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EXPLAINED: Why is gun ownership in Austria on the rise?

EXPLAINED: Why is gun ownership in Austria on the rise?
Participants dressed as soldiers of the Austrian Empire fire their guns. With brands such as Glock however, guns in Austria also have become a little more modern. Photo: RADEK MICA / AFP
Guns are more popular than they have ever been in Austria, with demand rocketing during the coronavirus pandemic.

It might surprise some to learn of tranquil and peaceful Austria’s love of guns. 

One of the world’s most famous gun manufacturers – Glock – is Austrian, with the country having some of the higher gun ownership rates on a worldwide comparison. 

Recent statistics also indicate that gun love is on the rise. 

2020 a good year for guns

The year 2020 was a record year for gun purchases in Austria.

People living in the Alpine state bought more weapons than ever before, according to data from market research company Brancheradar.com.

There was an increase of 10 percent in demand for guns in 2020 compared to 2019.

Gun stores were allowed to stay open even during the strictest lockdowns last year, when almost all non-essential retail was closed. 

READ MORE: Outrage in Austria as gun stores allowed to remain open despite coronavirus lockdown

Why are guns becoming more popular? 

Austrian gun fans mainly buy the weapons for hunting, according to surveying company Branchesradar. It says the increase in gun shopping in 2020 was “mainly due to the hunting sector”, and people practising their gun hobby outdoors.

A change to the Austrian Weapons Act has also made it possible to carry handguns when hunting since 2019, which the company pointed to as a factor in increasing demand. 

Viennese arms dealer Markus Schwaiger told The Local he experienced a “massive boom” in arms sales in the past year.

However he said it was definitely not because of hunting, as people were buying “completely different” weapons to those used to hunt. 

He said he was not sure if people were buying his guns for sport or for safety, but said one factor in the increased gun sales could be that people found themselves with more time during lockdown, possibly due to being furloughed. 

This gave them more time to sort out the gun license and psychiatric testing required in order to purchase a firearm. 

He said some customers had told him they were worried about unemployment leading to a spike in crime. 

And even during the latest lockdown in Vienna, it has been possible to try out shooting and be trained in shooting skills. 

‘Permissive gun laws’

Austria has some of the most permissive gun laws in Europe, according to monitoring group Gunpolicy.org. Private gun ownership is permitted for various reasons, including self defence.

People can own handguns, repeating shotguns and certain types of semi-automatic weapons with a licence, though applicants must pass a background check before they can acquire a weapon. 

According to the Small Arms Survey, a Geneva-based research group, Austria is the 12th most armed country in the world, with around 30 guns per 100 people, similar to Lebanon, Bosnia and Iceland.

By comparison, the United States has 120 guns per 100 people, and the most-armed European country, Macedonia, has 39.1.

Austrian athlete Katharina Innerhofer prepares her gun before the women’s IBU Biathlon World Cup. (Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP)

So, with all these guns, is Austria a safe place to live?

While about 250 people a year die in gun related incidents, Austria is still a very safe country. With a homicide rate of 0.97 per 100,000 people, it has fewer murders than the UK, Denmark or Sweden when adjusted for population.

Austria’s murder rate is just slightly higher than Germany, which has far lower gun ownership.  

Those who enjoy going to shooting galleries or hunting with guns in Austria point out that gun licences are expensive and a psychiatric evaluation is required before you can get your hands on a gun.

People also report local police pay visits to gun owners to check if the firearms are stored properly.

How many guns are there in Austria?

According to the Ministry of the Interior in Vienna, 1.16 million firearms are currently registered in Austria.

Experts believe there could also be more than one million illegal guns in the country, possibly because of Austria’s close links to the Balkans.

After the military conflicts there ended in the 1990s, many weapons found their way across the border, according to the Chairman of the German arms lobby association, David Schiller

READ MORE: Seven hazards to avoid when you’re outside in Austria


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