Estonian ministry to review air weapons legislation as incidents on rise

Airgun. Source: PPA

Despite current regulations, Estonia is seeing an increasing number of dangerous incidents involving air weapons. As a result, the Ministry of the Interior intends to review legislation in this field at the start of next year.

Investigative weekly Eesti Ekspress reported Wednesday (link in Estonian) about a young man who was shot in the head by an air gun on the northern shore of Lake Peipus in July and is recovering at Tartu University Hospital (TÜK).

In an appearance on ETV current events program "Ringvaade" this week, Kadri Rõivassepp, a doctor at TÜK's Anesthesiology and Intensive Care Clinic, said that the patient in question spent 34 days in the hospital's Intensive Care Department, and is now receiving rehabilitative care.

Doctors didn't remove the air gun pellet from the patient's head. "The neurosurgeons decided that the pellet is located in such a spot that removing it wouldn't be safe," Rõivassepp explained.

The doctor highlighted that the young man was lucky to reach the hospital, because 90 percent of those who end up in similar situations end up dying before making it to one.

Physical therapist Kerli Uba confirmed that the patient is recovering well.

"The condition we reached here was that he stood with a little assistance from me, but I know he's surely continued to do very well," Uba said.

Joel Starkopf, professor of intensive care at the university hospital, noted that it's incredibly rare for patients with air gunshot wounds to reach TÜK.

According to Starkopf, most gunshot wounds are either injuries inflicted in a suicide attempt or accidents. "We very rarely see deliberate, violent shootings; we haven't seen virtually any in recent years," he said. "And on the whole, gunshot wounds around the head are even rarer than all of those."

Henry Timberg, director of the Ministry of the Interior's Public Order and Criminal Policy Department, explained that in Estonia, air weapons are classified as either air weapons in unrestricted commerce — i.e. civilian use — which can be purchased by virtually any adult, or higher-caliber weapons in restricted commerce, which require a weapons permit to purchase.

Both air weapons as well as starting pistols are sold as hobby equipment to be used for hobby shooting or for weapons training.

Timberg stressed that regulations apply to the use of air weapons in unrestricted commerce as well, citing for example that these may not be sold to minors, that the individual handing the weapon must be sober, and that they may not be brandished in public or used to cause anyone harm.

"While all of that is regulated, more and more cases, including police calls, are occurring in which someone is waving an object resembling a gun around and the police have to respond in all seriousness and with great force," he acknowledged.

The ministry department director pointed out that in a tense situation, police may also not be able to discern whether an individual is carrying an air weapon or firearm.

"When faced with someone holding what's possibly a starting gun or air gun in their hand, which may likely be made of metal, that looks pretty realistic, then in that moment, that police officer may not be able to tell the difference either, and they're not going to stop and think for a minute; they're going to react like it's a firearm," Timberg said.

"And people who for whatever reason have bought themselves an air or starting gun also have to take into account that they're not allowed to go around with it in public, brandish it, and that it still has to be handled like a firearm," he emphasized. "You don't aim a firearm at someone, and you don't mess around with a firearm. They may be hobby equipment, but they're not toys."

When reviewing weapons regulations early next year, the Ministry of the Interior intends to place an emphasis on air weapons as well.

"Every little extra step you generate, even just showing ID or only selling air guns at hunting stores or via an arms dealer, creates another additional step, which means that perhaps someone that doesn't actually want to purchase this weapon for hobby use, who may not actually need it, won't buy it, and maybe that will prevent an incident from occurring," the official said. "That goes for both starting pistols as well as air weapons. The fewer of them we have needlessly on the move and in circulation, the fewer cases there will be. Regulations should definitely be reviewed."


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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