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Norway takes aim at new weapons law

As the number of registered private weapons rises in Norway, the government aims to send a new proposed weapons law to the Parliament. Opposition is expected, given the country’s strong hunting culture and the popularity of shooting as sport.

Weapons in Norway remain largely associated with hunting, but concerns are rising about the use of semi-automatic weapons, which may soon be restricted. PHOTO: Landbruks- og Matdepartementet/Torkel Skoglund

Newspaper Aftenposten reported on Thursday that there now are more than 1.3 million weapons registered for private use in Norway, which has a population of just 5.2 million. The registered weapons are spread among 486,028 holders of the våpenkort (license) required by local police.

That suggests around 9 percent of the population actually owns firearms. In addition come weapons in military use, many of which are also in the private homes of those taking part in the country’s civil defense, plus an unknown quantity of unregistered weapons.

“The problem isn’t all those with registered weapons, or how many we may have,” Willy Røgeberg, manager of the shooting range Oslo Skytesenter, told Aftenposten. “The problem is all those that are not registered. That’s worrisome.”

Reaction to July 22 massacre
Current law demands that everyone who wants to own or possess firearms must have the permission of local police, who approve the licenses. Now the government is pondering new restrictions on firearms, especially semi-automatic weapons that often are used in terrorist attacks and other violent crimes.

After an ultra-right-wing Norwegian man gunned down scores of people on the island of Utøya on July 22, 2011, killing 69 mostly young people and wounding many more, debate flew over the need for a new weapons law and prohibitions. The government commission that investigated what went wrong in the time leading up to the massacre and how police responded to it proposed a ban on semi-auatomatic weapons.

Several parties in Parliament, however, remain opposed to an outright ban. The number of registered private weapon owners has remain stable since, with the largest concentration of guns found in the counties of Hedmark and Agder.

Even though Norwegians routinely shake their heads over the large amount of guns and shootings in the US, with Norwegian media often describing them in derogatory terms, the numbers show there are many weapons in Norway as well, and opposition to any prohibitions is fierce. The weapons culture is largely built up around centuries of hunting and, more recently, sport shooting.

‘Very good control’
“We have a lot of hunters and competitive shooters in this country, and they need their tools,” Vidar Nilsen of the local hunting and fishing federation NJFF (Norges Jeger- og Fiskerforbund) told Aftenposten. He claims Norway has comprehensive weapons training, strict demands for weapons storage and secure systems around the process for granting gun licenses.

“We have very good weapons control,” said Nilsen, suggesting that no more is needed or desire.  Arild Groven, secretary general of the shooting federation Norges Skytterforbund, agreed. “We have a very long, good and secure weapons culture,” Groven told Aftenposten. He ties the recent increase in the numbers of weapons in Norway to rising affluence: “Folks earlier had maybe one rifle to hunt both deer and moose. Now they’re buying additional weapons instead.”

Røgeberg confirmed that, noting that his shooting range alone has seen revenues grow from around NOK 2 million when it opened five years ago to NOK 20 million last year. He also sells weapons for moose, deer, reindeer, grouse and other birdhunting. Those coming to train at his center arrive with various rifles and pistols.

“Norway has always had a lot of weapons, it has to do with the hunting culture,” he said. “Most have respect for weapons.” He added that “impulse purchases” of weapons aren’t allowed either.

Knives kill more people than guns
Apart from the massacre in 2011, which the lone gunman carried out with semi-automatic weapons, relatively few murders in Norway involve guns. Of the 154 people killed from 2012 to 2016, just 15 were killed by firearms. Knives are far more often involved than guns.

So many don’t see a need for further restrictions, not for semi-automatic weapons either. Police report that just over 50,000 were registered as of last summer, including 17,985 rifles and 32,767 pistols. They’re also used in hunting and sport, and the shooting federation claimed a ban would shut down pistol shooting as sport in Norway. The industry association for weapons importers and retailers branded a proposed ban as “nonsense.”

Alexandra Bech Gjørv, who led the July 22 commission, said as late as last summer, though, that “the many tragedies … in which mass murderers use such weapons, reminds me constantly of our recommendation for a ban.” The current Conservative government has been working on a new weapons law but it’s unclear whether a ban will be included. Former Justice Minister Anders Anundsen said last summer that no conclusions had been reached on whether semi-automatic weapons should be banned.

They may at least be made more difficult to obtain within the EU, though. After the terrorist attacks in Paris, the EU started working on a new directive that may make it harder to acquire weapons. It’s due to come up for discussion in the EU Parliament next month and if approved, Norway would need to follow it because of the country’s cooperation agreement with the EU and its membership in the European Economic Area.

That would affect any new law proposed in Norway itself. The Justice Ministry told Aftenposten that its proposal would be tied to an EU directive, and they intend to present a new law this spring. Berglund



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