After two mass shoortings, Serbia’s gun control debate heats up

As Serbians reel from two mass shootings in as many days, experts in gun control point out that although incidents such as these are rare, the country’s citizens are among the most highly armed in the world.

According to the Small Arms Survey, an independent research project based in Switzerland, Serbia and Montenegro, rank joint third behind Yemen and the US in gun ownership. There are 39 officially registered guns per 100 citizens in Serbia.

Gun ownership per 1,000 people. Source: Small Arms Survey

“The region has a very strong firearms culture,” said Aaron Karp, a researcher with the Small Arms Survey.

“So the guns are going to stay there. A big advance would be bringing more of the guns into the registration system and that’s an important national debate that the country has been postponing.”

The survey believes compliance with registration could be stronger and that more emphasis could be placed on more modern and lethal weapons.

Small Arms Survey expert Aaron Karp

“The really dangerous guns are semi or fully automatic,” he said. “It’s modern guns. The really old guns are great Grandpa’s rifles. It’s dangerous, but it can’t be used for mass killing. It’s just not suitable for that. If the law and registration, if security measures, can address modern weapons, that’s a big advance.”

Registered firearms in Serbia

However, data quoted by Serbia’s president Aleksandar Vucic, suggests the number of registered weapons in the country has been in decline in the last decade, falling from 1.2 million weapons in 2012 to just under 800,000 in 2023, a 33 per cent decrease.

But some observers feel the official statistics only tell part of the story. There are estimates there could be as many as 1.5 million guns in circulation in Serbia. Some may be left over from the Balkans war, others may have been smuggled into the country.