Police recover tanks and heavy guns during ongoing weapons amnesty

For nearly six months now, people in the Czech Republic have been able to hand over illegally held weapons to the police free of prosecution. The opportunity has resulted in police officers receiving thousands of firearms and pieces of ammunition, including heavy military equipment.

Photographs of tanks, anti-aircraft guns and nineteenth century repeaters from the Wild West have been making headlines over the past several months, since the government declared a six-month long weapons amnesty from January 30 of this year. Czechs have used this time to hand over more than 2,800 firearms and 86,000 pieces of ammunition to the police and thus avoid any possible legal troubles.

Police expert David Stanovský explains.

“The weapons amnesty makes it possible for people to hand over any hidden or found weapon to the police without the risk of prosecution. They do not have to explain where they found it and they can ask to become legal owners of the weapon.”

The firearms are first checked against a police database in order to see if they have been stolen, used to commit a crime, or declared missing. If the weapon passes all of the checks it is then declared “clean” and its owner can decide what they want to do with it.

Anti-aircraft gun | Photo: Czech Police

If the owner does not hold the necessary gun licence, they can ask to have their weapon deactivated. However, such deactivation requests have become increasingly uncommon, says Mr Stanovský.

“It is very complicated. You first have to pay an administrative fee to the police and then find a licensed practitioner who can deactivate the weapon. They will also charge a fee, because they have to make sure all of the moving parts on the weapon are welded and rendered immovable.”

Alternatively, the owner can choose to sell their weapon, or hand it over to the state, he says.

“If the weapon is considered special, historic, or of high value it can end up for example in a criminology institute, or in a museum. If we estimate it to be on the level of scrap then the weapon is destroyed.”

This is the fifth weapons amnesty since the founding of the Czech Republic in 1993. According to police statistics, the weapons amnesty of 2009 saw the largest number of firearms handed over – 7,897 pieces. Meanwhile, the first weapons amnesty, declared in 1996, saw the lowest number of weapons handed over to the police – 3,704.

During every amnesty period, police departments publish photographs of some of the rarer items that have been handed over into their possession. The local police department in Ostrava, for example, received a 47mm Škoda anti-tank gun as well as a fully functional StG 44 German sub-machine gun from the Second World War. The collection of the police department in Hradec Králové now includes a T-34 tank and an SU-100 Soviet tank destroyer. In the neighbouring region of Pardubice, police officers received a 500kg anti-aircraft gun.

This year’s weapons amnesty is set to end at midnight on July 31. Those who fail to bring in their unlicensed firearm or ammunition in time will be liable to prosecution if their illegal property is ever discovered.