Finland's National Police Board has said that it's concerned about the risk that forgotten firearms used by hunters and shooting hobbyists may end up in the clutches or criminal organisations.
Police estimate that there are as many as 1.5 million legally registered firearms in the country. However the Finnish Wildlife Agency said that its database shows that roughly 300,000 persons paid for hunting licences last year.
Senior inspector Reima Pensala of the National Police Board said that there is a chance that unused firearms may end up in the hands of criminals.
"The problem is that when people have no use for a gun, they are forgotten and can easily end up in the illegal arms trade. At the moment there is a unanimous view that theft or embezzlement are the most common routes to illegal arms sales," Pensala told Finnish news agency STT.
Pensala said that one strategy for tackling the problem would be to only grant firearms licenses on a fixed-term basis. Permits could be valid for one fixed period at a time or the criteria for granting a permit could be reassessed once the firearm owner reaches a certain age.
Another approach could be to pay owners of idle firearms a fee to dispose of unused weapons. Currently gun owners do not receive any compensation for handing over unused weapons. They receive a settlement only if police organise a weapons auction.
Hunters cool on fixed-term permits
Acting chair of the Finnish Hunting Association Ilkka Mäkelä said that it would be a major inconvenience for gun owners to have to renew their firearms licenses every five years, for example. However he said he favoured the idea of a review for senior gun users.
"That would be quite sensible. Looking at the people who pay for hunting cards, many decide to give them up when they are over 75. That would be a good point to have some sort of gun check," he noted.
Mäkelä added that more could be done to encourage people to hand over idle weapons and pointed out that financial compensation would persuade people to turn over unused guns in good time.
UB sourcing guns from burglaries
The National Police Board has estimated that there are thousands of illegal firearms in Finland, but it has not disclosed specific information about the number, type or origin. According to the organisation, research has shown that the illegal arms trade in Western Europe is dominated by specialised players.
Some guns end up with collectors, who may not necessarily have any intention of discharging them. Some, however, find their way into criminal groups.
"In Finland, the weapons used by criminals and organised crime in particular are often stolen from households," National Police Board Inspector Jyrki Aho said.
For example, firearms taken during burglaries have ended up in the hands of the United Brotherhood crime syndicate, police said. At the end of July, a number of people were convicted by the Northern Karelia district court of supplying stolen guns to the United Brotherhood in Tuusula, about 30 kilometers north of Helsinki.
In April, the Helsinki district court convicted an aspiring gang member for storing stolen guns for the gang in Vantaa.
In recent years, police have received about 230 reports annually of theft or aggravated theft involving firearms. By mid-November this year, the number of such reports was nearly 220.