Thousands of Guns Turned in After 2 Mass Shootings in Serbia

The Serbian authorities have collected thousands of weapons in a sweeping campaign to reduce the number of firearms in the hands of civilians in the week after two mass shootings stunned the country, officials said Friday.

More than 9,000 illegal and legal weapons have been collected, according to Serbia’s president, Aleksandar Vucic, who called the effort “a great step forward for a safer environment for our children” and “all our people,” at a news conference on Friday.

“Some people say it’s not the gun that shoots the bullet but a man,” he said. “But if that man doesn’t have a gun, the evil in his head can’t do any harm.”

Mr. Vucic did not specify if all the guns had been handed over voluntarily or if some had been seized.

The Interior Ministry said in a statement on Thursday that almost 6,000 unregistered weapons had been surrendered to the authorities since the start of an amnesty program this week.

The two shootings, one by a minor and the other involving an illegal firearm, prompted Mr. Vucic to promise the “almost complete disarmament” of the country and introduce a one-month period for gun owners to surrender illegal weapons without penalty ahead of the enactment of more stringent regulations.

Mr. Vucic also said that 460,537 rounds of ammunition and 884 “various explosive items, of which 711 are bombs or rocket launchers,” had also been taken in by the authorities.

A total of 17 people were killed and 21 injured in the two shootings. In the first, on May 3, a seventh grader ​killed eight fellow students and a security guard at his school in the Serbian capital, Belgrade. In the second, a day later, eight were killed in a series of attacks in villages south of Belgrade.

Mr. Vucic proposed a number of measures after the shootings, including a two-year moratorium on new gun licenses and enhanced surveillance of shooting ranges.

Over the past week, police have also carried out a series of raids to seize arms from homes around the country. Photographs posted by the Interior Ministry showed a range of firearms confiscated from residents, ages 15 to 84, who were charged with “committing the criminal offense of illegal production, possession, carrying and trafficking of weapons and explosive substances.”

One man, 57, was arrested on May 6 after authorities discovered four firearms, including a machine gun and a semiautomatic rifle, which he possessed illegally.

In another search, police seized an arsenal of weapons from several households owned by one family. The collection included an automatic rifle, at least four other guns, two bayonets, and hundreds of pieces of ammunition. Several family members, including a 15-year-old and his two grandparents, were facing charges, according to the ministry.

It was not clear why the police raided the homes.

Serbia has tried gun amnesty programs before. But this recent effort was unprecedented in its success, according to Mr. Vucic, who said the total weaponry collected in this first week exceeded all four previous programs in the country combined.

Still, the weapons turned in this week appeared to be just a fraction of the total number of guns in the country, a figure that has been difficult to determine. Approximately 2.7 million firearms were held by civilians at the end of 2017, but fewer than half were registered with the government, according to The Small Arms Survey.

Gun ownership is partly the legacy of the wars that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. The government estimates that around 400,000 people, about 6 percent of the population, legally own guns, excluding hunting weapons. Up to now, however, mass shootings had been rare.

Serbia now ranks third in the world for gun ownership, after the United States and Yemen (and is tied with Montenegro).

Other mass shootings across the world have prompted governments to enact stricter gun laws.

The British government banned semiautomatic weapons in 1987, after a gunman killed 16 people. Handguns were banned in Britain nearly a decade later, after a school shooting in 1996. After peaking in 2003 and 2004, the number of firearm offenses in Britain fell by 53 percent by 2011, the government reported.

A massacre in Australia in 1996 prompted a gun buyback program that removed an estimated 20 percent of firearms from circulation. It also “caused reductions in firearm suicides, mass shootings and female homicide victimization,” a RAND study concluded.

The Canadian government imposed stricter gun measures following a mass shooting in 1989, as did the German authorities in 2002 and the New Zealand government in 2019.

A prominent exception is the United States, where the right to bear arms is written into the Constitution. Despite years of deadly rampages, gun-control measures are often fiercely resisted.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *