Risk mass shootings will increase in Europe, experts warn

Cultural influence from the US and availability of weapons named as risk factors after two mass shootings in Serbia

There is a risk mass shootings may rise in Europe due to the spread of the cultural concept from the United States and the proliferation of weapons, experts in gun violence have warned in the wake of two attacks in Serbia.

In the space of two days, a 21-year-old was arrested on suspicion of killing eight people and wounding 14 in a drive-through rampage through several villages and a young teenager was accused of killing eight fellow pupils and a security guard in a carefully-planned school shooting in the capital Belgrade.

“The notion of killing people in a random manner in public is imported into Europe and has culturally diffused,” said Alexei Anisin, dean of the School of International Relations and Diplomacy of the Prague-based Anglo-American University.

“Unfortunately, I think that every case contributes,” he continued. “It’s definitely becoming embedded.”


In his 2021 book, Mass Shootings in Central and Eastern Europe, Anisin wrote that mass shootings in the region were an understudied phenomenon and warned of risk factors due to societal fragmentation following the collapse of communism and cultural influences from the US via the internet.

In three decades, there were 76 successful or attempted mass shootings in the countries that previously made up the Soviet Union, research for the book found, many of them previously unrecorded in English.

“Some of these mass shooters in Central and Eastern Europe literally copied American mass shooters. It’s observable through how they dressed and the way that they planned their attacks,” Anisin said.

Mass shootings remain very rare and are far less common in Europe than the United States, though estimates vary depending on how mass shootings are defined. There were almost 21,000 gun homicides in the US in 2021 while in Europe the figure was about 1,150, even though the European population is larger.

Serbia’s mass shootings this week were not the first in the country of 6.8 million, though. In 2016, a man killed his former wife and four other people after opening fire with an automatic rifle in a cafe in the town of Žitište, while in 2013, a veteran killed 13 people and then himself in the village of Velika Ivanča, many of them family members.

The weapon in the Žitište killings was a Kalashnikov-type automatic assault rifle believed to be held by the gunman’s family as a legacy of the conflicts that racked the region following the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Caches of these weapons, and the associated normalisation of gun ownership in general, mean Serbia has one of the highest per capita rates of firearms in the world at 39.1 per 100 people, a level exceeded only by Yemen and the US, which has 120.5 per 100 people.

In the wake of the attacks this week, Serbian president, Aleksander Vucic, vowed to lead a “practical disarmament” of the country.

Yugoslav conflict legacy weapons have been smuggled across Europe and were used in the Paris shootings of Charlie Hebdo and the Bataclan, according to Nils Duquet, director of the Flemish Peace Institute.

Despite the effectiveness of tough regulation of legal gun ownership, “the availability of firearms on the criminal market has become easier”, Duquet said.

Other problem weapons include converted guns that are supposed to fire blanks, “reactivated” weapons that are supposed to be disabled and 3D printed guns.

“The weapons which are now in Ukraine will, to some extent, also be smuggled to other parts of Europe in the coming years,” he predicted.

Political scientist Steffen Hurka, who has studied mass shootings in Europe, said that while “it is virtually impossible to prevent every single incident”, lower gun ownership rates and stricter laws mean Europe is “highly unlikely” to experience mass shootings at a comparable rate to the US.

Peter Squires, who is professor of criminology and public policy at the University of Brighton, said, however, that among a small minority of marginalised men, mass shootings were becoming ingrained as “an accepted mode of carrying out your rage”.

“It’s become a ‘thing’ in a way that it wasn’t before,” Squires explained.

“We’ve also seen in Europe the rise of a new right neo-Nazi type and they’re often venting in similar ways. They’re also in the vanguard of the kinds of groups who are arming up as their own sort of existential defence against the refugee crisis.”

The second gunman in Serbia was wearing a T-shirt with neo-Nazi symbols, according to authorities.

A far-right sympathiser living in Dublin was jailed earlier this year after being found in possession of firearms parts, a 3D printer, material about mass shootings and neo-Nazi memorabilia, and was suspected by gardaí to have been planning an attack in Ireland or the United Kingdom.

Squires said there “profound similarities” in the kind of extremists who are becoming more common in Europe and the armed far-right anti-immigration vigilante groups that are active on the US-Mexico border

Research suggests that “when men feel that they are losing ground in the social pecking order, they resort to often compensatory, macho practices,” he said. “I reckon this problem is going to get worse before it gets better.”