Would a gun make you safer

Austria: The weapon in the closet gives security

"They can all shoot," says the leaflet literally at Markus Schwaiger's customers. Rifles are on the shelf in the sales room of the arms dealer "Euroguns" in the Penzing district of Vienna. "Keep your distance" advises a sign on the counter in Corona times. The one and a half meters are measured here in pistols and rifles. Arms dealer humor.

Shop owner Markus Schwaiger monitors the shooting range in the basement on monitors. In black and white he sees the target and the heads of Christian Ortner, his girlfriend Irina and their four children. There are two pistols and cartridges in front of them, all of them wearing hearing protection.

"Boom". The bang of the Glock pistol is very loud despite hearing protection, it is the standard weapon of the armed forces and police in Austria, because the housing is made of plastic and the weapon is therefore light. "Nine millimeters," says owner Ortner, explaining the caliber as he refills the magazine. Cartridge cases lie on the floor.

Christian Ortner has brought two weapons with him, he points to a Ruger pistol lying next to the cartridges. "It shoots very precisely." The shooter told DW that he had already used the Glock to shoot in the armed forces. He only shoots in the basement for fun, "I inherited the guns from my father."

Customer Christian Ortner with pistols and ammunition in the shooting range

"You are happy when you meet"

Mother Irina aims, she is in the shooting room for the first time, she immediately hits the mark. She cheers, Ortner praises. "It's fun," confirms Irina's daughter, "you are happy when you meet." Gun training with a fun factor, even for the youngest.

Ortner's younger son emphasizes, "It's easy to learn to defend yourself." In response to the objection that he could kill a person with the weapon he is currently reloading, Mother Irina quickly objects: "We only do it here in the cellar."

55 million euros in sales

The shop has a rifle club, of which Ortner is a member. His friends have been shooting for a long time, and he confirms the gun boom: "I've also heard that it has now increased." Weapons manufacturers such as Glock or Steyr-Mannlicher made 55 million euros in sales last year, the sales forecasts for the Corona year 2020 and the next year are optimistic.

Arms dealer Schwaiger is happy about the arms boom in Austria. One day in March, buyers queued up on the street, says the arms dealer: "At ten o'clock in the morning my last cartridge was sold." Then the government of Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz introduced the lockdown rules.

Hamster purchases down to the last cartridge

Between March and August 2020, the private arsenal of Austrians increased by 22,000 firearms, that is 1,000 per week, according to the industry radar. Today 320,000 Austrians have one or more guns at home.

Arms dealer Schwaiger compares the arms-buying frenzy with the hamster purchases of pasta and toilet paper. "Whenever there is uncertainty," he says, "people buy weapons or stock up on ammunition."

A classic act of skipping that suggests security, because a virus cannot be fought with a pistol. The former soldier Schwaiger explains the behavior of his buyers with possible supply bottlenecks. In a pandemic, the supply of electricity and energy could collapse at high infection rates, and looting could occur. That worries people, the gun in the closet gives security.

Like during the refugee crisis

That was already the case during the refugee crisis, when tens of thousands of migrants moved through Austria every day and some of them stayed. At that time, private armament totaled 1,400 weapons a week.

After a small dip in sales, the manufacturers' sales figures rose again during the Corona crisis, 5,000 new gun owners were registered this year. Discussions about tightening gun laws also led to hamster purchases, explains the gun dealer: "They'll want to get stocked up quickly then."

Ordinary people

Fearful rabbits? Or gun fools? Who are the people who feel safer with a gun? Who are Schwaiger's customers? "Every now and then there is someone who comes from the prepper scene," says the arms dealer. But most of them are "completely normal people who are perhaps a bit more worried that something might be".

Schwaiger does not believe that right-wing extremists are increasingly armed legally, most of them are banned from weapons. "They would then have to procure weapons illegally," he says. With his customers, it is "not the case that political aspects are particularly shimmering through".

Little violence with firearms

The police in Austria are not so keen on arming. She fears accidents or simply more violence. Schwaiger waves it away. Only a few attacks on kiosks were carried out with firearms - and if so, then with illegal ones.

The current crime statistics prove him right, they list only 357 acts of violence in 2019, in which a firearm was involved. The statistics do not say whether this was used at all or was just in the pocket. According to the Ministry of the Interior in Vienna, the number of acts of violence with firearms has been falling for years. The preferred weapon of violent criminals is still the knife.

Conspicuous customers get nothing

Arms dealer Schwaiger asserts that he doesn't sell a weapon to everyone anyway. Anyone who is "electrified", is conspicuous, does not get any. If an abandoned husband wanted to buy a gun when he was in a hurry, the rules of the game when selling guns - three days of "cooling off" between the decision to buy and handing over the gun - made things easier.

Schwaiger said he advised against buying a shotgun to a widow who lived alone and away from the city after her husband's death: "She's doing something else." After all, you have to practice with a weapon. The pensioner left the shop with a blank gun. "It scares off and nobody gets hurt."

Shotguns and hunting rifles

The private armament in Austria is made possible by the arms law of the Alpine republic, in which there are traditionally many hunters. According to the State Hunting Association, there are a good 130,000. Access to hunting weapons is easy, the law allows an 18-year-old EU citizen residing in Austria to purchase a "Category C" weapon.

"These are mainly rifles over 60 centimeters in length, so I don't need anything," says Schwaiger. It is enough to go to the arms dealer and sign a purchase agreement. Then there is the "cooling off phase": "During these three days I will check whether there is a gun ban, and then he can pick up the gun."

A 9mm Glock pistol

Farewell advertising note

However, the difference between a hunting rifle and a weapon used by snipers is no longer very great, says the former soldier Schwaiger. "In any case, nobody can store a loaded weapon in the night box", because cartridges and rifles or pistols have to be locked well and stored separately.

A Glock pistol like Christian Ortner's is only available with a gun license, says Schwaiger. The condition for this is a gun license - and a psychological report. The arms dealer also offers that for less than 400 euros. And shooting training. To say goodbye there is a pack of advertising slips to hand out: "Let's all shoot".