Defence League wants more guns in homes

Oliver Kund
, reporter
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Photo: Kaitsejõudude peastaap

Headquarters of the Defence League is trying to reverse the trend of members opting not to keep firearms at home. To accomplish that, they have purchased loads of weapons safes and set it as aim to have lion’s share of those with weapons permits keeping guns and ammunition handy where they dwell.

Guns in homes are nothing new: the law at their side, Defence League (DL) members have thus done for two decades and this carries a deep national defence related meaning. Firstly, this way the firearms are spread all across the land and should the enemy seize or destroy some arms store, DL will maintain combat capability.

Equally important is the speed in mobilising the units. The economy of time is particularly big for DL members in rural areas who will be freed from the long drive to the arms depot in district centre. As assured Postimees by DL people, with arms and equipment at home, a volunteer is battle ready in 30 minutes to an hour.

In reality, however, the percentage of such DL members is in decline. «These past years, increasingly arms have been returned to the districts,» admitted Commander of the Defence League Brigadier-General Meelis Kiili. «This is because of human issues – firearms always come with responsibility, and people no longer considered it necessary as the security situation seemed very stable.»

Cartridges included

Due to security reasons, DL will not disclose how many automatic guns members currently keep at home. Brig-Gen Kiili has, however, set it as aim to arrive at 75 percent with permit-holding members to have the weapon in their homes.

We are talking about the DL-owned automatic rifles Galil and AK-4, appointed to each member in combat units. For certain officers, this is complemented with a pistol.

To protect the guns, they come with a certain set of cartridges; with an automatic rifle, these are 60. Larger weapons and grenades are not kept in homes.

Not every DL member may apply to have a gun at home; this is for those that have passed a training, DL arms exam, and corresponds to a long row of rather strict requirements. For instance, DL has a buffer time to assess compatibility of an individual, and mandatory checks before and after.

«With the conditions and safety guaranteed, they will probably get the gun at home. If an individual is member of a unit and we want these guns to be spread out as a safety carpet, we will add a weapons safe which is usually meant for up to eight guns,» said Major Marek Kütsen in charge of firearms at DL.

Too much red tape

But why are the guys bringing guns back? To begin with, Estonia is running two parallel weapons registers – the police’s and for DL’s. The first of the two says Estonia has about 30,000 gun owners; mainly, these are gas and firearms for purposes like sports, hunting or self defence. 

The other register if the DL weapons register, covering three types of guns: such as belong to Defence Forces, Defence League and private persons. All of the latter are considered military weapons and, irrespective of form of ownership, these are meant for use in service alone. As at 2011, private persons held about 3,000 military weapons.

Quite logically, the requirements related to obtaining a military weapon are much stricter than those demanded by the police, for instance. The last time DL rules for obtaining gun and keep-at-home permits were changed two years ago by Defence League Act.

On the one hand, this provided DL with greater discretionary powers; on the other hand, one keeping a gun at home is expected to live a faultless life and submit to non-stop bureaucracy. Such careful attitude by DL has proven a success: last year, no misdemeanour or crime committed by DL-registered guns was registered by police. 

Even so, the coin has the other side. According to Retired General Ants Laaneots (Reform Party), as chairman of DL Council of Elders, he has often heard complaints that there’s too much bureaucracy attached to keeping guns at home. 

«We will need to see how to make it a little simpler and faster. There are many technical details which need to be reviewed so there’d be no big bookkeeping and restrictions,» said the politician who also proceeded to write the promise in the Reform Party elections programme.

According to Brig-Gen Meelis Kiili, there is no need to water down the law; enough if defence ministry, Defence Forces and Defence League agree about interpreting the law. «All we want is to have no artificial preventive measures or hindrances related to convenience of officials,» said he.

This is also a matter of community security, as DL guns may be used to secure personal safety or that of others.

Those working abroad opt out

DL member Margus listed in a South-Estonian district described recent economic recession as a result for people declining to keep guns at home – many have been forced to work abroad. In a situation like that, they do not think it reasonable to leave guns at home even though the weapons safe is fastened to walls and the floor.

«If a DL member is away abroad for weeks, he does not want to come home and discover the home has been broken into, the gun stolen, and he goes to jail,» said Margus. «People are highly mobile, and they are very many. Take, for instance, the lists of Valga, Võru and Põlva Counties: they do have the men, but they are working abroad. I do understand their unwillingness to keep a gun at home.»

Margus thinks the DL commander is right to want the weapons spread out over the land. «The more barrels in homes, ones people can use, the better,» said the man.

Therewith, Estonia will go by the Swiss example who using said tactic in WW2 managed to make Nazi Germany see their losses would simply be too heavy should they invade. The Estonia of 1930ieas also had about 60,000 Defence League members, all with rifles at come plus 45 combat cartridges.

Margus said certain amount of bureaucracy has been justified by 99 percent of owners not misusing their guns. The rare few slips have been related to leaving ammunition lying around or used up without permission.

«I’ve not heard of any massive return of guns, but I do believe it is related to the conditions and the bureaucracy being such,» he said.