Gun politics in Finland

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Gun politics in Finland incorporates the political and regulatory aspects of firearms usage in the country. Both hunting and shooting sports are common hobbies among Finns. There are approximately 300 000 people with hunting permits [1] and 34 000 people belong to sport shooting clubs.[2] Over 1500 people are licensed weapons collectors.[3] Additionally, many reservists practice their skills using their own semi-automatic rifles and pistols after the military service.[4]

Legal firearms in Finland must registered and licensed on a per-gun basis. There are approximately 1.5 million registered small firearms in the country. Out of those, 226 000 are short firearms (pistols, revolvers) with the rest being long firearms (rifles, shotguns).[5] There are approximately 650 000 people with at least one permit which means 12% of Finns own a firearm.[6] Overall, the rate of legal firearms ownership is similar to countries such as Sweden, France, Canada and Germany.[7] Estimates place the number of illegal, unregistered firearms between some tens of thousands [8] and upwards of a million.[9] A large portion of these are thought to be weapons hidden during the aftermath of World War II.

The current Firearms Act of 1998 is a near full rewrite of the earlier, 1933 law. The law was revised to comply with the European Firearms Directive after Finland joined the European Union.[10] Following the school shooting incidents in 2007 and 2008 in which the perpetrators used .22 caliber semi-automatic pistols, legislation regarding short firearms was considerably tightened in 2011. Nevertheless, no types of firearms are outright banned, and in principle a person can apply for a licence for any type of gun.

Regulation[edit]

The ownership and use of firearms is regulated by the Firearms Act of 1998. A license is always needed for possession of a firearm and all firearms are registered. Firearms may only be carried while they are being used for a specific purpose (e.g. hunting, shooting at the range). When transporting a firearm to or from such activity, the firearm must be unloaded and stored in a case or pouch. The owner of a firearm is responsible for making sure that firearms and ammunition do not end up in unauthorized hands. The exact requirements regarding storage of firearms depends on their type and quantity.[11]

Air guns up to 6.35 mm (0.25 inch) in caliber are not regulated regardless of their muzzle energy. Larger bore air weapons need a permit, unless the person already holds a firearms licence. Bows and crossbows are not regulated items in Finland, while pepper spray is. Silencers are considered firearm components, but can be used with without requiring any separate licensing. Magazine capacity is not restricted nor is there regulation regarding other firearm accessories.[12]

An unlicensed person may use firearms only under direct supervision.[13] Simple unlawful possession of a firearm is punishable by fine or up to two years in prison, although more severe punishments may apply e.g. in the case of fully automatic weapons or when used to commit other crime. However, an unlicensed firearm may always be turned in without repercussions, provided this happens at the initiative of the person in possession of the firearm.[14]

Certain types of ammunition, such as expanding pistol rounds or incendiary rounds, require special authorization (in addition to a firearms licence) to purchase. The amount of ammunition a person may possess is limited by legislation related to the safe storage of explosive materials rather than the Firearms Act. In the most common case this limit is 20 000 rounds of ammunition including loose primers and 2 kg of gunpowder.[15]

Proposed changes to regulation[edit]

Currently, work is underway to streamline the license application process in straightforward cases. An applicant who already has existing permits and has a proven track-record with responsible ownership would be able to apply for further permits more easily.[16]

In 2015, the EU commission proposed changes to the Firearms Directive regarding certain semi-automatic rifles. If passed, any changes will need to be implemented in local legislation.

Licensing[edit]

When applying for a licence to purchase a firearm, the applicant must fill in a form with information such as the type and mode of operation of firearm, and the intended purpose of use (although one can use any firearm for any legal purpose regardless of the original application, e.g. a range gun for hunting or vice versa). According to the law, the firearm must be appropriate for the stated purpose, but evaluating this is largely left to the discretion of the police. For example, while an AR-15 is suitable for practical shooting, the police may consider one inappropriate for hunting.[17]

Valid reasons for obtaining a firearms license are:

Reason Description
1 Hunting A valid hunting permit is expected. Minimum muzzle energy for different game, magazine capacity restrictions etc. defined in separate legislation.
2 Sports and hobby Type of firearm needs to be appropriate for the discipline. Proof that the hobby exists is expected. For pistols and revolvers further requirements apply.
3 Work The need for a firearm must be justified. Appropriate training is expected.
4 Film and theater
5 Museum or collection Person or organization the Ministry of the Interior has approved as a weapons collector.
6 Memento Item is of significant importance to the person or family.
7 Signaling Flare guns for e.g. boating.
8 Proxy ownership 15-17 year olds may participate in sports shooting or hunting on their own but a licensed adult is responsible for the transportation and storage of the firearm.

The application process includes a check of criminal records, the police interviewing the applicant and in some cases a computer-based personality test or a medical health certificate. Any significant history with violence or other crime, substance abuse or mental health issues will cause the application to be rejected. Membership in a hunting or shooting club or other appropriate organization is considered a positive, though membership can not be legally required as the Constitution of Finland guarantees freedom of association.[18]

If the application is approved, an acquisition permit is mailed to the applicant. A dealer (or private person) may only sell a firearm if the buyer has the appropriate paperwork to show. There is no waiting period as such, but in practice processing an application takes a minimum of several days, usually a few weeks. Licences can be valid either until further notice or for a fixed term, which is sometimes the case for a people applying for their first license, and always with the first pistol license. A licence-holder may also borrow other firearms from the same or lesser category (e.g. a rifle licence is valid for borrowing shotguns and small-caliber rifles, but not pistols) and purchase ammunition for any firearm he owns or is permitted to borrow.

Classification of firearms

For legal purposes, firearms are divided into 12 different types:[19]

Firearms are further divided into four modes of operation:[20]

Sub-compact pistols

A pistol is considered sub-compact or a "pocket gun" if it fits in a rectangular box of 180 x 130 mm, as is a revolver that fits in a box of 190 x 140 mm. Special legislation applies to these easily concealed firearms and they are not licensed for sporting purposes. Some common pistols such as Glock 19 fall under this description, and are therefore generally unavailable to e.g. IPSC shooters in Finland.[21]

Specially dangerous weapons

Some types of weapons are considered "specially dangerous". Licences for such weapons can only be granted on a very limited basis and are essentially for recognized collectors and filming purposes only. A weapon is considered specially dangerous if:[22]

  • its mode of operation is automatic fire
  • it is a cannon, rocket launcher or comparable weapon system
  • it is disguised as another object

Short-barreled rifles and carbines

Short-barreled rifles and pistol carbines fall under the any other firearm category and, while not restricted by law, are more difficult to get a licence for. The primary concern is again that, being easy to conceal, they are particularly dangerous should they be stolen and fall into criminal hands.[23]

Personal protection and self-defense[edit]

In the 80s and 90s roughly 7% of firearm licenses were granted for the purpose of personal protection. Since 1998 new licences have not been granted on that basis, although existing permits remain valid.[24] It is still possible to obtain a licence for pepper spray for the purpose of self-defense if a concrete threat exists. Carrying a firearm licensed for hunting or sporting use outside of that specific activity is not allowed. One can nevertheless legally defend himself by any means available, including firearms. Any use of force must always be proportional to the threat.[25]

Role in crimes[edit]

Between 2003 and 2014, firearms were used in 17% of all homicides. In 59% of the cases the firearm was illegal.[26]

The two school shootings in Jokela in 2007 and Kauhajoki in 2008 are by far the worst mass murders in Finland, with 8 and 10 victims, respectively. In both cases the perpetrator was armed with a .22 rimfire pistol licensed only shortly before. In the case of Pekka-Eric Auvinen, the original application was for a 9 mm pistol, but this was rejected. In the aftermath police were blamed for being too lax in issuing licences, as neither perpetrator had any significant history with sports shooting. Police defended their decision, stating that nothing suspicious had come up with the information available, so there was no reason to reject the application.[27] Legislation was revised in 2011 and now pistol licenses can only be issued following a two-year period of documented, active pistol shooting hobby, and only to persons 20 years old or older.[28]

Role in suicides[edit]

In 2013, firearms (both legally and illegally held) were used in 18% of suicides. Some consider this a problem and would like to see stricter firearms legislation.[29] Others point out that the number of suicides is already steadily going down, while the number of firearms has remained constant.[30][31] Compared with Finland, suicides occur less often in Switzerland, a country of high firearms ownership rate, and more often in Japan, a country with very few firearms.[32][33]

Military reserve[edit]

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.[34]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Finnish Wildlife Agency "Approximately 300,000 persons obtain a hunting card in Finland annually."
  2. ^ Finnish Shooting Sport Federation "34 165 total members" (Finnish)
  3. ^ The Police of Finland "1 545 licensed collectors in 2014" (Finnish)
  4. ^ Reservist Sports Association "The aim of applied reservist shooting is to develop and compare the practical shooting skills of reservists using modern service weapons or their semi-automatic versions." (Finnish)
  5. ^ YLE "Number of firearms declining" (Finnish)
  6. ^ Ministry of the Interior "Approximately 1.6 million guns in Finland" (Finnish)
  7. ^ Wikipedia Number of guns per capita by country
  8. ^ Ministry of the Interior "The Ministry of the Interior estimates that there are at most some tens of thousands of unlicensed firearms in Finland." (Finnish)
  9. ^ Small Arms Survey An estimate of between 2.15 to 3.60 million total firearms is given in table 2.3
  10. ^ HE 183/1997 Government's proposal to the Parliament for new Firearms Act (Finnish)
  11. ^ Finlex Firearms Act, 10 § 106
  12. ^ Finlex Firearms Act, 1 § 2
  13. ^ Finlex Firearms Act, 7 § 88
  14. ^ Finlex Criminal Code, 41 § 1-2
  15. ^ Finlex Valtioneuvoston asetus räjähteiden valmistuksen ja varastoinnin valvonnasta ("Explosive Materials Decree") 12 § 56 (Finnish)
  16. ^ Ministry of the Interior AMPUMA-ASELUPAMENETTELYÄ KOSKEVAN LAINSÄÄDÄNNÖN UUDISTAMISTA KOSKEVA HANKE ("Project for renewing firearms legislation") (Finnish)
  17. ^ Parliament Statement from the Police regarding the EU Firearms Directive "-- permits for [military style semi-automatics] are generally not given for hunting use --"
  18. ^ Parliament PERUSTUSLAKIVALIOKUNNAN LAUSUNTO 18/2010 vp
  19. ^ Finlex Firearms Act, 1 § 6
  20. ^ Finlex Firearms Act, 1 § 7
  21. ^ Finlex Firearms Act, 1 § 8
  22. ^ Finlex Firearms Act, 1 § 9
  23. ^ Finlex The Supreme Administrative Court: "-- rejecting application for 9 mm Heckler & Koch MP5 A3 (pistol carbine) on the basis of public order and safety was legal, even though the firearm was otherwise appropriate for the intended purpose --" (Finnish)
  24. ^ Edilex HE 183/1997, 2.2 ("Proposal of the Government to the Parliament for a Firearms Act") (Finnish)
  25. ^ Finlex Criminal Code, 4 § 4
  26. ^ University of Helsinki HENKIRIKOSKATSAUS 2016 ("Report on Homicide") (Finnish)
  27. ^ MTV3 "A more in-depth interview probably would not have revealed intent" (Finnish)
  28. ^ Finlex 124/2011 Laki ampuma-aselain muuttamisesta ("Law regarding revision of the Firearms Act") (Finnish)
  29. ^ YLE “Something terrible has happened”: Does Finland need to wake up to its gun problem?
  30. ^ Mikko Niskasaari "Take psychiatric medication away from women!" (Finnish)
  31. ^ Findicator "Number of suicides fell clearly"
  32. ^ YLE "The Swiss want to keep their arms at home" (Finnish)
  33. ^ Wikipedia List of countries by suicide rate
  34. ^ Edilex Puolustusvaliokunnan mietintö 1/2004 (PuVM 1/2004 vp) The memorial by the defense 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 2016-04-18. (Finnish)

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