Gun Laws

 

See Gun Terminology and Firearms for explanations of some of the terms used on this page.

Gun Regulations Overview

Table 6.1: An overview of gun regulations for civilians in several countries.

 Country Automatic Firearms Semi-Automatic Firearms Handguns Self-Defense
Valid Reason
 Australia Prohibited Very Restricted Very Restricted No
 Austria Prohibited Restricted Restricted Yes
 Bulgaria Prohibited Restricted Restricted Yes
 Croatia Prohibited Very Restricted Restricted Yes
 Cyprus Prohibited Prohibited Prohibited Yes
 Czech Republic Prohibited Restricted Restricted Yes
 Denmark Prohibited Very Restricted Very Restricted No
 Estonia Prohibited Restricted Restricted Yes
 Finland Prohibited Restricted* Restricted* No
 France Prohibited Restricted* Restricted* No
 Germany Prohibited Very Restricted Very Restricted No
 Iceland Prohibited Very Restricted Very Restricted No
 Netherlands Prohibited Very Restricted Very Restricted No
 United Kingdom Prohibited Very Restricted Prohibited No
 U.S.A. Restricted** Restricted**

Allowed

Yes

Restricted Categories:

- Allowed: category of firearm is allowed, unless the citizen belongs to a prohibited category of people.
- Restricted: category of firearm can be obtained by either the general public. Citizen has to provide a reason for needing the firearm.  However, this reason can include self-defense.
- Very Restricted: category of firearm cannot be obtained by the general public. Special licenses are given to a restricted group of people like hunters, sport shooters or collectors. Self-defense is not considered a valid reason to obtain a license.
- Prohibited: category of firearm is not allowed to be obtained by citizens or the exceptions are so narrow that they make possession by citizens basically impossible.

* Finland and France have been adjusted from "Very Restricted" to "Restricted" for these categories. Even though they restrict firearms to a restricted group of people like hunters, hunting is so popular in these countries, that their laws can not be regarded as "Very Restricted"

** The USA has been adjusted from "Allowed" to "Restricted" for Automatic and Semi-Automatic firearms. Even though citizens can legally obtain licenses for Automatic and Semi-Automatic firearms, the Gun Control Act of 1968 makes it more difficult.

Important Notes:

1. Execution of laws: The ease of being able to obtain a certain firearm in a certain country depends both on the laws in that country and the execution of those laws. Some countries make it more difficult then others to obtain certain firearms.
2. Illegal firearms: Some countries like Germany have an illegal firearm problem. That's why there are so many firearms in Germany, even though their gun laws are very restricted.
3. Firearm Restrictions: Countries have different restrictions on the types of semi-automatic firearms and handguns that are either prohibited or allowed. These restrictions are not reflected in the above table. Restrictions in the above table only refer to the categories of people that are allowed to obtain any types of these firearms.

Gun Laws Countries

Australia Czech Republic Germany CIP Member Countries
Austria Denmark Iceland European Union
Bulgaria Estonia The Netherlands  
Croatia Finland United Kingdom  
Cyprus France U.S.A.  

Prohibited Category of People
Unless mentioned otherwise, it is standard for gun laws to include a prohibited category of people. This prohibited category can include underage children, people with a criminal record and people who are deemed mentally or physically unfit to handle a firearm.

Australia

Australia's gun laws are based on three main agreements to regulate firearms:

The National Firearms Agreement emerged in response to the mass shootings that occurred at Port Arthur, Australia, in 1996. The National Firearm Trafficking Policy Agreement was made in 2002 to control the illegal trade in firearms in Australia. The National Handgun Control Agreement was implemented after the death of two students in a handgun shooting at the Monash University in Australia in October 2002. The agreement was aimed at restricting the availability and use of handguns, particularly those that are easily concealable. This agreement was accompanied by a national handgun buyback scheme which ran from July 1st to December 31st 2003. This scheme provided compensation to owners surrendering handguns, handgun parts and accessories.

Firearms are divided into 5 licensing categories:

The most common licenses are for classes A and B. Firearms in classes C and D are only extended in special circumstances, like for occupational purposes not for hunting. Class H licenses are only given to pistol-club members. Pistols are not allowed to be used for hunting.

To obtain a license, applicants have to demonstrate a genuine reason for owning, possessing or using a firearm, which can include recreational shooting, hunting or collecting. Personal protection is not regarded as a genuine reason. Applicants also have to demonstrate a "genuine need" for the particular type of firearm they are requesting. There are no limits on the number or size of shotguns or rifles a person may own. (8), (38)

Austria

Austria's gun laws are based on the following acts:

Austria has four categories of weapons:

To receive a permit for category B weapons, applicants have to pass a gun-owner's shooters' test. They also have to take extensive courses and a final exam about gun safety, gun design, gun handling and more. Courses and licenses are expensive and therefore not easily affordable by most citizens. (27), (38)

Bulgaria

Bulgaria's gun laws are based on the following acts:

The Law on the Control of Explosive Substances, Firearms and Ammunition specifies that firearms can be made available to natural and legal persons and to traders for self-defense, hunting, sporting and cultural purposes (movie pictures, television features, theatrical events, collections). Types of weapons that are allowed for each purpose are:

Automatic firearms can also be authorized by the Minister of Interior in case of the discharge of protective duties with a high level of danger for the protected site and for the protection personnel. (26)

All firearms need to be registered and background checks are done before people can obtain a license.

Croatia

Croatia's gun laws are based on the following acts:

Note: Croatia will most likely become a member of the European Union by July 1st 2013.

Civilians are not allowed to possess all types of automatic arms, semiautomatic arms and repeating long-barreled firearms with a rifled barrel and magazine whose capacity is more than five rounds or with a fixed bayonet, i.e. with a possibility of mounting a bayonet of the arms with the inbuilt integral silencer, silencer intended for arms, long-barreled arms without a fixed grip, with a folding grip or with a grip shorter than 25 cm, arms that propel projectiles by means of explosive or gas substances,  and other arms intended exclusively for military or police purposes.

The Croatia Weapons Law allows citizens to acquire weapons if they have a justifiable reason. These reasons include hunting, target shooting (= sport shooting) and self-defense. For each of these reasons, Croatia allows the following firearms:

Firearm license applicants have to pass a medical examination, showing that they are capable of holding and carrying a weapon. They also have to show that they are equipped with technical knowledge for the adequate use of the weapon. (24)

Cyprus

Cyprus' gun laws are based on the following acts:

Cyprus has very strict gun laws. Citizens aren't allowed to own any handguns or rifles of any caliber. They are also forbidden to own or use gun powder or primers. They can only own shotguns with a limit of two rounds. Citizens aren't required to specify a reason for ownership, but guns are mostly owned for hunting. To obtain a hunting license, the applicant has to participate in three training sessions, followed by a final exam. A gun-owner's permit can be obtained very easily, simply by presenting an identification and waiting for a background check. All shotguns are registered. (28), (38)

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic's gun laws are based on the following acts:

The Czech Republic divides their firearms in the following categories:

Gun licenses are given for the purposes of collecting, hunting, sport shooting, the exercise of a profession (police and security guards) and self-defense. To obtain a weapon in category B, special authorization is required. For weapons in category C you only need to have a gun license. Weapons in category D don't require a license and are available to any adult over 18.To obtain a license, applicants have to pass a firearms proficiency, handling and knowledge test. They also have to pass a medical examination. There are no limits on the number of guns that can be owned. (7), (38)

Denmark

Denmark's gun laws are based on the following acts:

Denmark has very strict gun laws. They only allow private firearm possession for the purposes of hunting and sport shooting. Holders of hunting licenses and members of rifle clubs, with a valid weapon permit are allowed to possess certain models of shotguns and rifles. To obtain a hunting license, applicants have to pass several tests proving their knowledge about guns, ammunition, game characteristics and habits. Target shooting is considered the only valid reason for pistol ownership. Pistol licenses are only given to people after a two year active membership with a shooting club.

All gun licenses have to be specially authorized by the Minister of Justice. License holders are allowed to own multiple firearms, but have to get a separate permit for each weapon. The permits are only issued if the applicant can show a valid reason for owning the particular weapon. Guns and ammunition have to be stored separately in special gunrooms with double locks. (29), (38)

Estonia

Estonia's gun laws are based on the following acts:

Estonia allows civilians to possess weapons for the following reasons: hunting, engaging in corresponding sports, assuring safety (protecting himself or herself and his or her property), pursuing a profession or collecting. The allowed weapons include rifles, shotguns, pistols and revolvers of all calibers or models. Even military and assault rifles can be bought by civilians as long as they have magazines limited to a three-shot capacity. Submachine guns or machine guns are not allowed.

All firearms have to be registered and safely stored in a steel storage cabinet. Gun license applicants have to have lived in their current residence for at least 3 years to be able to store their guns in their homes. They also have to pas a written exam that tests their knowledge about guns, ammunition, mechanisms, handling, safety and first aid. For each gun they want to buy, they have to give a reason as to why they need the firearm. Hunters must belong to a hunting club and hold a hunting license. Ammunition can only be bought for licensed guns. There is a 1,000 rounds per purchase limit for hunters and target shooters and a 100 rounds per purchase limit for people that own pistols for security reasons. Ammunition records are kept by the gun stores. (33), (38)

Finland

Finland's gun laws are based on the following acts:

Finland allows citizens to possess firearms for the following purposes of use: shooting of animals permitted by hunting legislation, target shooting or practice, work where a weapon is necessary, a show, filming or a corresponding presentation, keeping in a museum or collection, keeping as a souvenir and signaling. Self-defense is not considered a valid reason.

Even though Finland requires that you provide a reason for the acquisition of each firearm, they aren't very strict as to whom they give firearm licenses to. They basically give them to anyone over the age of 18 without a criminal record or obvious mental of physical problems. Hunting and target shooting are the most commonly accepted reasons for owning a firearm. They don't require memberships to hunting or shooting clubs. There aren't many restrictions on the types of firearms civilians are allowed to own. They can own shotguns, revolvers, pistols and rifles, including semi-automatic and assault rifles. There is also no limit on the number of guns that can be owned. (34), (38)

France

France's gun laws are based on the following acts:

In France, you need either a hunting license or a shooting sport license to be able to obtain a gun license. These licenses aren't very difficult to get. Once you have all the licenses you need, you can own hunting rifles (bolt action, single and double shot) and most types of shotguns, including semi-automatic. Civilians are also allowed to own a maximum number of seven .22 caliber handguns or five handguns of larger calibers. Handguns and semi-automatic rifles can only be bought after the person has been a member of a shooting club and the French Shooting Federation for a minimum of six months.

Fully automatic or burst capacity handguns, pump-action shotguns, machine guns and submachine guns are forbidden. There are also limits on the number of cartridges that can be purchased each year and the total number of firearms that can be owned by an individual.(17), (38)

Germany

Germany's gun laws are based on the following acts:

The Weapons Act governs the handling of firearms and ammunition in the Federal Republic of Germany and is considered as one of the strictest weapon laws in the world. It regulates the acquisition, storage and maintenance of firearms and ammunition. Separate licenses are needed for the ownership of a gun, the carrying of a gun in public and the firing of a gun. To obtain a license - called a Waffenbesitskarte in Germany - a person has to demonstrate a need for the firearm, like hunting, sport shooting or collecting. Self-defense is not considered an acceptable reason for ownership. Licenses to own guns aren't very expensive and reasonably easy to get. However, licenses to carry and fire guns are more expensive and difficult to obtain. You'll have to be a member of a target shooting or hunting club. To obtain a hunting or shooting club license you'll have to go through several months of courses.

In Germany, there are three color-coded Waffenbesitskarten. Yellow cards mean that you can own and use one single shot shotgun or rifle. Green cards allow you to own a wide variety of rifles, shotguns and pistols, including semi-automatic ones and assault rifles. There is a limit of two handguns per person, but no limit on the number of rifles or shotguns. Red cards are the most difficult to obtain and allow the same firearms as green cards, plus submachine guns and some more models of assault rifles. Red cards also allow unlimited amounts of pistols.

There are many illegal guns in Germany, which causes a lot of illegal gun ownerships. This despite the high penalties for illegally owning firearms. (15), (38)

Iceland

Iceland's gun laws are based on the following acts:

Iceland has very strict gun laws. Private owners have to obtain a license from the police authorities before acquiring a firearm. Firearm permits may be granted for hunting, sports, employment, exhibition or collection. The applicant has to be at least 20 years old. To apply for a gun ownership, applicants have to take some expensive courses on gun safety, function, design and capabilities. To apply for a hunting license, additional courses about game management and the environment have to be taken. There is no exam at the end of the courses, neither is there a medical examination. A gun-owner permit is automatically given to each course participant. This permit is called a type A permit and allows for the purchase of .22 caliber rifles and shotguns. All guns are registered after purchasing.

After one year, a type A permit holder is automatically upgraded to a type B license. These licenses also allow purchases of (non military-type) semi-automatic shotguns and centerfire rifles up to a size .300 caliber Win Mag. Only bolt-action or single shot rifles are allowed, not semi-automatic ones. Semi-automatic rifles are only allowed to be owned by collectors, but they can't actually use them.

Type C permits also allow for guns with a caliber larger than .300 Win Mag. These permits can only be obtained by citizens who have left Iceland at least three times to hunt overseas. Type D permits are for pistols and very difficult and expensive to obtain. To get a type D permit, you have to have owned a type B permit for a couple of years. You can then join a pistol club, whose memberships are pricey. After 6 months of belonging to a pistol club, the club can apply for permission to keep a pistol. You'll have to pay for the pistol, but it will stay at the pistol club and you will not officially own it. Only revolvers are allowed, not double-action or semi-automatic pistols.

Type E permits are for hand loading firearms only. These permits are very easy to acquire. People only need to follow a simple evening hand-loading class.

Ownership of each firearm is recorded on the basis of its marking. A national firearm register details information about the firearm and the owner. (36),(38)

The Netherlands

The Netherlands' gun laws are based on the following acts:

The Netherlands has strict gun laws. Citizens can only obtain a firearm for hunting or sport shooting or when they are able to provide a special reason for needing one. Self-defense is not considered a valid reason.

To obtain a sport shooting license, applicants have to join a shooting club. They will be able to use pistols that are property of the club, but will never be allowed to own them outside of the club.

It is allowed to hunt in the Netherlands with semi-automatic and pump action shotguns and hunting rifles with a two round limit. Hunting with pistols is also allowed. All privately owned firearms must be locked in a gun safe, when not in use. (22),(38)

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom's gun laws are based on the following acts:

The Firearms Act 1968 has legislative provisions, which requires that a person has a good reason for having in his possession, or for purchasing or acquiring, the firearm or ammunition. Examples mentioned in the Act as good reasons include: sporting and competition purposes and shooting vermin. Self-defense is not considered a good reason.

The Firearms Act (Northern Ireland) Order 2004 includes a list of people that can own firearms, which includes: firearm dealers, auctioneers, persons licensed to slaughter animals, sport shooters and firearm club members. Self-defense is not listed as a reason for owning a firearm.

Applicant of firearm licenses will receive two copies of a gun-owner's certificate application. One of these copies has to be filled in and given to the local police office. The other copy has to be given to an upstanding, responsible, local resident who has known you for at least two years. This person has to fill out the form attesting to your good character and forward it to the local firearms officer. After all the paperwork is processed, a local firearms officer will visit your home and conduct an interview. You will have to let this person know where you are planning to hunt or shoot for instance. Once you've received the gun license, separate permission will have to be requested for every gun you want to buy. For each gun, a valid reason must be given for owning it.

Provided you can show a need, special permission can be granted to own .22 caliber rimfire rifles, .22 caliber centerfire rifles and certain shotguns. Larger rifles can be owned for deer hunting for instance. Pump-action and semi-automatic shotguns can be allowed if they are modified to only accept three rounds. Assault rifles, machine guns, submachine guns and pistols are not allowed to be owned. (10), (30), (38)

U.S.A.

The United States' gun laws are protected by the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, which reads:

"A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

Federal gun laws are enforced by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. They include:

The Gun Control Act of 1968 and The National Firearms Act of 1986 contain federal gun laws that broadly regulates the firearm industry and firearm owners. It has a prohibited category of people to which guns can not be sold, which includes convicts, illegal immigrants, people who have been dishonorable discharged from the Armed Forces, people who are addicted to controlled substances and people convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.

The Gun Control Act of 1968 is a revision of the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA). Firearms that were subject to the NFA Act included: machineguns, shotguns and rifles having barrels less than 18 inches in length, firearm muffles and silencers. In the Gun Control Act of 1968, these firearms are defined as NFA firearms.

In addition to the federal gun laws, each U.S. state and territory enacts their own gun laws. Firearm owners have to follow the laws of the state that they are in and not just their state of residence. Some states require a license to obtain long guns and handguns, other states don't. Some states require registration of each firearm, while others don't. Most states allow concealed carry and many states allow open carry of firearms in public. Some states have restrictions on certain semi-automatic firearms that are defined as "assault weapons". The Gun Control Act has restrictions on NFA firearms and some states have made additional restrictions on them.

The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act enforces a waiting period before the purchase of a handgun and requires a national instant criminal background check system to be contacted by firearms dealers before the transfer of any firearm.(13), (16)

CIP Member Countries

CIP: Commision Internationale Permanente pour l'Epreuve des Armes à Feu Portatives (Permanent International Comission for Firearms Testing). The CIP safeguards that all civilian firearms and ammunition sold in the CIP member states are safe for the users. To achieve this, the firearms are professionally proofed at CIP accredited Proof Houses before they are sold to consumers. These same Proof Houses also test cartridges.

The current member states are: Austria, Belgium, Chile, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany Hungary, Italy, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, United Arab EmirateEuropean Union

European Union

The Directive includes that firearms can be acquired and possessed by persons who have good cause, who are at least 18 years of age (exceptions are made for hunting and target shooting) and who are not likely to be a danger to themselves, to the public order or to public safety. Having been convicted of a violent intentional crime is considered as dicative of such danger.

By December 31st, 2014, member States are also responsible for ensuring the establishment and maintenance of a computerized data-filing system. This system will record and maintain for at least 20 years each firearm's type, make, model, caliber and serial number, as well as the names and addresses of the supplier and the person acquiring or possessing the firearm.

The European Union includes the following list of prohibited firearms:

They also include a list of firearms subject to registration, which includes certain types of semi-automatic firearms.

People can only take a weapon from one member state to another if they are in possession of a European firearms pass. This pass contains the identity of the person and the firearm and a section for authorizations to enter other member states.

These laws are valid in all European Union member countries, but the Directive does state that: "In special cases, the competent authorities may grant authorizations for such firearms and ammunition where this is not contrary to public security or public order". They also allow member countries to adopt in their own legislation provisions which are more stringent than those provided for in the Directive. (9)

European Union member countries are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

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