Gun politics in Finland
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By the end of 2006 there were more than 1.6 million licensed firearms. Averaged among Finland's population of 5.3 million it comes to 30.5 per 100 people. Another study puts the number of firearms per capita as high as 0.55 
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. There are an estimated 290,000 handguns, which comes to 5.5 per 100 civilians . Permits are not required for muzzle-loaded black-powder guns made before 1890 as long as they are not used. Captured guns from World War II 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 claims there are some 3 million firearms in Finland, or 56 per 100 civilians.
Military service guns are stored by the Finnish Defence Forces, and are only given out 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.
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 a fee. A separate license is required for each individual firearm. The number of firearms a person can own is not limited in any way. With the primary licensee's consent, parallel licenses to his firearms can be granted to other persons. 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 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 (self defense is not considered "valid"). Acceptable reasons include hunting, sports or hobby shooting, profession related, show or promotion or exhibition, collection or museum, souvenir, and signalling. 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.
The applicant is also subjected to an extensive background check from police accessible databases and even citations for speeding or drunk driving can be grounds of not granting the license.
Collectors can have special licenses for firearms otherwise not permitted (e.g. pocket guns or automatic rifles). 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 or single shot shotgun).
Possession of destructive devices such as automatic weapons, explosive ordnance, breech loading cannons, artillery 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 cancelling 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. It is also possible for the owner to get a license for the gun.
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 hunting but a license for Incendiary ammunition is effectively impossible to obtain.
Proposed changes to the regulations
In 2008, following the second of two massacres at schools in Finland, the responsible minister said that the law would be tightened further, especially with regard to licensing controls. More recently, in September 2009, gun enthusiasts, including representatives of the shooting fraternity, expressed displeasure about the proposed new law, especially as the legislative committee had not consulted experts or hobbyists. In April 2010, the constitutional law committee of the Finnish parliament said that more gun control is not necessary in Finland.
Shotguns (Finnish: haulikko) 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 (Finnish: kivääri) 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 centerfire cartridges.
Smallbore rifles (Finnish: pienoiskivääri) are defined as rifles that use rimfire cartridges of .22 caliber only.
Pistols (Finnish: pistooli) are firearms with a total length of less than 840 mm and a barrel length of less than 400 mm, that use centerfire cartridges.
Smallbore pistols (Finnish: pienoispistooli) are pistols that fire rimfire cartridges of .22 caliber diameter.
Revolvers (Finnish: Revolveri) are firearms with a total length of less than 840 mm and a barrel length of less than 400 mm, that use centerfire cartridges loaded in a spinning cylinder.
Smallbore revolvers (Finnish: pienoisrevolveri) are revolvers that fire rimfire cartridges of .22 caliber diameter.
Combination weapons (Finnish: yhdistelmäaseet) 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 (Finnish: Kaasuaseet) are defined as firearms that use gas cartridges and that cannot 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.
Black-powder weapons (Finnish: Mustaruutiaseet) 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.
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. Revolvers are also in this category.
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.
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.
Commercial ownership of tear gas or pepper spray is licensed for the purposes of 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.
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. Theft accounts for the loss of ca. 500-1000 firearms annually, of which only one fourth are recovered. However, many unregistered firearms are personal war booty, Soviet or German firearms dating to World War II. Indeed, one of the biggest sources of unregistered firearms is embezzlement from the estates of the deceased: 30,000 firearms are reported as "lost" in probate annually. Although the firearms are usually genuinely lost, it is common for heirs to keep the firearm illegally, because they believe they can't get a gun permit. The police seizes more than 1,000 firearms annually, usually from habitual offenders or gang members, who obtain firearms primarily for status reasons.
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. Unlicensed weapons may be turned over to the police, without fear of prosecution. 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.
- Is there a Relationship between Guns and Freedom? Comparative Results from 59 Nations, Texas Review of Law and Politics, 2008. Based on data reported in the 2007 edition of the Small Arms Survey, Geneva, Switzerland.
- 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)
- 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)
- http://www.yle.fi/uutiset/news/2008/09/interior_minister_tighter_gun_laws_coming_359299.html Finnish Interior Minister says "Tighter Gun Laws Coming": Finnish Broadcaster YLE 2008-09-24
|Wikinews has related news: Finland considers tougher gun laws|