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Article: International Focus: Greece

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    23rd September 2011
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    International Focus: Greece

    Sit-Rep: Hellenic Republic (Greece)



    A look at a troubled gun culture, making its way though a legal maze

    by Spyros Georgilidakis


    Some history

    Greece is a country with a long but troubled history. Its location, near the point where Europe, Asia and Africa meet, means that there was no shortage of prospective invaders over the centuries. Turks, Venetians, various other medieval Europeans and if we go back far enough, Romans, Persians and even Egyptians have all had a go at taking over this part of the world, sometimes successfully—for a while, at least.

    This, plus a generous amount of civil wars and other forms of in-fighting, has ensured that guns have played a prominent role in everyday life in this country, albeit not uniformly across it. Several parts of the country with hard-to-access uneven/mountainous terrain, tended to cling to their independence better than coastal and/or densely-populated regions, with guns being more popular as a result. Crete is often cited as a gun-friendly part of the country, but it certainly is not the only one. Prior to Greek independence (and some would argue, for some time afterwards), Mani in the Peloponnese maintained an unprecedented autonomy, thanks to its terrain and the gun culture of its inhabitants.

    Modern-day Greece is a European-Union member state, and a Schengen-treaty signatory. As such, its laws regarding gun ownership (among other things) must follow broadly-accepted EU standards. Since a fair amount of law-copying between countries had already taken place in the decades preceding this treaty, the changes to the existing laws have been relatively minor, but often with bigger effects than first realized.


    Legal framework (a bit boring, but crucial...)

    Any detailed look at Greek gun laws needs to start with some background information, to put what follows in the right context. Like many countries, the Hellenic Republic has three branches of government: legislative, executive and judicial. To avoid corruption in the system, these three powers have to be independent, to the extent that this is possible.

    In most such systems of government, the police may well be consulted when a law is in the drafting stage, as part of its role in the executive branch of government. However, it does not have a role in changing or limiting existing laws, barring truly exceptional circumstances. This is not the case in Greece. Here, the wording of a law can have the following basic format:

    "The purchase of this item is not permitted, for any reason. But if it is all right by the police, then citizens can have it, with the following conditions, plus any additional conditions set by the police."

    [some may object to this, pointing out that the legal wording often cites the Minister for Public Order, NOT the police, as the relevant authority. However, there are ministerial decisions —i.e. laws— enabling/authorizing police chiefs and other local heads of policing authorities, to rule on behalf of the minister]

    Such is the format of any and all Greek gun laws. It is up to the police itself and not a higher executive branch authority, to set such conditions. These police clarifications/regulations do NOT amount to Executive Orders/Decisions, i.e. the 'normal' purview of the executive branch. Executive orders are issued only by the President of the Hellenic Republic, who is the head of the executive branch of the Greek government. As such, they are deemed to be laws and are published accordingly.

    This is an important distinction to make because unlike laws, which every civilian is required/assumed to know (like elsewhere, ignorance of the law is not a valid defense for breaking it), not all of these additional regulations are published in their entirety, yet gun owners are expected to know them (and they sign documentation saying so) and to know when these orders and directives are changed, or when others are added.

    The legal wording described previously is central in these laws. The very sale of firearms as a whole (as well as airguns and anything that uses pressure to launch a projectile, plus knives, tasers, pepper-sprays, clubs and other handheld weapons) is dependent on such an article (6, in N.2168/93). The catch is that the full list of conditions may be defined in a separate document, issued by the police. The conditions may range from a minimum age limit (for airguns or hunting knives) to things being prohibited outright.

    All of the above makes drawing a complete picture of what the Greek gun enthusiast has to face very difficult, to say the least. To keep this article from expanding even more than it already has, the author has attempted to simplify the description that follows, so that it may portray the situation that Greek gun owners are facing in practice, omitting some details. For example, while it may be theoretically possible for a security guard to be allowed to carry a fully-automatic rifle, pistol or sub-machinegun (N.2168/93 article 10, paragraph 6), it is so extraordinarily rare (if it even happens) that for all practical purposes, full-auto firearms can be said to be illegal for civilians.

    After describing the general legal situation, the author will try to highlight some matters arising from details in these laws and police clarifications, which affect gun enthusiasts in ways that may not be obvious at first glance.


    Remnants of war(s): a picture from the Askifou War Museum in Crete


    Conditions/types of gun ownership

    a) Hunting

    By definition, a hunting gun is a smoothbore, i.e. a shotgun (under Greek law there is no such thing as a shotgun with a rifled barrel; more about this later). Hunting with handguns, rifles or even airguns, is illegal.

    To be legal, shotguns must have a minimum overall length of one meter (~39.4 inches) and a minimum barrel length of half a meter (~19.7 inches). They must have a capacity of up to 3 rounds and should not be able to accept more than 3 rounds, i.e. 2+1 for magazine-fed guns. In practice, what tends to happen is that semi-autos and pumps are deemed acceptable by police authorities if their magazines are plugged, by means of a rod inserted through the front of the magazine tube, limiting the travel of the follower. There is a hole in the corresponding part in the magazine of such guns, to allow this. There is some debate about various implications of the wording of this law. Some are now suggesting that the capacity limit ought to be part of the annual hunting license (see below), NOT the purchase/ownership license; outside Greece, it is widely accepted that the purpose of these removable limiters is to reduce 'excessive hunting', rather than anything to do with public safety.

    To buy a shotgun, citizens must be at least 18 years old, have a clear criminal record and pass a brief medical test. Once they decide which gun they wish to buy (and which shop to buy it from), they need to apply for a purchase license at their local police station, with the paperwork that confirms the conditions above, plus some recent passport-size photos and proof of paying a minimal gun purchase fee (at this writing, about twenty euros, or twenty six US dollars). The license is processed at the local police station itself (an important detail, see below) and is usually approved in 2-3 working days.

    Shotguns have to be re-registered every ten years. Guns whose owners fail to re-register them, become illegal. From time to time, a grace period may be declared, in which owners of such 'lapsed license' guns are allowed to re-register them and thus make them legal again, for a more substantial fee.

    While the law repeatedly refers to shotguns as ‘hunting guns’, it permits the use of these guns for competition. The law even goes to such detail as to permit the use of shotguns for scaring birds away from flight paths near airports, but the use of smoothbores for defensive purposes, is prohibited. To use the guns for hunting, a separate, season-specific hunting license is required. The relevant conditions/limitations for hunting are defined by the ministry of agriculture, not the police, and vary depending on the pray, season and specific location.

    There are no limits to the number of shotguns that a person can buy.

    No licensing or limits currently apply to the purchase of ammunition for shotguns. The purchaser can buy all the ammunition he wants at any time, from any retailer that sells it, the only requirement being an ID to verify minimum age (18 years).


    b) Competition

    The law allows the use of firearms for competition, in any shooting disciplines recognized and supported by the Shooting Federation of Greece (SKOE). These include Olympic/ISSF shooting (multiple categories, broadly equivalent to bullseye shooting), IPSC, Clay (trap, skeet etc) and several others.

    The logo of the Shooting Federation of Greece

    To apply to buy a rimfire or muzzle-loading gun for competitive purposes, an individual must be a member of a recognized shooting club for at least six months, and be fully aware of the rules and regulations governing the sport(s) in question. He/she must have participated in a minimum of four official matches in these six months, for the first gun. The shooter cannot apply for a second firearm unless six months or more have passed since the first license was issued AND he/she has taken part in six matches in the previous six months. The gun being purchased must be suitable for the sport the shooter wishes to engage in.

    For centerfire guns, the requirements above are changed to a minimum of twelve months' club membership and participation to six matches or more, plus the wait before buying a second gun is extended to twelve months after the first license is issued, with a requirement to have taken part in eight matches in these twelve months. No more than two centerfire guns may be added in the license. An exception may be granted for shooters coming 1st, 2nd or 3rd in national and international competitions, for up to four centerfire guns total.

    Gun storage is also specified. Guns are to be kept empty, in a safe. For anything more than one rimfire pistol, the area the safe is in, must be alarmed.

    The application paperwork includes everything described in the shotgun section plus a written record from SKOE, detailing the shooter’s match participation for the preceding months, as needed. The paperwork is handed to the shooter’s local police station, but it is processed in the regional police headquarters. This means that unlike the shotgun application, this is not a 2-3 day matter. Depending on the workload of the responsible office over in regional police, it may range from 3 weeks (if you live a long way from the capital) to several months.

    In all cases, the only authority responsible for checking the suitability of a gun, for the future owner's chosen type of shooting competition, is the shooting federation (SKOE). The law is quite clear on this, but some authorities seem reluctant to acknowledge it.


    A shot from a recent National IPSC match, just outside Athens

    The license has a three-year duration. The shooter must apply to renew the license three months before it is due to expire. The renewal paperwork is similar to what is needed to issue the first license, except the shooter must have taken part in at least 18 matches for rimfire guns, or 24 matches for centerfires (six and eight matches per year, respectively). In practice, at every application process described above, it is a good idea to have participated in a few extra matches.

    As far as the law itself is concerned, there is no real difference in the treatment between rifles and handguns, except that only bolt-action rifles are allowed. In practice, police restrictions mean that obtaining a licence for a rifle is somewhat uncertain (to put it mildly). This author was unable to find a minimum barrel length requirement for competition rifles. For handguns, it stands at 4 inches. That it is defined using inches as a form of measurement seems rather odd.

    Shotguns used for competition are typically bought as hunting guns, following the process described in the hunting section.

    Unlike shotgun ammunition, handgun ammo is heavily restricted. Shooters may buy ammo at the range, either from the organizers of a match held that day or from their own club, if they are present. Range-bought ammo has to be fired before the shooter leaves the range.

    Shooters may also buy ammunition from gun shops and other vendors, but only after a license is issued by the police. In this case, there is a limit of 500 rounds per gun, not to exceed 1500 rounds total, for all guns, i.e. if the shooter owns five guns the total is not 2500 rounds. Various regional police headquarters reportedly restrict such ammo sales to 200 rounds per gun. Competitors may purchase ammo monthly. To buy more ammunition, they need to provide proof that they have consumed previously-purchased ammo.

    Reloading is not permitted. Cartridges with tracer, armor-piercing, incendiary, or hollow-point projectiles, are not permitted. Regarding cartridge types for handguns, anything with 'magnum' in the title is not permitted. Other forbidden calibers reportedly include 10mm, 9x21, 9x23 and .357 Sig. Calibers for handguns approved for ISSF 'large pistol' and/or IPSC competitions may range from 7.65mm (i.e. .32ACP) to 11.6mm (.45 Auto is ~11.4mm), so handgun cartridges with .50" bullets are out, too. Calibers for centerfire rifles may range from 6mm to 8mm. All rimfires must be .22" in caliber.


    c) Self-defense and defense of others

    Ownership and carry of firearms for defensive purposes may be permitted to Greek citizens, for one of the two following reasons:
    a. For their own protection, if approved by an attorney, in the case that 'very serious reasons' make it necessary
    b. So they may work for a security company or other institution, given conditions that are defined by the police (i.e. in a separate document).

    Carry is for handguns only. It may also be permitted to citizens of other countries, if they are embassy personnel or foreign LEOs making pre-arranged and approved journeys in the country (e.g. foreign police picking up a suspected criminal who is being extradited).

    The law goes in quite some detail, to outline ownership conditions for security companies, banks or other institutions owning defensive guns, plus their carry by their employees. But as far as mere citizens are concerned, licenses are examined on what is effectively a case-by-case basis. Certain professions may be deemed more appropriate than others, gun shop owners being an example of a profession very likely to be approved. A job or other activity that mandates carrying large sums of money on a regular basis, prior incidents where the applicant or his immediate family have been targeted by others, are all factors likely to affect the decision to grant such a license. Special conditions apply to law enforcement officers and military personnel, active or retired.

    For individual citizens, the license is granted for ONE handgun only, unless exceptional conditions (on top of what is already a rather exceptional condition) make it necessary for a second gun of the same caliber to be approved. The individual is also granted a license to own just fifty rounds of ammunition, for his/her defensive pistol. To practice, in theory licensees may use competitive shooting ranges, however since their ammo supply is so limited, typically they become members of a shooting club, so they can buy ammo at the range.

    Finally, it is worth noting that transporting a firearm to and from a shooting range or a hunting ground, is also deemed to be a form of carry and is permitted to competitors and hunters only if the guns are carried empty, in appropriate gun cases. Whether or not it is allowed for people to take their guns to a gunsmith or a gun shop in general, does not seem to be clear!


    d) Reservists

    Greece still has a mandatory national service, for all able-bodied males, aged 18 or over. At its conclusion (or later), men residing in parts of the country that are close to the border, may choose to join Army reserve formations in their area. Unlike some other countries, in Greece these individuals are still considered to be civilians, in the eye of the law. They are issued with various pieces of equipment, including the standard issue rifle, a select-fire HK G3. However they generally are not issued any ammunition.


    A licensed copy of the Heckler & Koch G3A3, made in Greece by EAS - formerly EBO


    Some general implications and limitations

    Guns and gun parts crossing borders

    In 2011, the law was modified, to be in-line with the European Union and Schengen treaty. Some changes have to do with transit of guns and ammunition between member states, as well as recognition of licenses issued in these countries, when international matches or other events make international transportation of guns necessary. However, this didn't solve many practical problems. For instance, some foreign IPSC competitors participating in the 'Handgun World Shoot XVI', held in the island of Rhodes in 2011, found that taking their spent brass back home, along with any unfired cartridges, was either impossible or involved paperwork that was too complicated for them to even consider going through.

    For Greek gun owners, the same laws (before and after the 2011 changes) make sending a gun abroad for warranty work practically impossible. Even when a repair might be dealt with locally, if a replacement part is needed from abroad, the owner has to go to a licensed gunsmith, who has to verify the need for the part, in writing. Then this document, along with other paperwork, has to be submitted to the local police authority, which has to issue an import license for the part (a process that may take several weeks, or months). With it, the part may be imported and installed by the gunsmith, who then issues a final statement confirming that the repair has taken place.

    Gun modifications

    A similar process is involved if the gun owner wishes to modify the gun in some permanent way. Bear in mind that the time needed for processes to be rubber-stamped by the authorities, is a big deciding factor in what sort of modification or repair can be made. A gun that 'needs a little work' may be harder to sell in many countries around the world, but in Greece it might be seen as something 'beyond economic repair', unless it is a desirable-enough brand to make sense, e.g. a vintage double-barrel shotgun. Competitive shooters can face similar struggles. For those familiar with IPSC outside the United States, spare a thought for owners of Modified Division pistols. This division has now been deleted, so owners of such guns wishing to keep using them competitively, have no option but to perform quite substantial modifications, to turn them into Open or Standard division pistols. The paperwork and time involved can easily surpass those of purchasing a new pistol!

    What is a shotgun?

    Another interesting implication of the law, has to do with the previously-mentioned definition of smoothbores as hunting guns, and vice-versa. Remember, semi-automatic shotguns are OK for hunting and competition, but competition rifles can only be single-shots, or bolt-actions. But what if someone takes a well-known semi-auto RIFLE design and makes a version with a smooth bore?

    Simple. These, ladies and gents, are shotguns, and are legal to buy as hunting guns in Greece:


    A Vepr-12 MOLOT, and a Safir Arms T-14.

    The first of the guns above is a 12-gauge shotgun, the other is a 36-gauge (better known as .410 to our American readers). They are of course smoothbores. The latter even has a regular AR-15 lower, but it appears to be out of production, at this writing.

    By contrast, the guns below are NOT shotguns. They have rifled barrels, therefore they are rifles! As such, they are not legal for hunting and being a repeater and a semi-automatic, they are not legal for competitive use, either. Even if their barrels were smooth, their scope bases could put their owners in trouble, as is explained later.


    A couple of Remington, erm, rifles: an 870™ Express® Slug pump and a 11-87™ Sportsman® Synthetic Deer semi-automatic

    A clean bill of health?

    An aspect mentioned above that may have raised some eyebrows is the need for a medical assessment, in order for a firearm of any of the above categories to be licensed. This assessment is meant to establish that the individual is physically and psychologically capable of owning and handling a firearm. While theoretically sound in principle, the merit of these examinations is questionable. Given the duration of the licenses (3 years for competitive and defensive guns, 10 years for smoothbores), one inevitably wonders exactly how the medical professional is supposed to establish that the future gun owner cannot become 'unstable', for the duration of the license being issued!

    As has already been mentioned, this is a country that still requires all its able-bodied males to train and serve in its armed forces. With this in mind, some opine that the fact that the same person that was deemed capable (and trustworthy) to handle a fully-automatic rifle as a relatively hot-blooded 19-20 year-old, may need additional supervision to be trusted with a relatively 'less-lethal' firearm when he is older—and hopefully a bit wiser—is somewhat paradoxical.

    Sights and other accessories

    Another sore subject for many gun enthusiasts is that of scopes and other optical sights. For hunting, these sights are banned—perhaps not surprisingly, since they are of limited value to smoothbores. Red dot and similar sights, needed for IPSC competitions, are permitted, however the law is somewhat unclear as far as their purchase is concerned. In general, the guiding principle is whether or not there is an approved competition in which these sights are necessary. If there is not (and for a while at least, this seemed to be the case), then the sale of scopes becomes illegal. To add to the confusion, at this writing SKOE appears to list benchrest shooting in its competition disciplines.

    Note that gun-mounted lights are also categorized as aiming devices, and are not permitted as a result. The same goes for lasers.

    Airguns

    As already mentioned, Greek gun laws apply to airguns as well. While the sale of airguns is permitted without any licensing, to individuals aged 18 or over, these items still fall within the purview of the gun laws and are to be used only for competitive purposes. Hunting with airguns is not permitted.

    No Greek Ammo Please

    With regard to pistol and rifle ammunition, there is an issue beyond the prohibition of reloading. Even for companies, the manufacture or remanufacture of ammunition or parts thereof, for civilian use, is prohibited. At this moment, there is a government-owned company called EAS (Hellenic Defense Systems) that manufactures firearms and ammunition, for the needs of the Greek military, police, coast guard and other government agencies. Its ammunition is identifiable internationally by the code 'HXP'. At present, they can export their ammunition, either for military use or to civilian vendors, but they cannot sell ammunition to civilians in their own country. Shotshells are exempt from this decision and are thus manufactured not only by EAS but also other, private companies. To add insult to injury, EAS has a little-publicized shop, where civilians that have the necessary documentation can go and buy not only the aforementioned shotshells but also imported pistol ammo—even though EAS itself makes identical (to all intents and purposes) ammo! Not all calibers are catered for, but 9x19mm pistol ammo easily outsells all other calibers put together, and EAS makes it.

    Greek smoothbore ammo sells well, so quite why nobody responsible seems interested in reaping a commercial benefit by offering ammo that is already being made to the approximately 9000 competition shooters currently active in the country, who aren’t allowed to reload ammo and collectively need to fire at least 5.4 million rounds of ammo per year as a bare minimum, just to keep their competitive licenses, is beyond the scope of this article. However it is a good example of something that an effective gun-lobby ought to have dealt with. A conflict of interest in a state-owned company has been mentioned as a reason against allowing it. However, there are several private companies making shotgun ammo in the country, at least some of whom would be expected to enter the market, making this argument questionable, in this author’s opinion. Additionally, in the past few years Greece has desperately been trying to find ways to reduce its commercial deficit (i.e. increase exports and reduce imports), so the existence of what is effectively an import monopoly seems counterintuitive, to put it mildly.



    Glories from the recent past: the 25 meter line of the now-closed Athens Target Shooting Centre, used in the 2004 Olympics.


    Parting thoughts

    The aspect of Greek gun ownership that may be hardest to convey to our American readership in particular, is the absence of an effective Greek gun lobby. While some organizations with broadly similar aims as the NRA or other US organizations do exist (the Pan-Hellenic Union of Friends of Guns — PEFOP), at this time they don't enjoy anything like the popularity of their American counterparts. Perhaps the single biggest obstacle in making such an organization effective is the reluctance (or sometimes outright refusal) of owners of guns in the three separate categories outlined above (hunting, competition and self-defense) to co-operate in any meaningful way. Even though all three categories are ruled on by the same authorities, laws and regulations, a persistent refusal of members of one category to co-operate, or co-ordinate any efforts to improve conditions of gun ownership, seems to be endemic: hunters are only interested in improving/preserving hunting conditions, competitive shooters often refuse to discuss any non-athletic gun application and defensive shooters apparently don't even have an officially-recognized body, to speak through.

    As an example, a competitive discipline like IDPA would be extremely unlikely to be allowed by law or considered for sanctioning by SKOE, the shooting federation, since it has the word 'Defensive' in its title.

    Finally, the format of the law, as described in the beginning of this article, clearly needs to change. As it stands, the basic 1993 law, its two major revisions, the various ministerial orders and police directives and clarifications, need to be replaced by a logical, coherent new legal document. From the constant mention of various policing authorities in the laws, it is abundantly clear that a major factor during its drafting, was the placement of responsibility (and presumably, the likely blame) in specific places and away from others. Greek shooters, be they hunters, competitors or others, can and often do recount unpleasant stories where the police intervened in odd and unpredictable ways. These interventions may well be objectionable, but it is worth remembering who gave the police this sort of authority and why.

    Surprisingly for some, party politics do not appear to have anywhere near as much significance here, compared to the United States or other countries. This could be simply the result of lobbying on the subject being minimal, but it might be an opportunity to make changes that gun enthusiasts would deem to be positive.


    Sources

    The bulk of the information in this article is derived from the following laws, ministerial decisions and police clarifications/directives:
    N.2168/1993 (‘Law About Guns’)
    N.3944/2011 (modification of the previous law, to ‘harmonize’ it with EU directives, with regard to the Schengen treaty)
    KYA 4325/1999 (ministerial decision describing competition firearms)
    6700/16-609083 (police directive regarding the above ministerial decision)
    6700/2-310155 (police clarification for scopes, magazine capacity in shotguns, shotshell definition, and sale of club-owned firearms)
    KYA3009/2/23a/1994 (ministerial decision listing the required documentation and procedures for the issuing of licenses, along with the 2003 and 2013 modifications)

    Picture credits

    Askifou War Museum: courtesy of the author
    IPSC match photo: courtesy of John Caradimas
    Athens Shooting Centre: courtesy of the author
    All logos and firearms photos belong to their respective authorities and manufacturers


    ANY faults in the article are the author's. Readers wishing to point out any errors or omissions, are welcome to create a discussion thread in our Forums Site.
    Last edited by Spyros Georgilidakis; 11th February 2014 at 10:36.

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