It took more than a few NGOs, civic initiatives and non-profits for Latvia’s parliament to blatantly ignore the vote on March 14. Its members supported granting gun rights to 16-year-olds under the disguise of “facilitating the youth’s involvement in outdoor activities, including hunting.” But it will take more than that to understand why this is a dangerous precedent in a country that is currently transforming into a peaceful haven in the midst of the rise of the extreme right and Russian chauvinism.

The bill was mainly supported by the largest Latvian party, the “National Alliance,” and sometimes backed by such declarations as “the youth must be introduced to hunting to prevent the feminization of men” and “if girls can have abortions starting from the age of 16, why can’t boys hunt with their own weapons?”

Translation: The Latvian Minister of Health Andra Čakša thinks that abortion from the age of 16 is OK, but hunting is not because kids don’t mature until the age of 28.

After the bloody attacks on March 15 in Christchurch, New Zealand, the government did the only sensible thing it could do – implement stricter gun laws. The country, usually a top-scorer in international peace ratings, was left shocked. The Latvian Minister for Foreign Affairs Edgars Rinkēvičs expressed his condolences to the victims of the attack – the same day after the critical vote, in the usual manner of “thoughts and prayers.”

Yet, the country is moving backward in a time when the boundary between peace and hate is strictly being defined by bullets.

There are currently 19 guns per every 100 people living in Latvia. That is more than in countries like South Africa and Australia, which have recently seen a spike in gun-related deaths. The manufacture of guns is permitted only if the maker holds a valid license, but it is rarely conducted in practice. This provides for an unsafe environment in case gun laws were to become looser, and especially when they directly affect children.

Many in favor of less strict gun laws have argued that hunting is a “masculine activity for boys in a woman-dominated environment” and that “gender disproportion can be fixed by allowing young males to take part in such activities.” In a country with very little one-gender educational institutions, this is not the case. Historically, schools in Latvia under Russian and German rule were designed for boys, and girls rarely had the opportunity to go to school. In present-day times, they are usually constructed to accommodate both genders, and any difference in performance is accidental.

The problem with this abrupt change in the law is the lack of information that surrounded the gun question. Society wasn’t introduced to any amendments of the law, and many first heard of the issue on social media. Being a subject that has a deep impact on public safety, people should’ve been introduced to the bill at least a few months prior to the vote in the parliament. Moreover, the question wasn’t passed on to discuss among the youth themselves.

Another flaw with the new law is the lack of proper examination and rigorous gun control. Different from other E.U. member states, the mandatory examination for hunters is not required in Latvia, leaving another question on the youth’s abilities to handle hunting rifles and other weapons that could potentially lead to fatal consequences.

Latvia has always been one of the top countries in the European Union in terms of suicide rate. In Scandinavian countries, where the suicide rate is one of the highest in Europe, hunting has gained popularity over recent years. These variables, as many scientists have argued, strictly correlate, with more suicides being observed in rural, hunting-dominated areas.

Conclusively, we must understand that gun control IS effective, as described by a 2016 study published in the academic journal Epidemiologic Reviews. The study found that “simultaneous implementation of laws targeting multiple firearms restrictions is associated with reductions in firearm deaths.” It also found that “laws restricting the purchase of (e.g., background checks) and access to (e.g., safer storage) firearms are also associated with lower rates of firearm unintentional deaths in children.”

We should learn from the experiences of other nations which have made it harder – not easier – to obtain guns. Otherwise, our peaceful country might just end up in the same place as the United States, where 73% of all killings are gun-related. More guns aren’t the solution. They are the problem.

Photo: Rux Centea 

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