Sildam: Lihula tragedy raises the question of tougher weapons permit checks ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

The scene just outside Lihula where the shooting took place.
The scene just outside Lihula where the shooting took place. Source: ERR

Adding rural area patrols and introducing tougher weapons permit conditions would not bring back the two people killed near Lihula, while it would be the least the state could do with this tragedy in mind, journalist Toomas Sildam writes.

We do not yet know why a 32-year-old Tallinn citizen got behind the wheel of his car while drunk at his Lääne County summer home on Saturday evening. We don't know why he decided to drive off after causing a crash next to a Lihula gas station. We don't know why he shot a biker who decided to follow him and then proceeded to open fire on a Zhiguli that just happened to be passing by carrying a grandmother, grandfather and their three grandchildren.

What we do know is that two people have been killed – the 40-year-old biker and the grandmother in the car – and two young children hospitalized after sustaining serious injuries.

We know that many Estonians' hearts and minds go out to the loved ones of the victims and many wish the children a speedy recovery.

The as yet incomprehensible Lihula tragedy suggests there are bold and decisive people among us. Like the biker who did not want a drunk driver to simply drive off and possibly cause another accident where people might get hurt. One cannot assume that simply following a car could end up fatal.

The first police patrol reached the Lihula gas station on the Tallinn-Virtsu highway 45 minutes after the biker had placed a call regarding the traffic accident at the gas station and the fact the vehicle that caused it had driven off. That is three-quarters of an hour. A long time and enough to beg the question of whether Estonia has left its police too thin to respond in a timely manner during times of peace?

The interior minister seems to be concentrating on border control and an internal security crisis reserve. Perhaps the ministry's priorities should instead be summed up using a simple three-letter combination – "More rural patrols!" Of course, that would mean fighting for it during budget negotiations.

The public is awaiting a prompt and exhaustive explanation in terms of how the shooter was allowed to own registered weapons and a valid weapons permit. He was convicted of firing at an apartment building from un unlicensed pistol 12 years ago, with the bullets hitting two apartments' kitchen windows.

The Weapons Act states that persons punished for firearm or munitions violations are not eligible for a weapons permit. At the same time, the ban does not concern people whose punishment has expired and information concerning the punishment deleted from the criminal records database. That was the case for the Lihula shooter.

We are left with the question of whether such relief is justified? A weapons permit is not inescapable, it is not a human right but a privilege, special trust placed in the person by the state. A 20-year-old firing a gun into people's kitchen windows should be enough to warrant not giving them a weapons permit or allowing them to register weapons ever again. The legislator should consider this point, while the Ministry of Internal Affairs could prepare a corresponding amendment.

Adding rural area patrols and introducing tougher weapons permit conditions would not bring back the two people killed near Lihula, while it would be the least the state could do with this tragedy in mind.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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