Pia Clerté is a Swedish national four time IPSC winner who has also gained several victories in international competitions (including South African Championship and French Championship). In this first part of an exclusive interview with zbrojnice.com, Pia reveals some of the peculiarities that a firearms enthusiast faces in Sweden.
Rozhovor v češtině si můžete přečíst zde: Rozhovor – Pia Clerté: Ve Švédsku nelze mít jakýkoliv nástroj pro účely sebeobrany
Zbrojnice.com is a Czech language web that deals with practical, legal, cultural and social issues of civilian firearms ownership. This interview was conducted in English and thus you can read it also in original language version below.
Legal firearms in Sweden
Nordic countries have the highest ownership rates in the EU, and yet it seems that policy has lately steered quite heavily against gun owners. Why are Swedish politicians seemingly so much at odds with their electorate that includes relatively large number of gun owners?
In Sweden, we have serious problems with illegal firearms and shootings in the streets. During 2018, we had 306 shootings and 45 dead. At the same time the crime solving rate from the Police has never been so low. Which means a majority of these shootings never get solved. Politicians in Sweden, much like politicians in the EU, want to appear like they are doing something, thus they go after the legal firearm owners as they obey the laws.
I understand that as a sport shooter you can have only firearms that you “need” for a particular type of competition. What are the main criteria that the police base their decisions on?
We mainly have 2 types of firearm licenses in Sweden, hunting license and target shooting license. To obtain a firearm license for target shooting, you have to be member of an approved target shooting association for a certain time. The association will give you a certificate to present to the Police showing that you comply with the requirements. For instance regarding handguns, the license needs to be reapplied every 5 years, and you need to show that you have actively been training during the past 2 years to apply again.
The recent proposal of “implementation” of the EU Gun Ban includes also a ban on “moving with loaded firearm”. This is aimed mainly at IPSC. If you can’t compete in IPSC and similar competitions, would there be any other way to obtain a semi-auto rifle in Sweden?
No, the Swedish implementation of the EU Firearms Directive does not include any ban on “moving with loaded firearm”. However, there are other changes going on locally regarding the approval of shooting ranges and the criteria used there. The Police is currently looking into changing those criteria and according to internal sources, they will exclude shooting under movement. This work is in progress and nobody has seen any text yet.
Switzerland and Finland are fond of their militia firearms. Is there a similar system in Sweden?
We do have a Military Reserve (Hemvärnet) that have rifles that come from the government but they cannot store them at home, so it does not compare to the militia in Finland or Switzerland.
Four out of five Czech gun owners have their firearms for personal protection. Being able to defend self with a firearm is considered one of our cornerstones of civilian firearm ownership and something that differentiates the time of liberty we now enjoy from the previous Nazi and Communist gun bans. Is there any chance for a Swede to own or carry a firearm for the purpose of self defense?
I talked earlier of the purposes to obtain a firearms license, the 2 main ones are hunting and target shooting. However there are some other purposes like self defense provided by the law. But the Police is so restricted in approving them I do not think there are more than a handful in all of Sweden. Compare that to the total number of around 620.000 firearms owners for almost 2 million licenses.
What are your safe storage laws? Is it possible to own a firearm for hunting or sport shooting and have it “on hand” for self defense at least at home?
Your firearm needs to be in an approved safe under lock when it is not used. Our laws also prevent you from using it in the sense that you can only defend yourself with as much force as your assailant is using. In other words, using a firearm on a home invader might get you into serious trouble.
Is general public content with the inability to be armed for personal protection? How about gun owners? Is there any movement for a change in this regard?
With the rise in crime and street violence, and with rape numbers going through the roof, people are starting to talk about the use of defense sprays (which is currently prohibited). That seems to be the first step in defending yourself in people’s eyes.
Ban on pepper sprays and other self-defense tools
Denmark has recently legalized ownership of pepper sprays – but only at home. Do I understand correctly that even pepper sprays are banned in Sweden? Is there any chance for a change like in Denmark?
Correct, pepper sprays are illegal and it is considered a guncrime if you get caught in possession of one. With the current politicians in place, we do not foresee any change.
For comparison – in the Czech Republic pepper sprays are not only legal, but even recommended by authorities for women and elderly to carry. If a girl or a woman wants to carry a self defense tool in Sweden, what are her options?
You are allowed absolutely no tools for self defense in Sweden. A bit like in the case of a home invasion, you can only defend yourself in the street with as much violence as your assailant has been using. Carrying something that you intend to use for self defense means you have pre-medited the assault, thus you are no longer a victim.
In 2017 there were over 300 shoot-outs in Sweden. Sweden is also known for high number of grenade explosions and also a very high rape rate. Are these issues limited to just a few high crime areas like in the US, or does it affect the population in general? What is the general feeling as regards security? Does it have any effect on civilian firearms ownership?
There are areas that are more affected than others regarding the shootings and linked to criminal gangs. The rape crimes are however not linked to specific areas, and we even have cases of rape in schools and in broad daylight. In a recent study by the Swedish authorities BRÅ almost one fourth of the population choses another route or means of transport to avoid crime (https://www.bra.se/om-bra/nytt-fran-bra/arkiv/press/2019-01-15-otrygghet-och-oro-for-brott-begransar-vardagslivet.html). Among women the age of 24-40 the number is 42%.
As it is almost impossible to own firearms for self defense, there has not been any increase in the number of licenses for that purpose.
Applauding Czechs and Swiss
Is there any knowledge about other European gun laws among Swedish gun owners? For example about laws in Switzerland, the Czech Republic or Finland? Does that have any impact on national debate about changes in gun laws?
One good thing that the EU Firearms Directive has brought is the insight in how the EU is treating these questions (with the outmost disrespect of facts and disregard of consequences) and the insight in other countries’ gun laws. Everybody applauds the initiatives to protect the legal firearms owners from the effects of the EU gunban in the Czech Republic and everybody envies the Swiss for their possibility to impact the legislation through direct democracy.
If you personally could pass changes to Swedish gun laws, what would be the top three things you would change right away?
I did make some suggestions to our lawmakers in the Swedish Parliament recently and the main point would be to take away the time limitation for licenses and the limitation to the number of firearms you can possess. I would also separate the administrative part of firearm licenses for law abiding citizens from the handling of illegal guns and the consecutive punishments. We often see today legal firearm owners missing the deadline to hand in a paper with a day or two and get punished for it while hardcore criminals do not get punished for possessing an illegal gun, just because they killed someone with it, so they get a “rebate” (punishments are not cumulative in Sweden, you get punished for your most serious crime instead).
Second part will be published on 27 February 2019.