Crime For Members

When are police officers in Austria allowed to use their weapons?

Amanda Previdelli
Amanda Previdelli - [email protected]
When are police officers in Austria allowed to use their weapons?
File photo: A pistol is displayed at a shooting club. Photo by Evaristo Sa / AFP)

Recent police operations have ended up in the shooting - and death- of suspects. What are the rules and guidelines Austrian police officers have to follow?


Austrian police officers, like their counterparts in many countries, are equipped with firearms as part of their law enforcement duties. However, the use of these weapons is strictly regulated by law, with clear guidelines and limitations in place to ensure public safety and accountability. 

Recent incidents have brought renewed attention to these regulations, sparking debate and discussion about when and how police officers are authorised to use force, including the use of firearms. Despite the recent events - with two deaths after suspects were shot by the police within two weeks, the number of such incidents in Austria is not high.

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In 2022, weapons were used 654 times by officers in 213 different incidents. In many incidents different police used their firearms and often more than once.

In those incidents some 137 people were left slightly injured, four were seriously injured, and no one was killed, according to a Der Standard report.

Provisional figures for 2023 show 328 uses of weapons in 202 different incidents. Sixty-five people were slightly injured, three were seriously injured, and two people were shot dead.

Looking back over a longer period of time, in the past 16 years, 18 people have died as a result of police use of firearms.

What are the rules?

The use of service weapons in Austria is regulated by the Weapons Use Act (Waffengebrauchsgesetz) of 1969, which states that law enforcement agencies such as police officers and municipal police officers may use weapons in cases of "just self-defence", the report said.

For example, to overcome resistance to an official act, to make an arrest or to prevent the escape of an arrested person. Even then, the use of weapons is only permitted by law "if harmless or less dangerous measures", including the threat of using weapons, pursuing a fleeing person, the use of physical force or milder means such as handcuffs, "appear unsuitable or have proven to be ineffective." 


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Only the least dangerous weapon may be used if various weapons are available - service weapons also include tear gas or batons. The purpose of using weapons against people may only be to "render the target incapable of attacking, resisting or fleeing".

According to the Weapons Use Act, a service weapon is permitted in defence of a person to suppress a riot or insurrection, as well as in some instances of arrest or to prevent an escape. And to arrest or prevent the escape of "an insane person who is generally dangerous to the safety of the person or property".

In any case, whenever the police fire their weapons, the incidents are the subject of internal investigations by the Investigation and Complaints Office for Allegations of Abuse at the Federal Bureau of Anti-Corruption (BAK-EBM). The authority will decide whether the case was an instance of self-defence and whether the use of a pistol was justified.



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