Is weapons amnesty really going to reduce gun violence in Serbia?

According to the Serbian authorities, more citizens “than ever before” have handed over their weapons to the authorities in the country, which, according to research, is among the top three in the world in terms of the number of weapons per capita.

After almost two months of the relentless state campaign, launched after mass murders in Belgrade and Mladenovac in less than 48 hours in which 19 people, mostly children and young people, were killed, the Interior Ministry announced that more than 104,000 weapons and explosive devices had been handed over.

“This is definitely the most successful campaign of handing over unregistered weapons compared to all the previous ones,” the Ministry has said.

“The recent tragic events touched every individual which is the reason why people responded in such large numbers,” says police major Bojana Otović Pjanović.

The operation of handing over illegal, i.e. unregistered weapons, anonymously and without any legal consequences, began on May 8 and initially lasted for a month, but was subsequently extended until June 30, 2023.

Some experts, however, estimate that Serbia still has a long way to go to get rid of illegal weapons, because the country ranks fifth in the world in terms of the number of weapons in the hands of civilians.

Tradition and the heavy legacy of wars, especially those in the 1990s, contributed to civilians owning a large number of weapons and even explosive devices.

Aleksandar Vučić, the President of Serbia, said on May 23, that a man from Jablanički District handed over a box containing 20 kilogrammes of TNT, 22 TNT bullets, eight infantry landmines, three trombones, 13 hand grenades, a machine gun and a semi-automatic rifle.

The authorities also announced the tightening of the conditions and criteria for the legal possession of weapons.

The above example from the Jablanički District supports earlier estimates that, in proportion to its population, Serbia is at the top in the world in terms of the number of weapons in the hands of civilians.

Although it did not criticize this campaign per se, the opposition criticized the authorities for being late in launching it and expressed doubts that all those people who have weapons, whether legally or illegally, will be thoroughly checked and stated that weapons amnesty will not lead to a decline in gun violence.

Some experts, however, had legal objections to the state’s amnesty campaign.

Belgrade lawyer Božo Prelevic called the handing over of illegal weapons “unconstitutional and illegal”, which the Interior Ministry denied.

According to the Law on Arms and Ammunition, the Interior Minister has the right to determine a deadline for the legalization of illegal weapons, but not release the owners from legal responsibility, Prelevic told Beta Agency. The Ministry reacted by saying that those claims were “legally and factually unfounded.”

The citizens of Serbia have more weapons than the army and the police, according to data from the World Population Review, a non-governmental organization based in the US.

This organization claims that around 53,000 weapons are in the hands of the police, and almost 385,000 in the possession of the army, while it is estimated that civilians in Serbia have many more weapons at their disposal than all the security services put together.

Police representatives also said that, during the amnesty campaign, about 570,000 owners of weapons were registered with the police.

Estimates by non-governmental organizations about the number of illegal weapons vary – from twice as many illegal weapons as legal to three times as many.

However, Otović Pjanović says that the police “does not have estimates on the number of unregistered weapons.” “If we had that information, we would confiscate the weapons,” she told the BBC.

Immediately after the mass murders in early May, the authorities announced stricter legal provisions for licenses to own and carry weapons, including hunting weapons, as well as more frequent control of owners.

More than 78,000 weapons, four million bullets and close to 26,000 mines and explosive devices were handed over during the amnesty campaign. Most of these were handed over to the police in big cities.

Still, some estimate that there are close to 1.1 million weapons still in legal possession of Serbian citizens.

What will happen to the surrendered weapons?

Some of them will be destroyed, while some will be given to the Zastava Weapons factory in Kragujevac for processing, according to the Interior Ministry.

“Non-functional weapons will be destroyed, but at the moment we don’t know what quantity is involved,” she adds.

Functional weapons and parts will be used to make weapons for the military and police.

How many guns are there in the region?

It is estimated that in Bosnia and Herzegovina has 31 weapons – illegal and legal – per 100 inhabitants, North Macedonia 30 per 100 inhabitants, and Kosovo 24 per 100 people. The figures in Croatia and Albania are much lower – 2 weapons per 100 people and 1.5 weapons per 100 people, respectively.

(Danas, 30.06.2023)

This post is also available in: Italiano

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