Jakob Weizman, a Danish student at the Charles University in Prague, was taking an exam on Thursday when he started hearing gunshots and screams.
His first instinct was shock, he said – he never thought a school shooting would happen near him, in Europe.
He pointed to a recent spate of shootings elsewhere in the continent, saying: “You see this happen in Denmark, Serbia, and now here. This is incredibly frightening, you know?”
Weizman and his professor locked the door of their exam room and barricaded it with chairs and tables, staying inside for an hour until the police arrived and escorted them out of the building.
The gunman killed at least 14 people and wounded 25, in the Czech Republic’s deadliest mass shooting in decades. Police said the gunman, a 24-year-old man, was a student of the Faculty of Arts at the university, but has not been formally identified because of the severity of his injuries. He has not been named.
Authorities are still investigating a motive.
Weizman said as an international student, he had different study circles than local Czech students and therefore did not know the shooter.
The Czech Republic is just the latest in a string of European countries to suffer a mass shooting of the kind that has become ubiquitous in the United States.
In June 2022, a gunman killed three people and wounded several others at a shopping mall in the Danish capital Copenhagen. Gun violence is relatively rare in Denmark, which is considered to have some of the most restrictive gun laws in Europe.
And in May this year, Serbia was left reeling after two mass shootings in less than 48 hours. A 13-year-old boy killed at least eight children and a security guard at his school in the capital Belgrade; just a day later, a 21-year old gunman wielding an automatic weapon killed eight people in the village of Dubona.
Gun ownership is high in Serbia, but the sort of mass shootings seen on a daily basis in the US are extremely rare in the Balkan country. Until May, school shootings in Serbia were virtually unheard of.
“That’s the sort of culture of social media, that these people get glorified,” she said. “Social media has no borders, so people in other countries will begin to follow them or copycat them, or see the kind of notoriety that is raised.”
She cautioned that with the Prague shooting, the gunman’s motive is still under investigation – but that his social media networks would undoubtedly be part of that probe.
The Prague gunman had a gun permit and owned several weapons, according to Czech Police President Martin Vondrášek.
The Czech Republic has relatively liberal gun laws compared to the rest of the European Union. To obtain a gun legally, a person needs an official firearm license, which requires a medical examination, a weapon proficiency exam and no previous criminal record.
According to official police statistics, more than 300,000 people have legal permits to own a gun. As of 2022, almost 1 million legally owned weapons were officially registered in the Czech Republic.
But this shooting might evoke greater national debate about gun ownership and restrictions. Although the country has more liberal gun ownership rules than many of its neigbors, questions will be asked whether the Czech Republic should adopt “some of the more stringent laws throughout the European Union,” Kayyem said.
In the US, gun ownership is a constitutional right and far more ubiquitous than Europe. There are 120 guns for every 100 Americans, according to the Switzerland-based Small Arms Survey (SAS). No other nation has more civilian guns than people.