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EXPLAINED: What rules does Austria have on gun ownership?

The country has one of the most permissive gun laws in Europe. However, applicants still need a license and go through evaluations before being allowed to buy a weapon.

EXPLAINED: What rules does Austria have on gun ownership?
One of the world’s most famous gun manufacturers – Glock – is Austrian (Photo by Roman Poberezhnik on Unsplash)

As the debate on gun ownership laws is brought back into the headlines after a tragic mass shooting in the United States on May 24th, it might be surprising to read that tranquil and peaceful Austria is also one of Europe’s most permissive countries regarding gun laws.

Private gun ownership is allowed for several reasons, including self-defence, though, unlike in the US, there is no right to private gun ownership guaranteed by law, according to monitoring group Gunpolicy.org.

To own a gun, it is necessary to have a proper license.

Who can have a license in Austria?

Licenses are self-paid, expensive and only issued to people who can prove a “genuine reason” (that includes hunting, collection, personal protection, and target shooting).

Additionally, people need to be at least 18 years old or 21 years for certain types of weapons.

Third-country nationals residing illegally and asylum seekers are not allowed to buy, possess, or hold weapons and ammunition in the Austria.

Gun owners need to undergo background checks that consider criminal and mental health records. There is also a limit to the number of firearms and ammunition that a person can have.

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

People also need specific permits if they intend on carrying a firearm in public or openly.

Are there restrictions on firearms and ammunition?

Civilians are not allowed to own certain types of automatic firearms.

In addition, they cannot have any guns disguised as other objects or armour-piercing, incendiary and expanding ammunition.

How armed are Austrian citizens?

According to the Small Arms Survey, a Geneva-based research group, Austria is the 12th most armed country globally, 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.

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

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

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

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

How safe is Austria?

While about 250 people die in gun-related incidents a year, 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.

READ ALSO: ‘I don’t miss the guns’: How Americans feel about living in Austria

Austria’s murder rate is 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 getting your hands on a weapon.

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

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CRIME

Austrian people smuggler jailed over deaths of Syrians in minivan

An Austrian court on Monday sentenced a people smuggler to seven years in prison over the deaths of two Syrians who suffocated in the crammed minivan he was driving, Austria's news agency reported.

Austrian people smuggler jailed over deaths of Syrians in minivan

The bodies of the two men were discovered last October when Austrian authorities stopped and searched a van at the border with Hungary.

Thirty people in total were crammed in the vehicle, whose driver fled the scene but was later arrested in Latvia and extradited.

The 19-year-old Latvian was found guilty of people smuggling and causing fatal injuries, but was not found guilty of murder, APA reported.

READ MORE: Austrian police warn public about new ‘fake cops’ scam

He said he would accept the verdict, but the prosecution can still appeal it, APA said.

A court spokeswoman could not immediately be reached by AFP. 

Austria’s interior ministry announced in May that police had smashed a group believed to have smuggled tens of thousands of mostly Syrians, including the two found suffocated, from Hungary to Austria.

A total of 205 people suspected to be linked to the group have been arrested in central and eastern Europe, the ministry said.

Those smuggled, including children, were trying to reach western European countries, including Germany and France.

The October discovery of the dead men recalled a dire event in August 2015 when 71 people from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan suffocated in the back of an air-tight van where they had been hidden by people smugglers.

The bodies, including those of three children and a baby, were discovered in Austria but they had died while still on the other side of the border.

Almost four years later, the Hungarian courts sentenced their smugglers to life imprisonment.

The emotion aroused by that tragedy triggered a brief opening of the borders to hundreds of thousands of people wishing to reach Western Europe.

But Austria and other European countries have since fortified borders to stop people smuggling.

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