Firearm Ownership in the Free Republic of Estonia

The tip of the Baltic
By Pond, James Pond’s secret agent at the tip of the Baltic Stack

Expect the unexpected

To the casual observer, compared to the US for example, Estonia’s firearm regulations might seem restrictive and limiting. However, when compared to the rest of the world it fares quite well in what the citizen can acquire.

All the same, gun ownership is something you have to work for! There are hoops and hurdles to be negotiated in order to get licenced. Gun ownership is classified into four licences. Three are that of sports-shooters, hunters and professional carriers. Those three can only be acquired having first been issued with a Self-Defence licence.

How does one acquire one of these? First and foremost there is a police record check to ensure the applicant has not been convicted. After that there is a medical focussed on sight and hearing, and a certificate from a psychiatrist following an interview. Some of this may sound excessive, but they are neither expensive nor too demanding.

Once those have been seen to there is a written test on the law governing firearms and first aid that a gunshot wound may require followed by a practical test to show police instructors that the applicant can handle a gun safely. Finally there is an inspection of storage facilities by police officers if someone plans to own more than one firearm.

This may seem like a lot to do just so that one can buy a gun for self-defence, but one bonus is that it also permits the new licenced gun owner to also carry concealed without further testing. All the same, it does not end there. Once someone has gained the permission to own a firearm there come more steps.

To buy a gun, a person who has passed the legal checks must apply for an acquisition permit which, in all practical terms, is a “shall issue” document. Once that document has been given (a question of a few days at most) the individual can go to acquire their gun. Once bought they then return to have it registered in their name and their licence issued. This method does close any hoops that might exist about acquiring guns incorrectly and does not take too long, but the need for the buying permit can mean a good deal can be missed for not having the necessary paperwork on hand. Another inconvenience is that, until the owner is issued with their registration card for that new gun, they can’t carry it around, so long-anticipated trips to the range with the gun someone has saved for must wait a further week or so.

Anything goes, except …

There are some restrictions in Estonia’s take on gun ownership. Some seem fairly standard, others a little hard to fathom out. Firstly, let’s talk about what you can’t own. Basically anything military grade or spec, so full-auto is out and it includes all manner of specialist ammo. No HPs, A.P., incendiary, explosive rounds, etc. Essentially, for self-defence owners are restricted to FMJ, SJSP and lead. In rifles, no .50 cal either, although for hunting and competitions HP rounds are allowed.

Beyond that anything goes. The biggest limiting factor is the cost: a small country means a small market and small profit margin, and so prices are higher to compensate, especially ammo and accessories. So if you have the money you can have high-end 1911s, Sigs, HK, Glocks, Ruger etc. ARs and AK variants are common.

Unlike other countries there are no SBR laws as such. Again, if you have the money any firearm licence holder could buy a stocked frame that takes a semi-auto full-size 9mm, for example, as a legitimate defence weapon. There are laws against shortening an existing gun, so cutting down a rifle barrel beyond a certain threshold is forbidden, but making a Glock longer by adding a stock is not! Other items that might be restricted elsewhere are not in Estonia, or at least not as much. A sports-shooter could go into any shop and buy a suppressor but, as with lasers, they can only be used at a range. No self-defence with a laser, and no hunting with a suppressor etc. Night vision scopes are also prohibited, no doubt due to hunting at night also being forbidden.

The fine print

There are some peculiarities, however. In the case of the concealed carrying self-defence licence holder, if the gun carried is a semi-auto pistol, then the chamber must be empty. In other words, condition 3. This inclusion in the law was presumably a tip of the hat to factions of the government that were worried about accidental and negligent discharges. So “locked and cocked,” or condition 2 (chambered, hammer down) is not permitted. Revolvers, on the other hand, have no such restrictions: fill the cylinder, swing it closed, holster and a carrier is good to go. Interestingly, despite this tactical advantage for revolvers, semi-autos are still by far the more popular platform, even when sports shooters in such fields as IPSC are excluded. There may come a time when this rule is lifted, but if that happens, it will probably still only apply to DA/SA semis where the gun is chambered and the hammer down, bring them in line with the safety levels of a holstered revolver.

Shooting one’s firearm, if not in the context of hunting, is strictly restricted to firing ranges. These can be indoors or out doors, including both pistol and rifle ranges. The longest range for rifle however (as far as this writer knows) is 300m. Longer ranges do exist but are restricted to members of the Estonian Defence Force, and Defence League.

So, on the whole shooting sport and culture in Estonia is not overly restricted. There are areas that are trickier to negotiate with some of the processes burdened with varying degrees layers of bureaucracy. However, gun ownership is restricted in different ways.

Catch 22

Ammunition is one such method. There are differing ammo storage limits depending on the licence category, and the calibre of the weapon. For a self-defence shooter, stored ammunition for any given firearm cannot exceed 100 rounds. For a hunting firearm that rises to 300, whilst for any gun also registered as a sporting weapon, limits jump to 1000 rounds. All the same, shooting enthusiasts will know that 1000 rounds could be as little as 3 or 4 range trips. Given that ammunition prices are often offered as a 1000 bulk buy price or the standard unit price, it also means that a shooter could not take advantage of the considerable savings of a 1000 bulk buy unless every single round has been shot, as buying before hand could mean, in theory, that they break their storage limit if they buy 1000 and had a sole cartridge still in the safe. Meanwhile, buying ammunition is only possible by presenting the appropriate weapon’s licence. One can only buy the calibre specified on that firearm. This is a shame for revolver shooters as magnum revolvers only entitle the owner to buy magnum ammunition. So a .357 shooter cannot buy .38Spl with that licence, despite their gun being able to shoot that lighter, cheaper cartridge. Such clauses probably reflect a certain lack of good knowledge amongst policy makers and this in turn is probably due to their being insufficiently advised at the time of drawing up laws.

Reloading is permitted for sports-shooters and hunters and, whilst not specifically stated, this no doubt implies that a self-defence licencee could not then use a reloaded cartridge in self-defence. There are further limitations on the quantities of components that can be stored, not just completed rounds. These are namely primers and powder. 1000 of the former stored and 4kgs of the latter are the limits.

As implied with the storage inspections mentioned above, guns also need to be stored securely. Any gun owner must be able to show a securely fixed gun cabinet is available at the registered address for gun storage and within it a maximum of 8 guns can be held. Ammo must be stored separately from the guns, although that could be a locked box alongside them in the cabinet, or locked in a drawer for example. It is also not permitted to have multiple gun safes! This would appear to suggest that no gun owner is allowed to have more than 8 firearms. For the most part this is true, but money is the restriction here, not the law. To own more than 8 guns, a gun-owner must have a strong-room built or a heavy-duty safe, that includes a certificate specifying how many guns can be stored. If either of those requirements are satisfied, then more guns can be acquired. There are limits but these are around 200. Given the costs of shooting, this would only limit an extremely small percentage of the population. By contrast, anyone owning a single firearm can forego a cabinet and simply hide it at home, with ammunition still kept separately. Go mad and buy two guns or more and suddenly the cost of a cabinet needs to be added to keep them all locked up!

Penalties for legal infringements of the law can vary in severity from small fines to large fines and even imprisonment. Interestingly, anyone who commits tax fraud or is convicted of driving while under the influence can also lose his or her firearms licence. Inheriting a gun is also completely subject to the named beneficiary passing all of the gun ownership requirements that a new shooter would need to.

The executive summary

Firearms ownership and culture in Estonia, although small, is widespread and includes people from all walks of life, gender and creed. The community is quite active in organising events. Firearms enthusiasts, by and large, represent their chosen pursuit well and take it seriously. is indebted to Mr. Pond for contributing this insight into the gun laws and gun culture in a country that a great many people know very little about ... if they even know it exists. It is contributors like Mr. Pond who make it possible for all of us to broaden our understanding of the world we live in today.

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