Russian residents in Estonia may be stripped of gun rights in a year's time

Firearms (photo is illustrative).
Firearms (photo is illustrative). Source: Ivika Lehtsalu/

Russian and Belarusian citizens resident in Estonia will need to surrender any weapons they may own by the end of next year at the latest, if legal amendments currently being prepared by the Interior Ministry pass into law.

Russian and Belarusian weapons owners would be remunerated for handing in their weapons.

At the same time, weapons permits issued to stateless persons, colloquially known as "gray passport" holders and in practice mostly Russian-speaking people, will not be extended again and would all likely expire "within a few years" the ministry says.

The requirement follows Russia's invasion of Ukraine over seven months ago, and an agreement to carry out this measure signed by the three coalition parties nearly three months ago.

The amendment would also need to pass a Riigikogu vote.

Such weapons are estimated to number in the thousands, nationwide, while the number of individuals affected is estimated at 1,300, meaning an average of multiple firearms per owner.

Interior Minister Lauri Läänemets (SDE) told Vikerraadio show "Uudis+" on Wednesday that: "My proposal is that from now on, Estonian citizens have the right to own a gun in the Republic of Estonia. Citizens of the European Union and NATO countries may also own a gun in Estonia. But all others who do not have one must surrender their firearms."

Surrendering Russian citizenship and taking Estonian citizenship would be an alternative, Läänemets said.
"It is my opinion that this is the right point of view in the sense that if you want to hunt but you are a citizen of the Russian Federation, then we expect you to be of the Estonian persuasion; do away with that [Russian] citizenship [and take Estonian citizenship] and you can continue to use your weapons," he added.

Russian and Belarusian citizens would have a year from the end of this year to sell, surrender or render their weapons unusable, according to the amendments to the Weapons Act, the Minister of the Interior said.

"People who are not specifically citizens of these countries, but are also not citizens of Estonia, those who have a gray passport, they will have as long as their gun permit's validity - if it expires in a year, then a year, if three, then three years, or until the citizenship exam - do that and then you can have your own gun," Läänemets went on, referring to the Estonian language and citizenship test required for all those who want to become naturalized citizens.

As to why this needs to wait over a year, Läänemets said this was mainly a question of resources.

"For example, if the PPA has to pick up these weapons, we currently do not have such a large space to store them - we are talking about up to 3,000 weapons, or even more.

Läänemets also made a comparison with the US on the issue, rather than with the EU.

"Second, simply selling weapons also takes some time. Since we have, for example, relatively few people owning weapons compared with the US, the amount for sale is quite large and it will take time to sell them," he said. 

"In addition, the procedural processes also take time for the PPA. This is not so easy - if you rush it, a large proportion of the force would only be dealing with this, which is not viable in the current situation," he said.

If a Russian or Belarusian citizen does not sell their weapon within that time, they would still have to bring it to the PPA and would then be paid the average market price for the model in question, Läänemets went on.

Sales would be barred to companies or NGOs managed by Russian or Belarusian citizens, while the PPA already has procedures in place in cases where individuals refuse to give up their guns, Läänemets went on, and these procedures will remain in place.

According to Läänemets, the changes to the law would affect about 1,300 people, of whom about half are citizens with a gray passport.

Revoking gun permits for Russian and Belarusian citizens was also one of the agreements of the coalition deal signed between the Reform Party, Isamaa and the Social Democratic Party, Läänemets' party.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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