The subject of gun crime is back on the agenda in France after two separate shootings outside nightclubs within a matter of days. The government has vowed to take action while fearful nightclub owners are demanding police support.
A second nightclub shooting on consecutive weekends in France forced authorities on Monday to promise swift action against the growing issue of gun crime.
Ten people were injured in the early hours of Sunday morning when a man armed with a hunting rifle burst into the Vamos nightclub in the northern town of Bertry and opened fire, sending panicked revellers and staff running for cover.
The attack came just a week after a cloak-room attendant and a party-goer were killed at Theatro nightclub in the northern city of Lille when a gunman shot indiscriminately at terrified staff and patrons, with what was believed to be a Kalashnikov. Five other people were injured.
The shootings have sparked concern among the government, France’s poorer communities, where guns are seemingly more and more commonplace, and those who work in the night-club industry.
Gun crime a ‘priority’
Mustafa Belaïdi, whose 27-year-old son Hamza was killed in the Theatro club shooting, led the calls for tougher action.
“We must dismantle the gun networks and severely punish those who carry military weapons,” he said.
France’s Interior Minister Manuel Valls has vowed to hear his plea.
After a visit to the scene of the first shooting, Valls said that he promised to “make the strict enforcement of gun regulations and the battle against illegal weapons priorities of my ministry.”
Authorities are under pressure to explain how both alleged gunmen, who had a history of violent crime, were able to get access to firearms despite the existence of a recent law which bans criminals convicted of violent crimes from owning weapons.
Valls said he was determined to ensure the “systematic inclusion” of convicted criminals on the banned list, which already bears around 18, 000 names.
Supply and demand
But a more pressing issue for Valls will be to deal with the flow of illegal military style weapons into the country, a concern he promised to raise with his European counterparts in the near future.
According to the government, there are at least 7.5 million guns in legal circulation, although experts believe there are millions more illegal weapons on the streets and are apparently not too hard to come by.
According to those experts, nearly 15,000 illegal military style weapons like Kalashnikovs are in circulation around France’s poor suburbs. A Kalashnikov reportedly sells from around €1,500 on the black market.
The Balkan countries that make up the former Yugoslavia, the Middle East and North African countries like Libya are thought to be the main sources of arms coming into France.
“It’s a complex phenomenon,” David-Olivier Reverdy of police union Alliance, told FRANCE 24. “These are clandestine weapons, so by their nature they are hard to track down. It’s hard to know who is delivering them and how they are getting into the country.
“Often the arms are brought into France in very small quantities so that makes it harder for the police to detect. The influx of arms is on the increase, but police are working at a national level and there is also cooperation at an international level with other states, notably those in the Balkans,” Reverdy added.
In 2010 police confiscated 2,710 guns, 79% more than the previous year.
France’s gun laws were thrust into the spotlight in March when gunman Mohamed Merah went on a shooting spree in Toulouse, killing seven people, including three children at a Jewish school.
As a shocked France tried to understand how Merah came to commit such an atrocity, much of the focus centred on the apparent ease in which he amassed a deadly arsenal of weapons, including a Kalashnikov and an Uzi machine gun.
Merah’s rampage came not long after France had tightened its gun laws by introducing tougher sentences and higher fines for those found with illegal arms. But this merely heightened the impression that the government was becoming increasingly powerless against the influx of arms.
“There are people who are in the market for this kind of thing, it’s the law of supply and demand, unfortunately,” Francois Thevenot, secretary of the French magistrates trade union, told Reuters at the time.
After the two recent shootings in northern France, there are concerns the area will become like the southern city of Marseille, which is blighted by gang violence and where the Kalashnikov has become the weapon of choice to settle scores.
If the Interior Minister and the public have their worries then so too do those who ply their trade at France’s nightclubs.
In both incidents, the gunmen opened fire in apparent revenge attacks after either being refused entry or thrown out of the club.
On Monday nightclub bosses across the country called for greater protection from authorities.
“I just returned from Florida and I noticed a large police presence outside nightclubs. The drive past or stay in the car parks. The owners of nightclubs could cover part of their costs,” said Patrick Malvaës, president of the National Union of nightclubs and entertainment venues (SNDLL).
Others said policemen should join nightclub security teams at weekends.
But Alliance’s Reverdy said that despite the recent shootings revellers and night club staff should not be overly fearful.
“Thankfully these kinds of incidents remain rare. We have seen two in a week, but overall they are not on the increase,” Reverdy told FRANCE 24.