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Increase in Handgun Ownership Not Cause for Concern

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Increase in Handgun Ownership Not Cause for Concern

Weapons seized by Icelandic Customs authorities in 2014

Photo: Icelandic Customs Authority.

Gun ownership is prevalent in Iceland and handgun ownership in particular is on the rise in Iceland, but authorities are not overly concerned about these weapons ending up in the wrong hands, in part due to the long waiting period required to purchase a pistol, RÚV reports.

There are currently 73,782 firearms registered in Iceland, with most owners purchasing their weapons for hunting and sport purposes, rather than a perceived need for self-defense. There are typically about 1,000 rifles and just under 1,000 shotguns registered in Iceland each year. Handgun ownership has been on the rise since 2000: between 2000 and 2010, a few dozen handguns were registered each year, increasing to 133 handguns registered in 2015, and 335 handguns registered in 2017. 125 handguns were registered in the first five months of this year. Authorities presume that the number of these weapons in “the underworld” is also increasing, as police have been confiscating an increasing number of illegal firearms.

Even so, Police Superintendent Ásgeir Þór Ásgeirsson is not overly concerned about criminal gun ownership, pointing out that sharpshooting has recently increased in popularity, which he believes accounts in great part for the rise in handgun ownership. The police confiscated as many as 200 illegal weapons in 2016 and that number is increasing. However, Ásgeir Þór likewise attributes any dramatic jump in the recorded number of confiscations to a change in how the statistics are measured. He noted that while there have been many instances in which firearms have been used to threaten other individuals and that police have seized a high number of loaded weapons in criminal situations, there are also instances in which the confiscations have been of a temporary and non-criminal nature, for instance, in a situation where the gun owner has passed away and his relatives must determine who will take new ownership of the weapon.

Ásgeir Þór also points to the fact that handguns may only be imported to Iceland for sporting purposes and that the country has a long waiting period for handgun purchases. “It’s at least a three-year process that you have to go through,” he explained. First, there are two different licenses that you have to obtain, with a one-year waiting period in between. It’s only “...after an additional two years and joining a gun club, that you get permission to purchase a 22-caliber handgun. So it’s not like you can just walk into a sporting goods store and buy a handgun.”

This is, of course, very different to regulations on firearm purchases in a country like the US, where, as a recent article on the American NBC News website points out, “it’s still possible to buy a semi-automatic weapon with only patchy background checks.” Indeed, while Iceland may be a “gun-loving country,” as the NBC article puts it, it hasn’t had any shooting murders in the country since 2007. By comparison, the American city of St. Louis, Missouri, “which has a population slightly smaller than Iceland's, had 193 homicides linked to firearms last year.”

"The system here works," police spokesman Gunnar Rúnar Sveinbjörnsson, was quoted in the NBC article, noting that it could provide a useful point of reference for Americans. "We would be glad to help."

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