The interior minister has received a letter from the Estonian Gun Owners' Association stating that the government's treatment of gun owners has become excessively strict, as evidenced by the oppressive denial of license renewals and issuance.
Wednesday, in a letter to Minister of the Interior Lauri Läänemets (SDE), the Gun Owners' Association criticized the Police and Border Guard Board's (PPA) issuance and renewal of gun licenses.
"It has long been an issue in the gun community, professional groups, and communities that the PPA has begun to forcefully and, in many cases, in clear violation of the law, prevent the issuance of new gun permits and new weapons permits, as well as restrict the renewal of existing firearms licenses," the Gun Owners' Association wrote in a letter signed by board members Hillar Põldmaa, Daimar Liiv, Marie Fischer and Vootele Voit.
They said that for more than a year, applicants have been required to provide a comprehensive explanation for why they want to obtain a new firearm before receiving an acquisition permit. Nevertheless, PPA officials deny acquisition permits or to process applications on the grounds that they dismiss a majority of gun applicants' reasoned and reasonable justifications.
The union supported its claims with examples from the nearly 500 complaints it has received from applicants for firearms over the past year. The pattern of denials, as reported by the union, is basically consistent.
For example, police officers have asked a guns license applicant why their current license is insufficient for ensuring security, and the applicant has been advised that, given Estonia's situation, needing more than one weapon to protect oneself and property is unrealistic.
"The fact that you want a weapon for personal and property protection is clear in your application; however, please justify your wish to protect yourself with a weapon," the union cited an example of an official's request.
"Sell your existing gun and we will issue you a new permit," was the advice given to another applicant.
The PPA also asked applicants how they physically protect their property, how often and where they carry the weapon, why they need a new weapon, how active a sportspeople they are, and which competitions they have participated in.
"Please explain why hunting requires a gun. How often do you hunt? Which hunting clubs do you belong to? What game do you hunt?"
The PPA asked the person who applied for a permit and justified it by saying that the old weapon was worn out and no longer reliable for hunting or sporting competitions, but was still suitable for target practice, that if the old weapon was unreliable, why not turn it over to the police for destruction.
The union also mentioned an instance in which an applicant wanted to purchase a smaller caliber weapon in order to practice with less expensive ammunition, but was told that the cost of ammunition was not a cause to purchase another weapon. Later, the police asked the applicant over the phone why they needed a gun when they could not even afford ammunition.
One gun owner was refused a renewal of his licence after sharing a foreign video on his social media account of rifles firing signs to the beat of music. The PPA demanded the removal of the video, the union said.
One of the applicants cited the necessity to protect security in the face of a probable Russian military threat. The PPA said that it does not give weapons permits for events that the applicant believes may occur in the future, such as war, and that anyone who wants to contribute to national security can join the Defense League.
"The latter justification is, in the view of the Union of Gun Owners, particularly dismissive," said the organization. "Once a real emergency or war is on the horizon, it is too late to buy a gun."
The PPA implemented strategies in which authorities notify applicants via phone that the next purchase permit will not be issued and propose that they retract their applications; doing so would result in a refund of the state fee for the acquisition permit, the union said.
Problems have been encountered not only in obtaining new acquisition licenses, but also in renewing existing ones.
"When renewing a gun license, the union received signals that the PPA has also requested an entirely new justification for each weapon: what threat the gun owner experiences and which property needs to be secured with a gun," the union said.
They say the current firearms law is flawed as a natural person can carry a weapon for security, hunting, sports or professional interests. However, a frequent reason why people want to buy a weapon is missing from the list, namely the interest in weapons as such and the hobby of shooting.
"Although shooting is a possible use, it is contingent upon the applicant being a member of a reputable sports club, actively participating in shooter activities, and routinely competing (or meeting qualification standards)," the union explained.
"However, many people would rather begin shooting as an amateur than as an elite athlete, and they would like to restrict themselves to that. As a result, self-protection and property protection has been the only possible rationale to obtain a gun for recreational shooting.
"Unfortunately, this is now taken literally, and the PPA refuses to issue new weapons permits under the pretext that, for security purposes, an individual does not require more than one weapon," the union continued.
ERR reported last week that after stricter gun licensing requirements and the prohibition of noncitizens from possessing firearms, there is an excess of pre-owned firearms in circulation. The police said at the time that the PPA was tasked with ensuring that only law-abiding and responsible individuals could obtain firearms.
Editor: Karin Koppel, Kristina Kersa