2004 firearms statistics show rise in ownership but decrease in licences


According to a newly released study, last year 308,308 people in the Czech Republic were licensed gun-owners. That's about 3 percent of the population. The Czech Interior Ministry says that about 632,000 firearms are now legally held in private hands, but the number of registered owners is on the decrease.

Dita Asiedu has been pouring over the statistics and joins us now in the studio - Dita, what do these numbers say about Czech gun ownership? How do these statistics compare to other European countries?

Well, at 3 percent, the Czech Republic is on the lower end of the European scale in terms of gun ownership. The Netherlands, Hungary, and Estonia have even fewer registered weapons, with not even 2 firearms for every one hundred people. Finland has the highest rate, with over 30 guns per one hundred people. The Czech Republic with six guns per one hundred residents can be ranked alongside Italy, for example. So we can say that the Czech Republic, when compared to the rest of Europe, is in the lower bracket.

The statistics for the European countries are from 2003 and come from the "Small Arms Survey", which is a research project at Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International Studies.

Does Czech law distinguish between the ownership of, say, a pistol and a hunting rifle?

Well, the law, dating to 2002, divides firearms into categories, as most EU countries do. There are four of them - A, B, C, and D - from most dangerous to least dangerous. This means that A category firearms are all the prohibited firearms, used in the military for example. Most civilians have category B guns and they need to have permits for them, so these include pistols and revolvers. Owners of category C firearms do not need permits for them but are obliged to register them. Category C guns are both sporting and hunting rifles, as well as shotguns. Then we have the D category, which includes the least dangerous guns such as antique weapons, which don't have to be registered at all.

What conditions does one have to meet in order to buy a gun?

You first of all need a letter from your doctor stating that you're physically and mentally fit to carry a gun. You must also be at least 21 years old; or 18, if you want to buy a sporting gun or hunting rifle. Most people who apply for category B and C guns are hunters, people who use it for sport, such as skeet or target shooting, or collectors. But also those who can prove they need them for protection of life or property.

Basically, no civilian was allowed to own a gun under communism, so it became very popular just after the revolution to own one. But it was also a matter of security, isn't that right?

Yes, that's right - after the fall of the Communist regime in 1989 - many new businessmen, who did not trust banks or were not given credit, acquired guns because they had to walk around with suitcases full of money when they made transactions. The Interior Ministry's Milena Backovska from the security policy department, says that's just speculation and there is a much simpler reason:

"The number of people owning guns increased after the revolution but that's only because the firearms act before 1989 was very strict and it was virtually impossible for a civilian to legally hold a firearm. After the revolution, the law was changed to allow ownership but under precise conditions. So, a civilian was able to acquire a gun and that's why we recorded this significant increase in gun ownership."

The Interior Ministry also notes that the number of gun licence holders has not increased at all in past years and has in fact been noting a slight decrease since 2001.

How many crimes have been committed with legally carried firearms?

Well, in 2004, there were 78 crimes known to have been committed with registered guns, which is a low number compared to other countries.