Olexandr Milyukov, head of the Ukrainian Federation of Tactical Shooting sent a letter to his European colleagues early morning on February 24: Russia has started a war against Ukraine; Russia should be expelled from the world organization of practical shooting.
The Estonian chapter, IPSC Eesti (International Practical Shooting Confederation) held a quick poll among the local shooting clubs: eight supported the Ukrainian proposal, four did not answer. “These four… let us say that these are Russian-speaking,” comments Jaanus Viirlo, Board Chairman of IPSC Eesti.
Club members have benefits
Tactical shooting (sometimes also known as practical shooting) is not an elegant Olympic discipline using pneumatic rifles to hit targets. This is a field of sport which uses real weapons and real ammunition at competitions attempting to imitate the use of weapons in real life. Many enthusiasts therefore have military, Defense League or police background. Competitions with automatic pistols are the most popular but there are “long gun” classes as well. These are weapons which can be and are used to wage war.
The Estonian Association of Firearm Owners recommended last week to amend the Weapons Act to the effect that firearms could be bought and owned in Estonia only by citizens of Estonia, the European Union and NATO member countries. The second proposal called for cancellation of firearm licenses of Russian citizens resigning in Estonia and seizing their weapons.
Estonia’s firearm laws are liberal. Foreign citizens are also allowed to buy and own firearms in the country. According to the police, there are 627 citizens of the Russian Federation in Estonia who possess an Estonian firearm license; additionally there are 626 individuals without citizenship but with gun permits and also some weapons owning Belarusian citizens.
The Estonian law is especially kind towards sportsmen, e.g. the aforementioned tactical shooting enthusiasts and members of clubs of this discipline. A source involved in tactical shooting told Postimees: “There are some Russian citizens who have long rifles in their weapons cabinets and thousands of rounds of ammunition.”
Armin Meesit, board member of IPSC Eesti, also hints at privileged related to tactical shooting. “Many non-Estonian-speaking individuals are attempting to join our confederation because once they have a sportsman’s status they can possess large capacity weapons and keep at home 5,000 rounds of ammunition instead of a couple hundred.”
As a yet another bonus, one can pass the official firearm license test in Russian. This option was once included in the law. They say at present that the test is not completely in Russian and can be done with the help of an interpreter, but this is pure eyewash. In reality, a citizen of Russian Federation residing in Estonia can pass the test without speaking a word of Estonian, receive a firearm license and, if he belongs to a shooting club, fill the house with weapons and ammunition.
Officials passing a hot potato
While the Estonian Association of Firearm Owners supports restrictions to foreign citizens, the IPSC Eesti has no official position. It is true that the Board Chairman Jaanus Viirlo and Board member Armin Meesit support the idea, but this is their individual position rather than that of the confederation. A consensus cannot be expected from the confederation since several clubs include a large number of Russian citizens who would not support the proposal.
It would be easy to talk about Estonians and Russians regarding firearms. But it is not about ethnicity but citizenship. In the background of attack against Ukraine by Russia and Belarus, it is primarily about the citizens of Russia and Belarus, but amendments to the law would concern a broader range of foreign citizens.
The Estonian institutions are lukewarm about the proposal to add the citizenship clause to the Weapons Act. The Ministry of the Interior answers that it handles the issue on case-by-case basis. Harrys Puusepp, Bureau head of the Internal Security Service (ISS) says that the association’s proposal is worth considering, but this is a one-can-think-about-it- type answer.
Some years ago, an amendment was made to the Weapons Act stipulating that an alien can be issued a weapon permit in Estonia only in the absence of any doubts that the person could pose a threat to national security. When Postimees asked whether any weapon permits have been refused or revoked on these grounds, the Police Board answered that there have been no such cases.
Daimar Liiv, a member of the Association of Firearm Owners, is critical about the state’s monitoring ability. “We have two battalion’s worth of armed men with more than 600 of them being hostile towards the Estonian state,” he says. Since these people are citizens of the Russian Federation, the Russian government could call them to service against Ukraine – at least theoretically.
“Should we grant them the right to bear arms, should we grant them the opportunity in Estonia to learn to handle weapons in case they would be called to fight against Ukraine?” Liiv asks directly.
Alien weapon owners have caused problems in Estonia before. Years ago the Tactical Shooting Association expelled the Alpha shooting club, the largest Russian-speaking organization in the field. But Alpha won a subsequent court case and is again a member of the association.
Instructors from Russia
One of the reasons for the expulsion was harming the public image. But it could also be explained otherwise There are tactical shooting enthusiasts – let us call them pro-Estonian (not all of them ethnic Estonians) – who were and are annoyed by the manners they could observe while practicing their hobby. For example, holding competitions in Russian, having local sportsmen singing the Russian anthem and waving Russian flags. Or that tactical shooting enthusiasts are trained in Estonia by instructors from Russia.
Considering the laws in Russia, the instructors have certainly military or law enforcement background. The Russian instructors have also attracted the interest of the ISS. “There have been indications which we have taken very seriously,” says Harrys Puusepp. “I can say that it has not posed a direct threat to Estonia’s security.”
Broadly speaking, it probably is like that. It is likely that majority of firearm owners and shooting enthusiasts, including non-citizens or citizens of Russia, practice shooting simply as a hobby. Yet, at the time when Estonian universities no longer want to admit students from Russia and Belarus, the citizens of the same countries can buy and own weapons in Estonia without any difficulties.