
We have not been immune from gun violence, such as the Devínska Nová Ves massacre in 2010 that left 15 wounded and eight dead, including the shooter Ľubomír Harman, who wielded a legally owned Vz. 58 attack rifle. But unlike the American public, we do not regularly read about massacres of schoolchildren, domestic disputes leaving extended families dead, or tragic accidents in which a four-year-old blows his sister’s head off with his father’s poorly hidden gun.
Against the odds in a globalized Europe, Slovakia has held onto many traditions that protect its people. One of which is the “férovka”, a punch-up or ‘fair fight’, which is a primitive but ultimately more civilized way of responding to “imminent danger” than pointing a gun. Let’s keep it that way.
12. Mar 2015 at 6:30 | Tom Nicholson