International Focus: The Netherlands
Basic Laws for Ownership and Use of Firearms in the Netherlands

By Robert Shaw for The M1911 Pistols Organization

Growing up in the United States in the 50's was a wonderful experience in many ways, not the least of which was the opportunity to learn and appreciate firearms of all types for sport shooting and hunting. We learned that the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." The exercise of this right has been vigorously upheld in the years since 1791 when it was first adopted, and debate surrounds its implementation in practice to this day.

But when I moved to the Netherlands 25 years ago, I found a far different sentiment here, mainly, that owning and shooting a firearm in the Netherlands is seen as a privilege, rather than as a basic right (as in the U.S.) Dutch laws are vastly different, and far more restrictive, than those of the U.S. but, if one is patient and reasonable, one can enjoy sport shooting and hunting here within a community of like-minded people who appreciate finely made firearms and use them safely and responsibly.

Map of Netherlands and its location in Europe.

Here below is a summary of the basic procedures one must complete before owning and using firearms in the Netherlands. The full booklet of Firearms Laws and Regulations is a document consisting of 90 pages in small print, so the account below is a simplified summary.

No person who is younger than 18, or who has a criminal record, regardless of age, or who is not in possession of a firearms permit is legally allowed to own, transport, concealed carry, open carry, keep on private property, buy or sell either firearms or ammunition. Only the members of the military are allowed to own and use a fully automatic weapon. BUT, if one is at least 18, has no criminal record, and has an interest in sport shooting rifles, pistols or revolvers, there is a legal way to enjoy fine firearms and become an expert marksman…or actively collect firearms for their historic value.

Sport Pistols And Revolvers

To start, one registers at an accredited shooting club (called a schietvereniging) in which one may practice under supervision at a range using firearms and ammunition owned and stored by the club. During the first month, a short descriptive document with a photo of the new aspiring club member is displayed in a public area on the club premises so that club members can be informed that there is a “new person on the block.” Should any of the club members have a reason to feel that this person should not have access to firearms, the club can then formally deny the applicant membership after careful review. In practice this happens very rarely; should there be no objection on the part of the club members, then a “Certificate of Good Conduct” (VOG) must be submitted to the club. With the VOG, and after three months of practice under club supervision, one normally then becomes a full club member. After an additional 12 months active membership, (this means at least 18 shooting sessions per year, recorded in a personal registration book by the club) and with the recommendation of the club, one can apply to local police for a gun permit.

To actually obtain a permit, one must do the following:
  • submit a passport photo and several forms to police, followed by a thorough background check,
  • obtain two safes approved for storing firearm and ammo separately, secured to the wall or floor,
  • pass a visit by police to one's residence to verify that the safes are properly installed and in order,
  • arrange to obtain one firearm (no larger than .22 caliber) which will be registered with your permit (One cannot have a permit without at least one firearm to go with it.)

Once one has the permit, the permit owner can:
  • own, store, and transport only the firearm registered with the permit and only the ammunition suited for that firearm
  • transport the unloaded firearm and ammo in “a manner such that the weapon cannot be put to immediate use,” using the shortest route to either gunsmith or shooting range.
  • transport unloaded magazines with the firearm.

The permit owner can shoot without restriction in any range in the Netherlands, recording each shooting session as mentioned above. When transporting the firearm and/or ammo, one must have the original permit with the gun or ammo.

After 12 months with the above-described permit, and at least 18 shooting sessions, the permit can be extended; one is then allowed to own a maximum of five firearms up to but not larger than 9 mm. After a second 12 months, one can then obtain arms and ammunition up to .45 caliber. The maximum number of firearms one can own and shoot remains a maximum of five (5).


A single shot rifle, limited to .22 caliber, can be registered with a newly-obtained firearm permit, while calibers larger than .22 are permitted only after two years membership with an accredited shooting club. Semi-automatic rifles (including “assault weapons”—defined as a strictly semi-automatic rifle with the appearance of a military/automatic weapon) are allowed for ownership and use by shooters who have shooting permits on which the maximum of five firearms may be registered. An assault weapon is considered legal only if it has a written certificate confirming that automatic operation is not possible. On the other hand, automatic rifles are not allowed for civilians. The term "assault rifle" or aanvalgeweer is defined as a “firearm intended for combat at ‘medium distances,’ which is chambered in an intermediate caliber (more powerful than a pistol caliber, less powerful than a rifle caliber), with the presence of a selector switch to enable semi-automatic, fully automatic, or burst fire operation.” Source. By definition, therefore, automatic rifles, or “assault rifles,” since they can be operated in a fully automatic mode, are not allowed for ownership, possession or use by civilians in the Netherlands.

Muzzle Loaders And Black Powder

There is a special organization (Muzzle Loaders Association International Committee) dedicated to the ownership and use of muzzle-loading weapons. Rules surrounding the use of these special historic firearms are similar to those above, with restrictions on the modification of these weapons, and on the use of powder types other than those intended for the weapon.


Contrary to what I first thought when I emigrated to the Netherlands, there are several ways one may enter competitive shooting matches using legally owned guns of almost any type. Active competition is actually required to maintain one's shooting permit, since “sport shooting” is the reason why permits are issued in the first place, to promote competitive shooting as a sport (rather than for self defense as in the U.S.). Competitive contests are organized at two levels—one level being within the shooting club to which one is affiliated, and the second level being matches organized through a special Europe-wide web site.

At the club level, beyond the standard pistol and rifle target work, there are often different events organized such as cowboy action shooting, trap and skeet events, and other “innovative” variations to draw in people from a wider area for club promotion purposes, or just for some good clean fun. Safety always takes priority; the range officers in charge are very competent, and range rules are clearly posted and enforced.

There are several classifications possible at the European level; a few examples are: Large caliber rifle, Large caliber pistol, Large caliber revolver, Small caliber rifle, Small caliber pistol, Small caliber revolver, military rifle, veteran rifle, military/standard/service pistol…also black powder, and contests for which scopes may be used. Clearly there are many possibilities to pit one's skills against like-minded gun enthusiasts in a friendly but competitive atmosphere.

I myself have been competing now for two years, and I always learn something new, or find a new friend, or strengthen ties with members of other clubs I meet in these competitions, as well as those in the club to which I belong. Stationary target, moving target, timed shooting, different distances, etc., all lend variety and challenge to the sport.

The Double Alpha Academy, a company dedicated to the promotion of IPSC shooting, has chosen to locate one of their major facilities in Waalwijk, the Netherlands, which perhaps says something about the popularity of sport shooting in this country. For more information about this major supplier of IPSC products and accessories, visit their web site.

Firearm Collectors In The Netherlands

A collector must be in possession of a “collector's permit” in addition to the shooting permit described above. Also the collector must be a member of a collectors’ organization, such as the Dutch Organization for the Advancement of and Preservation of Weapons Collecting. Website: One may become a member via a procedure similar to that described above. At present, there is an 18-month waiting time for aspiring members, so the interest in the Netherlands is quite strong. A significant difference is that three references are needed for the aspiring member, two of which are provided by collectors who are themselves members of this organization. Once membership is secured, obtaining the Collector's permit is usually not difficult since the background checks and screening process have been more or less already completed.

When applying for a collector's license, one must specify the scope of the collection, and demonstrate the reason for which the collection is being assembled. Example: “WWI German Firearms from 1900 to 1920” or “Colt revolvers” or “Winchester lever action rifles.” Reason for the collection could be “Promotion of European History in Dutch schools.” One also needs to demonstrate activity in the area chosen, for example, attendance at club meetings, or participation in Internet forums, or the organization of lectures involving the collection. One is not allowed to possess firearms which fall outside the collection description, unless they are registered on the shooting permit (a maximum of five pieces are allowed).

The advantage of having a collector's license is that one is not limited to only five pieces. A collection can consist of as many weapons as desired; however, one is only permitted to fire them for testing purposes, and only on the premises of a shooting range. If one wants to fire a weapon on a regular basis, then it must be placed on the shooting permit described above, for which the limit of five is in force. Switching weapons back and forth between a “shooter's license” and “collector's permit” is allowed, but is not often done since it involves some paperwork, and at least one trip to the police station. Also, most collectors do not shoot their weapons on a regular basis.


If one desires to hunt in the Netherlands, one needs to take a 1-year training course by an accredited range, involving safety and proper handling of firearms, the basic types of hunting weapons and their use, and a test of marksmanship near the conclusion of the course. Only after completing the course, and only when the applicant can prove that he or she has access to a hunting ground, can one apply for a hunting license and expect to have it granted. The hunter is also required to practice shooting at a range to maintain ownership of the license.


In conclusion, I find that in the last 25 years since I moved to the Netherlands, the emphasis in the U.S. on “guns for personal defense” seems to have significantly increased. We had guns in the house only for sport. At the same time, the “right to bear arms” is very close to the hearts of many Americans. Are Americans who are shopping for their first home defense weapon taking the trouble to learn proper firearm safety? Do they practice regularly at a range? Do they know the limitations of their firearm(s)? In the Netherlands, while the paperwork and long waiting times can be frustrating, I find these hobbies can be pursued fairly easily and in a very safe environment. On the one hand, for the “non-gun people,” firearms are often seen as threatening, or as controversial, and therefore to be avoided. On the other hand, for the relatively small community of avid shooters, collectors and hunters in the Netherlands, the possibilities are more than enough to keep one challenged. While no set of laws can fully eliminate the ownership and use of illegal weapons, or prevent irresponsible use of legal firearms, it seems that the Netherlands has been fairly successful in both these endeavors.

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