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EXPLAINED: Why is gun ownership in Austria on the rise?

Guns are more popular than they have ever been in Austria, with demand rocketing during the coronavirus pandemic.

EXPLAINED: Why is gun ownership in Austria on the rise?
Participants dressed as soldiers of the Austrian Empire fire their guns. With brands such as Glock however, guns in Austria also have become a little more modern. Photo: RADEK MICA / AFP

It might surprise some to learn of tranquil and peaceful Austria’s love of guns. 

One of the world’s most famous gun manufacturers – Glock – is Austrian, with the country having some of the higher gun ownership rates on a worldwide comparison. 

Recent statistics also indicate that gun love is on the rise. 

2020 a good year for guns

The year 2020 was a record year for gun purchases in Austria.

People living in the Alpine state bought more weapons than ever before, according to data from market research company Brancheradar.com.

There was an increase of 10 percent in demand for guns in 2020 compared to 2019.

Gun stores were allowed to stay open even during the strictest lockdowns last year, when almost all non-essential retail was closed. 

READ MORE: Outrage in Austria as gun stores allowed to remain open despite coronavirus lockdown

Why are guns becoming more popular? 

Austrian gun fans mainly buy the weapons for hunting, according to surveying company Branchesradar. It says the increase in gun shopping in 2020 was “mainly due to the hunting sector”, and people practising their gun hobby outdoors.

A change to the Austrian Weapons Act has also made it possible to carry handguns when hunting since 2019, which the company pointed to as a factor in increasing demand. 

Viennese arms dealer Markus Schwaiger told The Local he experienced a “massive boom” in arms sales in the past year.

However he said it was definitely not because of hunting, as people were buying “completely different” weapons to those used to hunt. 

He said he was not sure if people were buying his guns for sport or for safety, but said one factor in the increased gun sales could be that people found themselves with more time during lockdown, possibly due to being furloughed. 

This gave them more time to sort out the gun license and psychiatric testing required in order to purchase a firearm. 

He said some customers had told him they were worried about unemployment leading to a spike in crime. 

And even during the latest lockdown in Vienna, it has been possible to try out shooting and be trained in shooting skills. 

‘Permissive gun laws’

Austria has some of the most permissive gun laws in Europe, according to monitoring group Gunpolicy.org. Private gun ownership is permitted for various reasons, including self defence.

People can own handguns, repeating shotguns and certain types of semi-automatic weapons with a licence, though applicants must pass a background check before they can acquire a weapon. 

According to the Small Arms Survey, a Geneva-based research group, Austria is the 12th most armed country in the world, with around 30 guns per 100 people, similar to Lebanon, Bosnia and Iceland.

By comparison, the United States has 120 guns per 100 people, and the most-armed European country, Macedonia, has 39.1.

Austrian athlete Katharina Innerhofer prepares her gun before the women’s IBU Biathlon World Cup. (Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP)

So, with all these guns, is Austria a safe place to live?

While about 250 people a year die in gun related incidents, Austria is still a very safe country. With a homicide rate of 0.97 per 100,000 people, it has fewer murders than the UK, Denmark or Sweden when adjusted for population.

Austria’s murder rate is just slightly higher than Germany, which has far lower gun ownership.  

Those who enjoy going to shooting galleries or hunting with guns in Austria point out that gun licences are expensive and a psychiatric evaluation is required before you can get your hands on a gun.

People also report local police pay visits to gun owners to check if the firearms are stored properly.

How many guns are there in Austria?

According to the Ministry of the Interior in Vienna, 1.16 million firearms are currently registered in Austria.

Experts believe there could also be more than one million illegal guns in the country, possibly because of Austria’s close links to the Balkans.

After the military conflicts there ended in the 1990s, many weapons found their way across the border, according to the Chairman of the German arms lobby association, David Schiller

READ MORE: Seven hazards to avoid when you’re outside in Austria

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For members

LIVING IN AUSTRIA

EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about retiring in Austria

Retiring to Austria to spend time in fresh alpine air is a dream for many people, but who is actually eligible to retire to the Alpine Republic? Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about retiring in Austria

People from all over the world can retire to Austria, but unlike some other European countries, Austria does not have a residence permit tailored to retirees.

This means anyone wanting to retire to Austria has to go through the standard immigration channels, with different rules for EU and non-EU citizens.

Here’s what you need to know about retirement in Austria and who is eligible to retire in the Alpine Republic.

FOR MEMBERS: How can British second home owners spend more than 90 days in Austria?

What are the rules for retiring to Austria as an EU citizen?

The process for citizens from EU and EEA countries to retire in Austria is relatively simple due to freedom of movement across the bloc.

There are a few rules though.

To stay in the Austria for longer than three months, retirees will need to be able to support themselves financially (e.g. through a pension) and have sufficient health insurance.

When it comes to accessing a pension from another EU member state, this is typically taken care of by an insurance provider in Austria who will deal with the approval process between the states. Access to public healthcare in Austria is also available to all EU/EEA citizens.

Currently the pension age in Austria is 60 for women and 65 for men. More information about pensions in Austria can be found on the European Commission website.

FOR MEMBERS: Five reasons to retire in Austria

What are the rules for retiring to Austria as a non-EU citizen?

The most popular visa route for non-EU retirees hoping to live out their golden years in the Austrian Alps or the grandeur of Vienna is to apply for a settlement permit

This is issued to people that do not intend to work in Austria and is referred to as “except gainful employment” (Niederlassungsbewilligung – ausgenommen Erwerbstätigkeit) by Austrian immigration.

To qualify for the settlement permit, applicants must prove they have sufficient funds, comprehensive health insurance and a place to live.

Proof of sufficient funds means applicants must have a regular monthly income from a pension, profits from enterprises abroad, income from assets, savings or company shares. 

The minimum amount is €1,030.49 for a single person, or €1,625.71 for married couples or those in a partnership. 

READ ALSO: Baking away solitude: Vienna cafe hopes to unite world’s grandmas

Third-country nationals also have to provide evidence of basic German language skills at Level A1, in line with the Common European Framework of References for Languages. The diploma must be no older than one year when submitted with the application.

However, the application process will be entirely in German so for people that don’t have advanced German language skills, it’s best to hire an English-speaking immigration lawyer.

Additionally, Austria has a social security agreement with several non-EU states, including the UK, Canada and the USA. This allows some people to access their pension directly from Austria, depending on the agreement.

Again, it can be useful to find an English-speaking advisor to help with the bureaucratic part of accessing a pension in Austria if you don’t have strong German language skills.

After five years of living in Austria with a settlement permit, visa holders can then apply for permanent residence.

Want information on pensions? Then check out the following link. 

EXPLAINED: How does the Austrian pension system work?

Useful vocabulary

Retirement – Ruhestand

Pension – Rente

Social insurance – Sozialversicherung

Health insurance – Krankenkasse

Settlement permit – Niederlassungsbewilligung

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