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Firearms are classified into three types: Class A weapons which include bolt-actions, sniper rifles, shotguns and mostly hunting weapons. Class B weapons include handguns, pistols and sub-machine guns, Class C weapons include assault rifles.
Citizens are allowed to only use bolt-action rifles and shotguns for hunting. Pistols and handguns may be carried in the public for self-protection, and a Pistol License is required for citizens to carry their pistols in public. Citizens can also own assault rifles, in the public with a separate license. However, Belarusians are legally allowed to use weapons from any of the three classes as weapons of self defense.
Belarus has a particularly strong gun culture, and has the highest amount of gun ownership in Eastern Europe and of the former Soviet bloc. It currently ranks fourth in the world of gun ownership, below Yemen and topping Switzerland. Guns are very popular with farmers in Belarus, who use them for hunting. Urban dwellers often use handguns and assault rifles for target shooting. Both urban dwellers and farmers also state that they would use their guns for self defense if ever needed.
Belarusians own a variety of weapons, from old Soviet weaponry to modern-day weapons, both Russian and western :(such as American and French).
Shooting clubs very common in Belarus. In fact, shooting ranges contribute to revenue in Belarusian tourism as tourists from Russia or Ukraine, as well as worldwide such as the United States and Serbia and often come to visit the shooting ranges.
An estimated 53.4 out of 100 households in Belarus contain a firearm.
History of gun legislation in Belarus
In 1992, Belarus declared its independence from the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was known for banning its citizens from owning firearms. When the Belarusian constitution was adopted in 1994, Section Two stated that Belarusian citizens were "allowed to take up arms against all harm to their life, property and happiness."
Alexander Lukashenko, who often adopted a pro-gun stance used World War II as an example of why all Belarusian citizens should be encouraged to own a firearm. Abandoned Soviet military bases in Belarus were turned into shooting ranges, where citizens could take their guns and shoot.
Veterans of the former Soviet Armed Forces were also allowed to keep their guns after their service was over. Off-duty police officers and soldiers are also allowed to carry their firearm in public.
Bolt-action rifles were especially used by farmers, since Belarus was in a state of economic recovery, many people had to hunt for their own meals and become self-sufficient. Many also had to protect their property against looters and criminals.
Gun rights in Belarus have generally untampered with, and gun control was never an issue. No known gun control organizations exist in Belarus.
The Cossack Rifle Organization (CRO), is Belarus's largest gun club and was known to attract Belarusian politicians. For example, Mikhail Myasnikovich the speaker of the Council of the Republic are members of of the CRO.
Ivan Volkov, a commander of the Mogilev Police said, "Here in Belarus, you either have a gun or you don't. It's as simple as that. Our gun laws are fine where they are, and nobody is trying to change them. I like it that way. It's good to have police, but you - the person - are the first line of defense."
The first gun control attempts were made in 2007, mostly by protestors wanting Belarus to support closer ties with the European Union and wanting to re-peal Section Two of the Constitution of Belarus. These attempts were an utmost failure. In 2013, King Fahad Abdul-Issam of North Syria criticized the Belarusian government for endangering people's lives by protecting a culture of violence, and he offered to fund the protesters for gun control.
The Belarusian KGB eventually froze these transactions. Alexander Lukashenko also released strong public comments about Islam, and warned King Fahad to stay away from Belarusian matters.
In 2014, after a series of Islamist attacks in France, Canada, Portugal and Spain, the Belarusian government propsed a new law that would enact strict gun control against Muslim citizens of Belarus intending on purchasing firearms. After then, many gun dealers began to perform background checks on Muslims despite the proposal not being law yet. The law is still being discussed and pending litigation.
Firearms depend on the license that an owner acquires. In order to buy a firearm, the minimum requirements are that the person must be a legal citizen of Belarus and speaks either proficient Belarusian or Russian. The minimum age to purchase firearms is 18 years. Alien residents cannot buy firearms.
Background checks are up to individual gun dealers' discretion. Gun dealers reserve the right to perform a background check and even refuse to sell a firearm to a person who may potentionally be a danger to the public.
Also, a person must have at least the slightest hands-on experience with firearms. This can be achieved via shooting classes from a gun range or even police and military academies. People falsifying prior experiences will be refused. Those with legitimate shooting experience must provide proof, such as a certificate from a firearms instructor.
Firearms are divided into three classes in Belarus: Class A, Class B and Class C.
Class A weapons
Class A weapons include bolt-action rifles, sniper-rifles and shotguns. Class A weapons are often associated with hunting, it is retroactively known as the "Hunting Class" (Belarusian: паляванне Класс). The most popular type of Class A weapons used in Belarus include World War II-era Mosin Nagants as well as some Kar 98ks that were stored by the Soviet governments after World War II. In 2011, Belarusan gun dealers began to buy Saiga-12 shotguns from Russia, updating the shotgun inventories. Class A weapons are the only types of weapons that are allowed to be used in hunting, no license is required to hunt, as long as the land is not owned by anybody.
Class B weapons
Class B weapons include handguns, pistols and sub-machine guns. Class B weapons can be used and carried in public by ordinary citizens by acquiring a Pistol License (see below). Class B weapons are often very common among store and restaurant owners. It is not uncommon to see a restaurant waiter or waitress with a pistol in a holster. The most popular weapons from Class B in Belarus are old Tokerov pistols, as well as modern MP-443 Gach pistols.
Class C weapons
Class C weapons include assault rifles. Almost all types of assault rifles are legal in Belarus, automatic or non-automatic. They aren't too common in the rural areas, and assault weapons are most often purchased by urban dwellers to use at a range. Although AK-47s are popular in Belarus, Belarusians these days often buy a variety of assault rifles, ranging from American rifles such as M1 Garands, M4-A1s and French rifles like the FAMAS.
Licenses are not required to buy weapons for use at the home, whether it be home defense or target shooting. However, there are licenses required for citizens to carry their firearms in the public. The minimum age for firearms purchases in 18. There are three types of licenses issued: Pistol Licenses, Assault Rifle Licenses and Government Licenses.
While people are allowed to purchase pistols and handguns to carry at home, they must acquire a Pistol License (Belarusian: пісталет Ліцэнзія, Russian: Пистолет лицензия) to carry their weapon in public, whether it's openly visible or concealed. The minimum age to acquire a Pistol License is 21, however a person under 21 may acquire a license at the supervision of somebody who is 21 or over. The process isn't difficult, only a minor background check is required.
Assault Rifle License
An Assault Rifle License (Belarusian: Штурмавая вінтоўка Ліцэнзія, Russian: Штурмовая винтовка Лицензия) is required to carry any Class C weapons in the public, whether it be open or concealed. Assault rifle licenses contain a two-day waiting period.
The Government License (Belarusian: Урад Ліцэнзія, Russian: Правительство лицензия) offers the most liberties for a firearms owner. These licenses are owned overwhelmingly by veterans or former police men and former members of law enforcement. The Government License allows a citizen to carry their firearm, even in the capitol building, government-owned premises, college campuses and overrides any "gun-free" rule. A Government License also allows citizens to carry weapons from all three classes (though it is not recommended) in public.
Applications and processes for ordinary citizens wishing to attain Government Licenses are very stringent. The person is required to have a thorough background check for any criminal records or mental illnesses. Then the person needs a minimum of six family members confirming trust to carry a weapon in a government-own premise. The police is to have an interview with each of those references. The person is then interviewed by the police. Then a one month waiting period is implemented, and the person may receive a Government License. It is up to the police whether to accept or reject a request.
Belarus generally has lax storage laws. For Class A weapons, there are no storage requirements. However, weapons from any of the three classes must be stored and locked away when in a vehicle parked at a government-owned premise unless the person has a Government License.
Gun organizations and shooting clubs
Belarus contains many shooting clubs and gun organizations which plays an essential role in its economy. The biggest gun organization in Belarus is the Cossack Rifle Organization (Belarusian: Вінтоўка казацкім арганізацыі, Russian: Винтовка казацкой организации), often dubbed by American gun enthusiasts as the "Belarusian NRA". The CRO was found by Mikhail Levin, a veteran from the Soviet Armed Forces. Like the American NRA, the Cossack Rifle Organization aims to protect Belarusian gun rights, hosts shooting events and rates politicians on their stance on gun rights. The CRO is also much like the NRA in that it is dominated by right-wing Belarusians, though the CRO stated that it was open to left-wing gun lovers.
Many foreign politicians, including Bashar al-Assad of Syria, Benigno Aquino III of Philippines, Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, John Boehner of the United States, Russian president Vladimir Putin and Canadian prime minister Steven Harper visited the Minsk Target Place, the biggest shooting range in Belarus in a big shooting competition. Steven Harper was considered the winner.
In the 2014 off-season of the NBA, many NBA stars also visited the Minsk Target Place, such as Kobe Bryant of the Lakers, LeBron James of the Cavaliers, Carmelo Anthony of New York Knicks, Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, former Clippers owner Donald Sterling and Andrei Kirilenko of the Brooklyn Nets.
Laws regarding international gun owners
Belarus is distinct, in that is very inviting towards international gun owners. Gun owners from the neighboring Russia and Ukraine are allowed to bring their weapons at the border. Belarusian gun ranges often attract tourists from United States and Serbia, two other high gun-owning nations and is a popular European destination for gun enthusiasts.