Up until September 2015 an average of 100 weapons permits were issued a month in Vienna. Police records show that this doubled in October, and quadrupled in November to 457.
"It’s clear that people’s general sense of unease has increased," Robert Siegert, industry spokesman for the arms trade in the Chamber of Commerce told broadcaster ORF.
He added that exact figures were not available but that larger weapons shops said sales had risen sharply for self-defence weapons - particularly pepper spray, blank-firing guns and tasers.
Police records show that reported cases of sexual assaults in Vienna have also increased in recent months. However, criminal sociologist Reinhard Kreissl says that Vienna is still generally a very safe city with a low crime rate, and warns that statistics from the USA show that as more people buy weapons for self-defence, the number of armed robberies and attacks increase.
In Styria, the number of weapons permits issued has also risen rapidly since the start of the refugee crisis last summer. Styria borders Slovenia, and the south-eastern state has seen thousands of refugees crossing its border on a daily basis.
In the capital, Graz, the number of weapons permits doubled in 2015 compared to the previous year. In Leibnitz and Südoststeiermark - the districts directly on the Slovenian border - the number of applications for weapons permits quadrupled in 2015.
“Especially in the last four months of 2015 we saw a massive increase in demand for weapons. Most people said they wanted a weapon because they didn’t feel safe,” Herbert Fuik from Styrian police confirmed.
A weapons permit entitles the holder to purchase and own a weapon, but not to carry it or fire it outside their home. Licenses that do allow the bearer to carry it in public are subject to much stricter regulations.
Police have warned people against buying weapons for self-defence and have said they will be be reinforcing patrols where necessary.
Rape alarms 'better choice'
Meanwhile the demand for replica guns, tasers and pepper spray has also risen markedly in the wake of the widely reported sexual assaults and robberies in Germany and Austria on New Year’s Eve.
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Franz Dorfner, who runs a gun shop in Vienna’s Favoriten district, told the Kurier newspaper he has sold out of pepper spray and is waiting for a delivery so he can restock. Constanze Dorn, who runs a hunting shop in Salzburg, says she has also sold out of pepper spray and has had to order several hundred more cans.
However, security experts have warned that pepper spray and stun guns are not the most effective method of self-defence. “They can also be used against the victim,” Angelika Breser from Vienna’s 24-hour Women’s Helpline (Frauennotruf) said.
She recommends carrying a pocket rape alarm, which is only around the size of a walnut and costs about €10. When activated it emits a piercing, 130 decibel alarm. "The noise attracts the attention of witnesses and should scare off an attacker,” Breser said. "Of course it’s not guaranteed to protect you, but it's important to have something that makes you feel safer.”
Salzburg’s Women’s Helpline said it is also recommending that women carry rape alarms, after receiving an increase of calls after a number of women complained that they were assaulted in the city on New Year’s Eve. "There’s definitely a feeling of fear and insecurity - and so for the time being we are running a 24 hour hotline,” director Andrea Laher said.