Project: Targeting weapons - misuse of weapons in Serbia

Only one in a hundred illegal pistols is legalized

“Vecernje Novosti”, a Serbian high circulation daily, in its Sunday edition, published a feature about the results of recent action of illegal small arms and light weapons collection / legalization of firearms which are allowed for the possession by civilians according the law. The article highlighted the fact that Serbian Ministry of Interior in February 2015 estimated there between 200.000 and 900.000 pieces of small arms and light weapons were illegally possessed, while  7 500 pieces were surrendered or legalized during the three months amnesty campaign. That means that in the best case, only each 30th piece was legalized, while in the worst that was each 120th.

The feature is based on comments of Dr Ivan Zverzhanovski, Head of the South Eastern and Eastern Europe Clearing House for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SEESAC), and Svetlana Djurdjevic-Lukic, CENTAR’s director.

Dr Zverzhanovski stressed that more than 2 000 weapons, more than 16 000 pieces of ammunition and around 1 000 bombs and explosive means were surrendered, while 4 500 requests were submitted for weapons registration. It means 7 500 pieces of fire arms and explosive means, were out of illegal use - far from the set goal, but these results are similar to recent campaigns conducted in the region and elsewhere. He stressed that national regulations are among the most rigorous in the world, and that the new Law on firearms and ammunition introduces obligatory medical check of the citizens willing to posses arms, on every five years. Purpose of this measure is to prevent misuse of arms. But, success of the law usually depends on its implementation, Zverzhanovski underlined [summarized by Centre].

Director of Public Policy Research Centre, Svetlana Djurdjevic-Lukic, who has been following small arms related issues in the context of human security, stressed that each surrendered piece of explosive, pistol or gun potentially saves one life. From that point, this action has had results.

“If we compare the figures given by the Ministry of interior - of surrendered 287 automatic guns, 32 ‘’scorpions’’ pistols, 15 hand-held mortars and 1 107 hand grenades and other explosive devices - to the results of previous legalizations, results are far below the action taken in 2003. However, it was during extraordinary measures, action ‘’Sabre’’, i.e. Martial Law. Collection of illegal weapons at that time was conducted under pressure of security structures which intensively carried out numerous seizures, while many citizens were fostering optimistic expectations about resolute and continuous fight against criminal. These factors influenced high number of collected weapons. This year’s action is specific as higher number of pieces of ammunitions was surrendered compared with the previous actions: 158.000.”   


High taxes discourage firearms owners to legalize them and that is the main reason for low number of submitted requests, according to our interviewee. She notices the substantial gender misbalance in weapon possessing: a percentage of women in weapon possessing is low, but they are frequently the victims of accidentally or intentionally incidents in relation with weapons, committed by men - family members, former partners or stalkers.       

The analysis of 400 news reports, uploaded during two years on the platform of UN Development Programme ‘’Targeting Weapons”, which Center conducted for UNDP, demonstrates that men are perpetrators of incidents (287 cases). 32 more times than women (9 cases). Women are 5 more times in a place of victims. Total number of fatal victims of firearms misuse due to domestic violence is higher than due to criminal showdown, even if the reporting about criminal in the media is more frequent. The question on using of weapon for intimidation within family is still not opened.

- Field work among youth in Bosnia and Herzegovina which I conducted last year, shows that weapon is present in partner relationships even between minors. Shooting during weddings, and other types of celebratory fire, is also dangerous; it has not been sanctioned properly, and it’s tolerated considered as a part of folklore, even sometimes encourages. In such cases victims of stray bullets and ricochets are usually women and children.


According to interviewee, the greatest weakness of this completed action is the fact that campaign, that should present data and to explain consequences of misuse and nonprofessional weapon use, especially for women and children, was not very well designed.

This action was an ideal opportunity for Ministry of Interior to announce data about consequences for the physical integrity, including those related to gender and age, about the context of incidents, relations between the perpetuator and victim, and to design a campaign targeted to specific group of citizens and locations.

Law on Weapons and Ammunition was passed with one year delayed effect in order to conduct all preparations for its implementation, including this campaign. However, the National Assembly adopted amendment that action must start immediately after the promulgation of the Law. This move was contra productive because of lack of time for the preparation of a campaign.

[The article includes also comments of Petar Panic from the National Association for Firearms]