Norwegians can be quick to criticize what they consider to be liberal weapons laws in other countries, not least the US, but a new survey confirms that Norway itself ranks high among countries with the most weapons per capita in civilian hands. Norwegians, it seems, have among the highest proliferation of weapons in the world.
Norway just missed getting into the Top 10 countries ranked by researchers at the University of Sydney, landing in 11th place for its rate of weapons owned by civilians. The international database compiled by the researchers with support from the Swiss government determined that at least 1.3 million firearms are held by civilians in Norway, which has a population that just passed 5 million earlier this year.
‘Three main groups’ of weapon owners
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that the database published on website gunpolicy.org (external link) contains an overview of officially registered weapons and other weapons statistics for 179 countries. A total of 484,298 persons in Norway were found to have weapons licenses, with around 30 weapons registered for every 100 persons in the country. Around 10 percent of Norwegians are believed to have one or more weapons in their homes.
The US topped most lists regarding gun ownership including a list comparing the rate of private gun ownership within the population. It was followed by Yemen, Switzerland, Finland, Serbia, Cyprus, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Uruguay and Sweden. In 11th place came Norway, a ranking that was attributed to Norway’s strong hunting culture and a large civil defense system that has resulted in thousands of volunteer reserve forces with access to firearms.
“I think we can roughly categorize ownership of Norwegian weapons into three groups,” Espen Farstad, information chief for Norway national hunting and fishing association (Norges Jeger- og Fiskerforbund), told NRK. One group, he said is made up of those with hunting rifles. The second contains those holding what Farstad called “civilian defense weapons” and who formed the basis for a volunteer civil defense force in Norway. The third group, he said, “are those who have some other form of interest in weapons,” including sport shooting and those with enthusiasm for historic weapons.
Hunting and civil defense may also explain Sweden’s relatively high ranking among the surveys published on gunpolicy.org. The other Scandinavian country in the survey, Denmark, ranked much farther down in the survey, in 54th place.
There’s been a marked increase in recent years in the number of crimes involving automatic weapons in Norway and other legally and illegally held firearms, like those acquired by the Norwegian terrorist who carried out a massacre on the island of Utøya on July 22, 2011. Armed robberies are also more common in Norway now, with police often blaming an influx of illegal firearms entering the country.
There’s been rising debate in Norway over local weapon laws, most recently after the shooting earlier this month at an elementary school in Connecticut. Some argue that Norwegian authorities should demand certification from a medical doctor for persons seeking to buy weapons. NRK’s story on the new weapons survey set off an online debate over the Christmas holidays, with some arguing that the “gun culture” in Norway is entirely different from that in the US. One participant in the debate wrote that weapons owners in Norway are mostly interested in sporting aspects, “precision and esthetics,” as opposed to “caliber, power” and guns seen as “toys for everyone” in the US. Others argued that tougher weapons laws won’t reduce the numbers of persons threatened or murdered by weapons because “criminals will do what they want regardless.”
In addition to having a large amount of guns per capita in Norway, the country also has an active weapons manufacturing industry aimed at international exports. Although viewed as “small” in the survey by international standards, it has been viewed as another paradox in the country where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded, and where arms proliferation is criticized.
The US not only topped but dominated another list of countries with the largest total number of privately owned weapons held by civilians, with an estimated 270 million weapons found among its population. India landed in second place, with 46 million weapons, and China was third with 40 million.
Then followed Germany, with 25 million weapons, and France with 10 million. In fifth place was Pakistan followed by Mexico, Brazil, Russia and Yemen. Norway landed in 44th place on that list.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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