June 28, 2017 / 1:10 PM / 2 months ago

Czech lower house backs putting gun rights in constitution

A newly assembled pistol is placed on a workbench in Ceska Zbrojovka weapons factory in Uhersky Brod, Czech Republic, May 27, 2016.David W Cerny/Files

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech lower chamber approved a bill on Wednesday putting gun owners' rights in the constitution contrary to a European Union initiative to limit some arms following attacks by armed Islamist militants in major European cities.

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, agreed stricter gun rules last December and EU interior ministers gave a final nod to the changes in April despite the Czech Republic, Luxembourg and Poland voting against.

The Czechs, with a tradition of gun ownership especially for hunting, have objected to some of the rule-tightening although sponsors of Czech bill said the changes to the constitution would not stop the EU directive coming into effect.

The bill, supported by 139 of 200 lower house lawmakers, gives citizens the right to use their guns to help with to security of the country, the draft said.

"This constitutional bill is in reaction to the recent increase of security threats, especially the danger of violent acts such as isolated terrorist attacks ... active attackers or other violent hybrid threats," it said.

The amendment still has to go through the upper chamber, or Senate, where two thirds of those present need to support it before President Milos Zeman, a supporter of the legislation, can sign it into law.

As of 2017, there were more than 800,000 firearms of all categories registered in the central European country of 10.6 million. Many of those are antiques, often found in museums. About half of all registered weapons required a permit under the EU directive and could be used for defence, the bill said.

The Czech Republic has rarely experienced gun attacks, the most serious case in recent years was in February 2015, when a lone gunman shot eight people in Uhersky Brod, a town 300 km (190 miles) south east of Prague.

Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Jason Hovet and Louise Ireland

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