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CRIME

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

EXPLAINED: What happened at the Linz Halloween riots?

On Halloween night, dozens of people, most minors, rioted in the Upper Austrian capital. Two days after the event, Austria is still trying to understand what happened and what to do now.

EXPLAINED: What happened at the Linz Halloween riots?

On the evening of Halloween, dozens of people rioted in Linz. Images on social media appear to show that most of them look young, and the data released by the police confirmed that. 

Among the 129 suspects identified, most (73) are younger than 18, while 26 are considered to be “young adults”, so younger than 21.

What the authorities have not been able to pinpoint, though, is what led to the rioting, which ended with damaged property, injured police officers, and almost 130 people taken into custody.

What exactly happened?

On Halloween evening, October 31st, around 200 took downtown Linz streets on a rampage, damaging storefront windows and attacking unrelated groups of people with stones and even firecrackers. 

READ ALSO: Have your say: Where are the best and worst places to live in Vienna?

As a result, some 170 police officers were called out to the scene to try to drive the rioters away, Austrian media reported. The five-hour operation resulted in nine arrests and two police officers were injured. On Tuesday evening, riots broke out again, but on a much smaller scale and the people left once police arrived.

One thing that draws attention to the episode – other than the unexpected violence – is that many of the people involved were not Austrian citizens. In a country where immigrations is always a contentious issue, this issue was bound to make the headlines.

According to the police, one in three rioters were Austrian citizens. Among the 129 identified suspects, 35 are persons entitled to asylum and five are asylum seekers. In terms of nationality, it is a heterogeneous group, according to broadcaster ORF

Twelve EU citizens, 28 Syrians, and 14 Afghans. Among the Austrians, the police said 34 had a “migration background” – the report didn’t clarify precisely what that meant.

Serbs, Kosovars, North Macedonians, Romanians, Thais and Bosnians were also in the group.

READ ALSO: Tents for asylum seekers stir debate in Austria

However, authorities are still investigating the incident, and there is no final report on the age or nationality of all involved.

What was the role of social media? 

The other point that ensured the riots would stay in the headlines for a while was how they came to happen. 

According to the authorities, the initial evaluation is that the event was unorganised and the rioters had no clear structure. Instead, it was more likely “a loose gathering of young people who had joined forces via social media”, Der Standard reported.

The police are now looking into several videos on TikTok, where young people announced the rioting by saying they wanted to turn Linz “into Athena”. Some videos had more than 19,000 likes and comments discussing how the night would be of “war”.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: Who are the asylum seekers trying to settle in Austria?

The Athena comment references a film available on the streaming platform Netflix. The plot centres on the chaos erupting in a French neighbourhood known as Athena after the brutal killing of a child of Algerian origin. Massive riots and confrontations between the police and the population are shown.

What is going to happen now?

The police are still piecing together everything that happened two days after the riots. On social media, there are calls for further rioting (on New Year’s Eve), and xenophobic and racist comments as well, with many blaming asylum seekers and migrants for the events. 

“There’s a lot of tension in the air,” Erich Wahl of the Youth and Leisure Association (VJF), which is in charge of youth work in Linz, told Der Standard on what could have motivated the riots. 

READ ALSO: What measures against foreigners is Austria’s far-right trying to take?

Wahl mentioned that the Covid-19 crisis, inflation, and even the war in Ukraine could add to “built-up anger”, especially in young kids. Added to that, immigrants are often in a more difficult situation. 

For example, young people with Afghan, Syrian and Iraqi citizenship have a 21.9 percent unemployment rate, almost four times higher than for Austrians, the daily added.

Interior Minister Gerhard Karner (ÖVP) said the government wants to use “the full force of the law”.

Karner focused on the third-country citizens, saying their permits would be “examined” and that removal from the country could occur in serious criminal offences. 

READ ALSO: ANALYSIS: Could Austria ever change the rules to allow dual citizenship?

He added that he wanted deportations to happen also to Syria and Afghanistan, where most of the suspects were from, but mentioned that this would be in the “long-term”, as deportations to war states are not allowed under international law.

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