Sweden: Three-Month Weapons Amnesty Implemented

(Feb. 7, 2018) The Swedish government has announced a weapons amnesty effective between February 1, 2018, and April 30, 2018, during which anyone possessing illegal weapons and firearms can surrender them to the police without the risk of facing criminal charges. (Justitiedepartementet, Lagrådsremiss: En tidsbegränsad vapenamnesti 2018 [Referral to the Council on Legislation: A Temporary Weapons Amnesty 2018], Regeringen website.) The amnesty is the result of a government-proposed temporary law passed by the Swedish Parliament in June 2017. (Lag om ansvarsfrihet for vissa vapenbrott [Act on Amnesty for Certain Weapons Crimes] (Svensk författningssamling [SFS] 2017:807), Sveriges Riksdag website.)

According to the Parliamentary Committee Report from when the law was proposed, the goal is to remove illegal weapons from the streets. (Lagrådsremiss: En tidsbegränsad vapenamnesti 2018 at 1, 8.) The national police, when surveyed about their experiences in connection with previous gun amnesties, reported that they were very happy with previous amnesties. (Id. at 5.) In 2015, more than 1,300 illegal weapons were confiscated by the police, indicating that there are still a large number of illegal weapons in circulation in Sweden. (Id. at 6.) The illegal weapons are believed to be both weapons used by criminals and those found by relatives upon the death of a licensed owner. (Id. at 5.) In both situations the weapons are less likely to be stored in a safe manner and therefore more likely to be stolen than legal weapons and, in the belief of the Parliamentary Committee on Justice, more likely to be used in connection with violent crimes. (Id.) Another reported reason for the amnesty is that gang-related crimes and deaths are on the rise in Sweden. (Malin Nilsson, 5 saker du behöver veta om vapenamnestin [Five Things You Need to Know About the Weapons Amnesty], NYHETER24 (Jan. 24, 2018).) The Swedish police are hopeful that friends and family of gang members, who are believed to be storing these weapons, will turn the weapons in.  (Alice Loth & Michael Larsson, Amnesti ska få bort skjutvapen från gatan [Amnesty Will Remove Firearms from the Streets], SVT NYHETER (Jan. 24, 2018).)

Under Swedish law weapons must be registered in the National Weapons Registry. (1a kap. 7 § Vapenlagen [Weapons Act] SFS 1996:67, Notisum website.) Possession of firearms and other weapons requires a permit issued by the police. (Id. 2 kap. 1–2 §§.) Permits may be issued only for acceptable reasons, and permits for automatic firearms require special reasons. (Id. 2 kap. 4 §.) The illegal possession of an unlicensed weapon carries a sentence of up to three years’ imprisonment. (Id. 9 kap. 1 §.)

A permanent provision of the Weapons Act provides that individuals who voluntarily turn in illegal weapons should be prosecuted only if the criminal weapons possession is so egregious that “public concerns” warrant the prosecution. Unlike the temporary law, the Weapons Act does not give persons the right to anonymously hand in weapons to the police. (9 kap. 7 § Weapons Act; cf. the temporary provision—2 § Act on Amnesty for Certain Weapons Crimes.)

The weapons that may be surrendered to the police under the temporary law include firearms, ammunition, and weapons the Weapons Act considers similar to firearms, including crossbows, teargas, silencers, and tasers. (1 § 2 st Lag om ansvarsfrihet for vissa vapenbrott.) Weapons received by the police must be destroyed. (Id. 4 §.) Weapons collected become police property and are discarded following forensic tests. (Id. 3 §.)

This is the fourth national weapons amnesty conducted in Sweden, with the most recent one in 2013 resulting in the collection of more than 15,000 firearms and 36 tons of ammunition by the police. (Rikspolisstyrelsen, Rättsavdelningen, Vapenamnesti 2013 Slutrapport [National Police Board, Legal Department, Weapons Amnesty 2013 Final Report], 1, 5 (Dec. 7, 2014), Polisen website.)

The Parliament has also voted in favor of a similar amnesty for hand grenades that has yet to materialize in legislation. The proposed period for that amnesty is October 2018 to January 2019. (Justitieutskottets betänkande 2016/17:JuU32 En tidsbegränsad vapenamnesti 2018 [Justice Committee Report 2016/17:JuU32 A Temporary Weapons Amnesty 2018] 9 (2017), Sveriges Riksdag website.)

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