PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - JANUARY 04: People gather to create human chain around the building of Faculty of Arts of Charles University to commemorate victims of a mass shooting on January 04, 2024 in Prague, Czech Republic. Attendees of the memorial walked through Old Town Square to the Philosophical Faculty of Charles University, honoring the victims of a December 21, 2023, shooting at the university's Faculty of Arts building on Jan Palach Square. 24-year-old student David Kozak unleashed gunfire from the rooftop, resulting in the loss of fourteen lives and injuries to 25 others. (Photo by Gabriel Kuchta/Getty Images)


‘Russian disinformation’ over Prague shooting spurs Czech calls for gun-law change


Russia has been accused of spreading online disinformation after the mass shooting in Prague, claiming the perpetrator was a Ukrainian refugee.

Czech interior minister Vit Rakusan responded by saying the situation meant Czechia had to look again at its gun laws.

“It is logical to also talk about how to tighten up gun ownership, which the public has started calling for,” he wrote on X.

His comments come as politicians are reconsidering a 2021 amendment making the right to bear arms part of Czechia’s Constitution.

The mass shooting on December 21 at Charles University by postgraduate history student David Kozák killed 14 people and injured another 25.

Kozák came from a village near Prague. Police chief Martin Vondrasek said he appears to have been inspired by a recent gun outrage in Russia.

Posts apparently linked to Russia, though, allege the gunman was a Ukrainian refugee admitted to the university without taking the required exams.

Rakusan has made frequent public pleas calling on Czechs only to share verified sources of information.

Ladislav Cabada, vice-rector at the Metropolitan University of Prague, told Brussels Signal: “This disinformation already lives and is spread in social networks.”

He said he had seen posts “claiming that the shooter was of Ukrainian background and supported from the Biden-led US”.

In June, the head of Czechia’s intelligence service warned that Russia was increasingly targeting the country, especially through online propaganda.

Russia seems to feature throughout coverage of the Kozák incident.

“I want to do school shooting and possibly suicide,” he wrote online beforehand on a Russian Telegram channel.

“It was as if she had come to my aid from heaven just in time,” he wrote about Russian teenager Alina Afanaskina – who had shot a classmate and wounded another weeks previously at a school in the Southwest Russian city of Bryansk.

The same day, posts appeared on X such as: “This is partly not only his fault but also those ‘pro-Ukrainians’ around him”.

Other online claims included: “Before the shooting Kozak raised the Ukrainian flag on the roof” and using a photograph taken in February 2022.

Another said: “He received a summons to mobilise into the Ukrainian army and the university on the same day submitted an application for his expedition back to his country.”

During the shooting, Czech reporter Jiří Forman encouraged Kozak to fire at him instead of  students evacuating the university arts building.

After the attack, Czechs may be thinking twice about the country’s move in October 2021 to enshrine a right to gun ownership in the Constitution by including “the right to defend one’s own or another person’s life even with a weapon”.

​​Barbora Bukovská, a Czech international human rights lawyer, said: “I think this constitutional change was a huge mistake.”

The country now has Europe’s most permissive gun laws and is one of the only states to include a right to bear arms in its Constitution.

Kozák legally owned eight weapons, most bought last year and without the purchases raising any questions.

Legislation was already before the Czech Parliament to require businesses to report suspicious gun purchases to police and to allow doctors to find out if their patients owned firearms.

“I think it can be expected that the MPs will pay attention to the amendment now and will probably want to introduce some changes,” said Bukovská.

“If you read this new law, it looks like everything is going to change,” including “the definition of weapons, their categorisation, etcetera”, she added.

At the same time, revising Czechia’s liberal gun laws will be a fraught battle. “The gun lobby immediately have started [a] media charm offensive,” Bukovská said.