– Greek MP calls for firearms crackdown, fearing of parliamentary shootout (Guardian, Dec 14, 2012):
An independent MP has called for a crackdown on firearms in Greece amid allegations that a growing number of politicians are carrying weapons.
Reports of pistol-carrying deputies entering parliament have added to the febrile mood in a 300-member chamber in which hardcore Marxists sit with fascists, eurocommunists, rightwing populists, conservatives, socialists and an array of independent dissidents.
The MP, Nikos Nikolopoulos, told the Guardian he was “deeply worried” by the dramatic rise in requests for weapons licenses by parliamentarians.
“I have real concerns that MPs are entering the house with weapons and because of that I asked how, in our temple of democracy, it was possible for deputies to carry guns?”
Expelled in July from the conservative New Democracy party, a partner in the coalition government, the MP expressed alarm over the number of parliamentarians who had sought permits to carry arms since Greece’s debt crisis erupted three years ago.
“More and more MPs are requesting licenses for guns and it’s clearly connected to the crisis,” he said. “I have been a politician for the past 23 years and have enough evidence from various police departments to be very concerned.”
At least half of the 18 deputies representing the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party have applied for gun permits, according to local media reports.
In September a Golden Dawn MP, Panagiotis Iliopoulos, was detained by police after brandishing a gun during clashes with anti-establishment leftists in the central city of Volos. Two other deputies were reportedly stopped while attempting to enter parliament with pistols last week.
Although the party, which has been linked to attacks on immigrants, was quick to deny the report, police sources say the extremists have been seen carrying pistols in holsters in parliamentary committees.
Amid the turmoil of Greece’s worst crisis since the second world war, tensions in parliament run high with many refusing to toe the party line in an age of austerity. After a series of physical and verbal attacks in public – MPs from across Greece’s divisive political spectrum admit they are licensed gun holders.
“Many consider it an essential form of self defence,” said Vasilios Kapernaros, a lawyer who represents the fiercely anti-austerity Independent Greeks party in parliament. “There’s also a long tradition of terrorist attacks on politicians in this country.”
A former royal palace, the sandstone building in Syntagma Square, Athens, is protected by a 250-strong police force overseen by the president of the house. Takis Kampras, who heads the speaker’s press office, said suggestions that MPs posed any danger were exaggerated. “In this building the president calls the shots and no deputy can enter with a gun. The safety here is top notch. I won’t say anymore but this building has its secrets.”
But politiciansothers beg to differ. Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, a New Democracy MP, said that while easy access to weapons permits was considered to be “one of the privileges of being a politician”, what was more worrying was the lax security in the parliament building.
“Personally I don’t like guns and don’t have one, but my experience from other parliaments is that security is much higher,” he said. “I’m not talking about MPs, I’m talking about visitors. It’s a joke and should be tightened up.”
The concerns have shone a light on one of the lesser known legacies of Greece’s seven-year period under military rule as revelations have emerged that MPs are neither checked nor controlled when they enter parliament.
“Out of respect for their standing as politicians they are not physically searched when they enter the parliament building,” Lefteris Economou, a former public order minister who headed the Greek police, told the Guardian. “It’s a hangover from the junta.”
Nikos Dendias, the current public order minister, said as such it was up to MPs to use their “moral judgment” if as licensed weapons holders they entered the parliament building and decided not to leave their weapons with guards at the door.
“I am very unhappy with Minister Dendias’ response,” said Nikolopoulos. “When you have politicians like Golden Dawn circulating with guns this approach is totally inadequate and unacceptable. Next week I will raise the issue in parliament again, but this time with the prime minister.”