Parties differ on revoking Russian citizens' weapons licenses in Estonia
Leading members of the elected political parties in Estonia have different stances on the potential annulment, at least temporarily, of firearms permits belonging to the over 600 citizens of the Russian Federation who have them and who are resident in Estonia, following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Interior minister Kristian Jaani (Center) says potential security threats relating to weapons ownership should be adjudged on a case-by-case basis.
He said: "The Weapons Act does not include provisions to refuse to issue or renew a weapons permit on the basis of nationality, and this has never been the case in the act. In 2018 already, the Weapons Act was supplemented with provisions which exclude the issue or revocation of an existing weapons permit."
Social Democratic Party (SDE) chair Lauri Läänemets, told ERR that the basis for suspending weapons licenses should not be citizenship, but rather loyalty to the Estonian state.
He said: "If there are reasons for doubt, the the PPA and other authorities should certainly go over the persons [and their fitness to own a weapons permit] once again.
"It is definitely, however, not reasonable to me why and how those people who have firearms permits who take part in tactical activities at firing ranges and who have a connection to Russia yet organize camps for young people where training of a military nature takes place, can do so," Läänemets went on.
Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) MP Anti Poolamets said his party is of the opinion that Russian citizens' firearms permits should be suspended.
"The main factor is the security risk," Poolamets said.
"Furthermore, the weapons tests should be amended to Estonian-only," he added, referring to the exam needed to acquire a license, which up until now has allowed the presence of an interpreter from Estonian into Russian, or another language.
Isamaa MP Tarmo Kruusimäe rejected the interior minister's approach of using a case-by-case basis, saying the permits should be lifted wholesale, for Russian citizens resident in Estonia.
Kruusimäe said: "Action must be taken decisively and immediately, since Russia today is an aggressive country that has been threatening the Republic of Estonia and its independence for many years. After February 24, all the arguments for doing nothing are directly anti-[Estonian] state statements."
"Following the war in Ukraine, we may reconsider the restrictive provisions," Kruusimäe added.
The coalition Reform Party does not have a clear stance formulated yet. Party whip at the Riigikogu Mart Võrklaev said that the issue would be discussed at the chamber as soon as possible.
The interior minister noted that the PPA has sufficient capacity for looking at each case on its merits, and that information exchange between the different, relevant authorities was adequate too.
Applicants for permits were in any case subject to thorough checks, he added, including via the Internal Security Services (ISS), the PPA's central criminal police authority and the regional PPA where the applicant was located.
Of the over 25,000 people with weapons licenses in Estonia as of March 11, 627 have Russian citizenship, he added.
Estonia has a population of 1.3 million, approximately.
Center's Riigikogu whip, MP Jaanus Karilaid reiterated the interior minister's stance.
He said: "In the general context of the crisis, let us keep a cool head. Doing everything in one fell swoop would create more stress in society instead of easing it. Today, the police have enough powers and rights to suspend a weapons permit and confiscate a weapon."
Earlier this month, the Estonian Union of Weapons Owners (Eesti Relvaomanike Liit) called for the revocation of weapons permits belonging to Russian citizens, those of its "allied" states, and also from the citizens of some other third country, non-EU, non-NATO member states.
This would leave permits only allowed to Estonian citizens, EU citizens and citizens of NATO member states.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte