Gun Culture Outside the US

Most Americans interested in firearms tend to generalize the whole of Europe as a vast desolate wasteland when it comes to gun rights. In some ways this is not far off the mark, but it is not the blanket condition that we think it to be. In the last several days, I’ve been in Belgium, and had the opportunity (thanks, Joel and Serge!) to visit both a gun shop and a gun show that would put most American counterparts to shame.

Gun show at Ciney, Belgium
Gun show at Ciney, Belgium - the photo does not do justice to the size

In the US, we recognize the right to self-defense (both against common criminals and against government) as an inherent human right. In Europe, it is treated instead as a privilege, and how far it may be exercised differs greatly between countries. In Belgium, for example, guns made before 1946 can (as a general rule) be owned without and permitting at all, and machine guns are legal but registered. When we visited Cornet & Co [linnk], the front room was full of Bren and MAxim guns, all live and all for sale far cheaper than they would be in the States. Two live Dror light machine guns were available for 900 Euro (about $1250) each. The back room was chock full of machine guns and Evil Black Rifles that had been sold andwere waiting for paperwork – Stg 57s, FALs, ARs, MG-15s, Maxims, AKs, VZ58s, etc.

Guns for sale at Cornet & Co, Brussels
Yes, they are all live and all for sale at Cornet & Co in Brussels

We spent yesterday at the militaria show in Ciney, Belgium – one of the largest guns shows in Europe. It’s held twice per year, and was larger than all but the biggest American shows. Better yet, it was completely free of dishware, plush toys, fake jewelry, and the other bricabrac that has spread like kudzu through US shows. These tables were all stuffed to the gills with uniforms, gear, guns, gun parts, magazines, inert grenades (lots of those), and generally a far better selection of war paraphernalia than you will ever see in the US. Collecting and reenacting is a big deal over here.

Machine guns for sale at the gun show in Ciney, Belgium
Machine guns for sale at the gun show in Ciney, Belgium

The most glaring difference I saw is that Europeans don’t shoot as much as Americans. At a show in the States, there would have been several large ammo dealers set up, and lots of individual tables would have various small lots of ammo. Here in Ciney, it was very rare to find ammunition for sale, and much of it was blank or gallery training ammo. Belgium in particular is simple a very crownded place, and there isn’t the room for shooting ranges like we have.

Still, before one writes off the European populace as unarmed and helpless, it would be wise to consider first that there are places like Belgium where an awful lot of fairly modern guns are sold to private citizens every day, and second that two massive wars have rolled back and for across the continent, scatting munitions all along their wake. The sheer quantity of military hardware that has been simply “lost” would stagger the imagination. In the US, when it comes to older guns and material, we suffer a bit from being on a continent where none of it was really used. Everything here must have been deliberately brought across the Atlantic at some point, and that limits what you are going to find. Over in Europe, everything was made here and is just waiting to be found in an attic or storeroom. The variety of things you see here that you had never seen before is amazing.



  1. In The Netherlands (a 2,5 hours drive to the north of Ciney) those mg’s can only be owned if you have a special “museum permit”, which in practice means only a handful of people can have them. Other collectors will have to cut them in the length (if that’s english) and weld the halves to a metal plate! In Belgium the law has gotten a lot more strict in 2007 and there is a new proposal which again makes it a bit more difficult. Belgium still has got the most to offer to collectors and shooters of all the European countries.

  2. I’d like to clear up something about the machine guns available in Belgium. They can only be sold to a collector with a collector’s permit that fits the “theme” of his collection. As such, you can get a collector’s permit for say “axis MGs of WW2”. The issue with this permit is that actual use of these MGs is very restricted. If you get to shoot them once a year, you’re lucky…

    As such, demand for these MGs is low, and the prices follow suit. They tend to go for more when modified for semi-automatic fire or sometimes even when deactivated (god forbid).

    As for your observation about ammo, it stems more from the fact that people visiting gunshows are usually people that are there to buy weapons that are not licensed with a permit required to own. Weapons like the K31, SMLE, 98K, etc are all free to own, as long as you don’t intend to shoot them. Buying ammo on the other hand requires a permit.

    Since prices on ammo are high, people here tend to either buy as they go to the range (because most ranges sell ammo) or buy A LOT at once and store it long term (to get greater discounts). Neither of which apply for gunshows.

  3. I would hardly consider Belgium’s gun laws to be better than those of Switzerland, the Czech Republic or some of the Scandinavian countries.

    Belgium is still better than Britain, but so is pretty much every other country in Europe.

  4. Thanks so much, Ian, for an informative and interesting article on the socio-legal aspects of firearms ownership abroad. The comments from eric, GVD and swede1986 are certainly enlightening, and are of equal validity and interest. It is this open, factual and civilized discourse that, among several other factors, sets Forgotten Weapons apart from most other firearms websites, for which I feel truly grateful.

  5. And then there is Australia, the gun control petrie dish. No reduction in crime, just in liberty. Never be complacent or you’ll wind up like us.

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