Serbia Offers Amnesty for Illegal Firearms, and Thousands Are Turned In

Gun owners across Serbia have turned in thousands of weapons as part of an amnesty program aimed at reducing the number of firearms in the hands of civilians after two mass shootings stunned the country last week, according to the government.

The shootings, one by a minor armed with his father’s pistols and the other involving an illegal firearm, prompted the Serbian president, Aleksandar Vucic to promise the “almost complete disarmament” of the country. Gun owners were given a one-month amnesty period to surrender illegal weapons without penalty ahead of the enactment of more stringent regulations.

A total of 17 people were killed and 21 injured in the two shootings. In the first shooting, 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.

In a statement posted on Instagram, the country’s interior ministry said almost 6,000 unregistered weapons had been handed over to the authorities since the start of the amnesty program on Monday. In a news conference on Friday, Mr. Vucic said more than 9,000 “legal and illegal” weapons had been collected, but it was not clear if that number also included guns that had been seized or if they had all been handed over voluntarily.

Mr. Vucic also said that 460,537 rounds of ammunition, 884 “various explosive items, of which are 711 are bombs or rocket launchers,” had also been collected.

The exact number of guns in Serbia has been difficult to determine, but the weapons turned in this week appear to be just a small proportion of them. 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.

Serbia now ranks third in the world for gun ownership, after the United States and Yemen (and tied with Montenegro). It is awash with weapons, many in stockpiles that remain from the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

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.

Joe Orovic contributed reporting.

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