Gun politics in Finland

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In Finland there are 32 privately owned firearms per 100 civilians according to the Finnish Ministry of the Interior[1][2]. By the end of 2006 there were somewhat over 1,6 million licensed firearms and spread among Finland's population of 5,3 million it comes to 30,5 per 100 people. Unlicensed firearms are estimated at around 1,5 per 100. There are some 650,000 firearms permit holders in Finland. 60% of firearm permits are issued for hunting weapons[3]. There are an estimated 290,000 handguns, which comes to 5,5 per 100 civilians[4]. Permits are not required for muzzle-loaded black powder guns made before 1890 as long as they are not used. War booty from World War 2 are thought to constitute the largest share of illegal firearms.

The widely cited Small Arms Survey 2007 by Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva Switzerland[5] incorrectly claims there are some 3 million firearms in Finland[6], or 56 per 100 civilians.


[edit] Military reserve

Military service weapons are stored by the Finnish Defence Forces, and are only given to them during reservist training or mobilization. At present, a strong political consensus exists that military weapons should not be stored by individuals, even if they are reservists in first-line, quick response units.[1]

[edit] Regulation

The ownership and use of firearms is regulated by the Firearms Act of 1998.

Firearms can only be obtained with an acquisition license, which can be applied for at the local police for €32. A separate license is required for each individual firearm and family members can have parallel licenses to use the same firearm. According to law, the firearms must be stored in a locked space or otherwise locked, or with vital parts removed and separated. Even then the weapon or any of its separated parts must not be easily stolen. If an especially dangerous firearm or more than 5 pistols, revolvers or self-loading rifles or other-type firearms are being stored, they must be stored in a certified gun safe or in a secure space inspected and approved by the local police authority.

They may be carried only when they are transported from their place of storage to the place of use (shooting range, hunting area or such). Even then they must be unloaded and concealed or kept in carrying pouches. Aside from law enforcement agents and military personnel, only security guards with closely defined working conditions, special training and a permit are allowed to carry a loaded gun in public places. The ownership of air-rifles is not regulated but carrying or firing them in public places is not permitted. A crossbow is paralleled to an air rifle in legal matters.

To obtain a firearms license, an individual must declare a valid reason to own a gun. Acceptable reasons include hunting, sports or hobby shooting, profession related, show or promotion or exhibition, collection or museum, souvenir, and signalling. It is worth noticing that self- or home defence are not considered valid reasons. The applicant must provide evidence supporting the acquisition license application to prove that he or she is actually using firearms for the stated purpose(s). Such proof may consist of written declarations from other license holders as referees, shooting diaries or certificates from a shooting club.[2]

The applicant is also subjected to an extensive background check from police accessible databases and even citations for speeding or DUI can be grounds of not granting the license.

Collectors can have special licenses for firearms otherwise not permitted (e.g. pocket guns or select fire weapons). These are usually issued based on the collector's previous record of gun ownership, but ultimately the issuing of licenses is at the local police's discretion.

Conversely, a license for a pistol or a rifle is relatively easy to obtain, although the police usually require that the first gun is suitable for a beginner (usually a gun chambered in .22LR).

Possession of destructive devices such as automatic weapons, rocket and grenade launchers, breech loading cannons, artillery rockets, or missile systems is generally not permitted. The Finnish Ministry of the Interior has discretion to license such devices to collectors, for motion picture production or exhibition use.

The firearms certificate may be cancelled if a person has committed any crimes (in addition to violent crimes, simple theft and traffic offences are also considered) or has broken certificate rules. Physical and mental problems or reckless behavior are solid grounds for canceling the certificate.

Possessing a firearm without a license is a punishable offence. Unlicensed firearms may be confiscated by the police without punishment under a gun amnesty law, provided this happens under the individual's own initiative. Firearms surrendered in this manner are auctioned to the public or destroyed.

Gun laws were last changed in 1998. At that time flare guns became subject to licensing, and some types of ammunition were specified especially dangerous. Such ammunition requires a separate license. The difficulty of obtaining such a license is dependent upon the nature of the ammunition. For example, it might be relatively easy to obtain hollow-point ammunition for marksmanship practice but a license for live artillery grenades is effectively impossible to obtain.

The EU gun control directive is likely to outlaw firearm ownership for under 18-year olds. Currently (as of November 2007), a 15- to 18-year old whose guardian consents can acquire a firearm license for sports or hunting purposes. As hunting is a popular hobby with 15- to 18-year olds, Finland had earlier pleaded against new EU restrictions in this regard. However, in November 2007 the Finnish government declared that it is prepared to raise the age limit for acquiring firearms to 18 years. As this change coincided with the Jokela school shooting, gun control opponents have questioned the timing.[3]

[edit] Firearms categories

Shotguns are defined as firearms that are shoulder-fired, have a total length of at least 840 mm and a barrel of at least 400 mm, with either a smoothbore or rifled barrels and that use shotgun shells.

Rifles are defined as firearms that are shoulder-fired, have a total length of at least 840 mm and a barrel of at least 400 mm, with rifled barrels and that use rimfire or centerfire cartridges.

Smallbore rifles (Finnish: pienoiskivääri) are defined as rifles that use rimfire cartridges of .22 caliber diameter.

Pistols are firearms with a total length of less than 840 mm and a barrel length of less than 400 mm, that use center- or rimfire cartridges.

Smallbore pistols (Finnish: pienoispistooli) are pistols that fire rimfire cartridges of .22 caliber diameter.

Revolvers are firearms with a total length of less than 840 mm and a barrel length of less than 400 mm, that use center- or rimfire cartridges loaded in a spinning cylinder.

Smallbore revolvers (Finnish: pienoisrevolveri) are revolvers that fire rimfire cartridges of .22 caliber diameter.

Combination weapons are shoulder-fired, have a total length of at least 840 mm and a barrel of at least 400 mm, with multiple barrels and that use both rifle cartridges and shotgun shells.

Gas guns are defined as firearms that use gas cartridges and that can't use any other type of cartridge.

Signal pistols are defined as firearms, that use a signaling cartridge and cannot use any other kind of cartridge.

Blackpowder weapons are defined simply as weapons that are designed and manufactured to be used only with black powder.

Other-type weapons are firearms that due to function, measurements or other qualities are distinct from firearms in the other categories.

Pocket weapons are revolvers or smallbore revolvers that fit within a rectangle with the dimensions of 140 x 190 mm, or any other firearm that fits into a 130 x 180 mm rectangle, with the standard sight and without magazine or any removable parts that increase its dimensions.

[edit] Action categories

Single shot: The firearm needs to be cycled and cocked by an external force and a new cartridge must be fed manually to the weapon after every shot.

Single shot with magazine: The firearm needs to be cycled and cocked by an external force and a new cartridge is taken directly from a magazine.

Self-loading single shot: The firearm loads and cocks itself by the use of the energy produced by the firing of the previous cartridge or a power source. One shot is fired with each pull of the trigger.

Automatic fire: The firearm loads and cocks itself by the use of the energy produced by the firing of the previous cartridge or some other power source. Multiple shots can be fired with one pull of the trigger.

[edit] Related objects

Sound suppressors, a firearm accessory strictly regulated in many other jurisdictions, are also available in Finland. Their use is not regulated. Their use can be considered to reduce the noise pollution that firearms otherwise produce. Noise pollution is to some extent a problem, since although most ranges are located in relatively remote locations, many ranges may be closed down if the noise becomes a problem for the nearest inhabitants. Suppressors also reduced the risk of hearing damage while shooting. Silencers are not a major topic in Finnish gun control debates as they are almost never used in crimes.

Private ownership of tear gas or pepper spray is licensed for the purposes of personal protection, collection, training, or education. These are not valid reasons to get a licence for a private person, however, but apply only to security companies. There are some circumstances where a private person can obtain a license for carrying an incapacitating agent, such as when obtaining a restraining order against an aggressive person.

Any usual need for professional use of guns should be covered with incapacitating agents, but for high risk facilities such as nuclear plants, security guards may get a firearm license.

Muzzle-loading black powder firearms manufactured prior to 1890 are free to be possessed without regulation, but for firing them one must possess a firearms license.

[edit] Unregistered firearms

The total number of unregistered firearms is impossible to know; according to some estimates, there may be as few as 50,000 or as many as 500,000. The majority of the unregistered firearms are personal war booty Soviet or German firearms dating to WWII.

Due to changes to the legislation, unregistered firearms may now be handed over to the police without punishment for illegal possession of a firearm, provided that the owner of the firearm does so of his own initiative. The firearm is then stored while the owner applies for a permit. If he chooses not to, it will be auctioned, or destroyed if it is deemed dangerous to use due to its condition. Historically valuable weapons are sometimes handed over to museums. This practice is called "mercy year", as it originally started as a one-year experiment, which was very successful. Thousands of unregistered firearms and several tons of explosives and ammunition are collected each year. Many, if not most of these items are old "souvenirs" dating back to World War II or even the Finnish Civil War.

[edit] References

  1. Puolustusvaliokunnan mietintö 1/2004 (PuVM 1/2004 vp) The memorial by the defence committee of the Finnish Parliament discusses the Finnish military doctrine, including the principle that military weapons are always stored by the Defence Forces. There are 6 opposing comments to the memorial, none of them questioning this principle. Retrieved 10-23-2007. (Finnish)
  2. Aselupakäytäntöjen yhtenäistämisohje (Firearms licensing procedure harmonization guidelines, issued by the Lottery and Firearms Administration Unit of the Ministry of Interior). Retrieved on 1-23-2007. (Finnish)
  3. "[ Hunting is a worthwhile and problem-free youth hobby, so let’s hinder it" (2007-11-10). ISSN 1797-1993

[edit] External links

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