Over 100,000 weapons - and one rocket-launcher - in private hands

A total of 102,610 licensed firearms in private hands in 2015, including more than 56,000 shotguns registered for hunting

More than half the licensed firearms in private hands in 2015 were shotguns registered for hunting
More than half the licensed firearms in private hands in 2015 were shotguns registered for hunting

More than 6,185 firearms were registered in 2015 alone, bringing the total of licensed firearms in private hands up to 102,610 by the end of 2015.

More than 56,000 of those were shotguns registered for hunting, but some of the items registered stood out immediately.

There are, for example, two rocket launchers registered, as well as three mortars, 22 cannon, seven humane killers and 11 firearms concealed in walking sticks.

The number of modern firearms was also staggering, with 7,856 rifles registered, together with 10,553 pistols, 5,369 revolvers, 501 machine guns, 477 sub-machine guns and 633 combat shotguns.

Eric Camilleri, of Quantum Shot Gunshop in Paola, told MaltaToday that sales in 2016 were brisk and on par with 2015.

He said he had noted, however, an increase in the number of pistols sold, as opposed to other types of weapons.

“This is because pistol target is much easier to practise, whereas there is only one range that caters for sport rifle shooting, and it’s in Gozo,” Camilleri said.

Some items stood out, including 22 cannon
Some items stood out, including 22 cannon

He said he had also noted an increase in the number of people getting registered as licence holders, without necessarily buying a firearm.

“Because under the Arms Act, much like in the case of a driving licence, it is the person that gets licensed, not the firearm,” he explained.

What was making target shooting gain popularity was the fact that – unlike most hunters – sport shooters tended to self-regulate themselves strictly and constantly.

This – coupled with the firearm licensing system’s many checks and balances – ensures that no irresponsible or flighty applicants make it through the cracks.

MaltaToday has learnt that there are some 33,589 registered firearm licence-holders in Malta, some of them having more than one licence.

10,544 persons are licensed to carry firearms for hunting on land, 247 for hunting from aboard a sea craft and 2,749 for hunting wild rabbits.

There are 2,819 persons licensed under Target Shooter Licence A, 5,103 under Target Shooter Licence B, 1,249 under Collector Licence A and 10,878 under Collector Licence B.

Categories of licences

The Arms Act of 2005 and the Arms Licensing Regulations of 2006 define various categories of arms and the activities for which they may be kept and/or used.

The act focuses on the licence holder and not on the firearm, and insists on the mandatory membership and endorsement of a club before one can apply for a licence.

The Target Shooter Licence A allows for both the keeping and use of firearms with rifled barrels, such as pistols, rifles and machine guns, for target shooting sport only.

The Target Shooter B Licence caters for target shooting with firearms that had already been allowed under the old Arms Ordinance, such as shotguns, air guns and muzzle loaders.

Holders of Collector Licence A can keep any number of firearms manufactured before 1946 or which are considered to be rare, artistic or historical. 

They can also keep up to 10 handguns and rifles which are of post-1945 manufacture as well as any number of shotguns, muzzleloaders and air guns.

The Collector Licence B is for those who were already licensed under the previous Arms Ordinance for collection purposes only.

Before a person can apply for a firearm licence, he must join a shooting or collectors club for training. 

The club must then issue a recommendation letter for the applicant to present to the police, who will then check the applicant’s records and refer him to a Weapons Board test to verify the applicant’s knowledge of firearm safety and the Arms Act (Chapter 480) and related ordinances.

Only if an applicant successfully completes each step of the process, is he then issued with a target shooter or collector licence.

But the checks and balances don’t stop there.

Camilleri confirmed that even a registered licence holder cannot simply visit a gunshop and walk out with a firearm.

Each time a licence-holder asks to buy a firearm, the retailer will fill out an application form for him to take to the police for approval.

“This process can take some time, up to a month and a half, making firearm shooting or collection ill-suited for people who run out of patience quickly, or for younger persons who expect to get their ‘purchases’ there and then,” Camilleri said.

An example for others to follow

The Maltese Arms Act and the firearm licence application procedure are considered among the safest systems anywhere in the world and even surpass recommendations being considered for new EU legislation.

While the number – and nature – of firearms in private hands in Malta may be surprising, even more surprising is that the licence holders themselves insist on self-regulating themselves, at least in the case of collectors and target shooters.

It is yet to be seen if this will be enough to eradicate the stigma associated with firearms and target shooting, often promulgated by the misuse and abuse of licences by a handful of modern-day cowboys who seem to fancy themselves living in the wild west, where the rule of the gun overshadowed the rule of law.

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