Officials: Weapons permit applicants should be more comprehensively checked

Scene of the shooting in LIhula.
Scene of the shooting in LIhula. Source: ERR

Applicants for weapons permits should be more comprehensively checked, doctors and officials agreed at a meeting on Friday about tightening the restrictions for gaining a weapons permit.

Representatives of the Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Social Affairs, Estonian Family Medicine Association and the Estonian Psychiatric Association were present at the meeting at the Ministry of the Interior.

"The aim is for the checks required for a firearms permit to be carried out more comprehensively," Veiko Kommusaar, the deputy secretary general of the Ministry of the Interior, said.

"It is important that weapons do not fall into the hands of people who are unsuitable for this, that is who have behaved in a way that endangers themselves or others," Kommusaar said.

"Both the police and doctors have an important role to play in identifying this. We, therefore, discussed what we could do together to better check the background and mental health of weapon owners in order to prevent possible misuse of weapons," he added.

"Under the current rules, when applying for a weapons permit, a medical examination is carried out first, and then the police check, for example, the person's previous behavior and convictions. It would be sensible to reverse this process, which would mean that an initial background check on an applicant for a weapons permit would be carried out by the police. In the event of circumstances precluding obtaining a weapons permit, applicants will receive a negative decision. People will go for a health check-up if no exceptions are found, but if necessary, the police would pass on to the doctor performing the health check-up additional information that needs in-depth attention," Kommusaar said.

Anne Kleinberg, head of the Estonian Psychiatric Association, said: "Behavior dangerous to the society is often linked to bad upbringing or disregard for the rules caused by some other reason, rather than to a mental disorder as such."

She said: "Therefore, the proposal of the Ministry of the Interior to make a more thorough assessment of risk behavior before a medical decision is a more comprehensive measure to ensure the safety of society."

Maris Jesse, deputy secretary general of the Ministry of Social Affairs for health, said: "It is also important that the health information system contains up-to-date information about the weapons permit applicant and is visible to all doctors who deal with a person with a valid weapons permit.

"When applying for a weapons permit, it should not be possible for a person to make their data 'invisible' to doctors. This is important information to assess a person's state of health and their suitability to assume the responsibility that accompanies a weapons license."

The rules around issuing weapons permits are being discussed after a man in Lihula, Pärnu County shot and killed two people and left several others injured. He had a previous conviction for misusing a firearm but had still been issued a weapons permit in 2017.

Elmar Vaher, Director General of the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA), told ERR earlier this month the police have started proceedings to understand how the suspect was issued a weapons permit.

The Ministry of the Interior has said it wants to tighten criteria for obtaining weapons permits in the future.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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