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The Firearms Act should be revised

Provisions allowing the police to take temporary possession of a firearm are unclear, notes Deputy-Ombudsman Jussi Pajuoja on the basis of two recent decisions.

According to the current Firearms Act, the police must take a firearm away from a person if there is an apparent risk of misuse. The police must then decide within two weeks whether to give the firearm back or keep it in its possession.

The police must keep a firearm for a longer time if there are reasonable grounds to suspect that it will be misused or if a procedure to revoke a firearm permit has been initiated. A decision allowing what is referred to as "taking temporary possession" of a firearm is valid for three months.

According to the Deputy-Ombudsman, thresholds for taking possession of a firearm are not consistent. In the first stage a firearm can be taken away for two weeks if the risk of misuse is "apparent". The threshold for taking temporary possession of a firearm is lower: a firearm can be taken away by the police for three months if there are "reasonable grounds to suspect" misuse.

The Deputy-Ombudsman drew this inconsistency in legislation to the attention of the Ministry of the Interior and the National Police Board.

Compliance with the Administrative Procedure Act

There has also been uncertainty concerning what laws taking temporary possession of a firearm must comply with.

According to the Firearms Act, the police must notify a permit holder that it has taken possession of a firearm along with the reason for doing so. When it takes possession of a firearm the police must prepare a record to this effect or enter the information in another document.

The police must also comply with the Administrative Procedure Act. This means that a written decision with justifications must be made concerning taking temporary possession of a firearm or its extension. Appeal instructions must be attached to the decision and the notification of the decision must be provided according to the Administrative Procedure Act.

The police did not follow this procedure in one of the cases that were decided.

Agreements are not allowed

One complainant had brought a firearm to the police department himself, but obviously at the request of the police.

The Deputy-Ombudsman notes that taking away a firearm is by nature a coercive act, which cannot be based on consent or agreement. A citizen can easily interpret police requests as orders that must be obeyed.

According to Deputy-Ombudsman Pajuoja, the police should confine itself to evaluating whether the legal preconditions to take away a firearm exist. The National Police Board and the police department take a negative view of agreements.

Firearm permits must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis

The National Police Board has considered that firearm permits should always be taken away from a person who has been served a restraining order. This position is based on guidelines concerning the harmonization of firearm permits that were issued in 2007.

According to the Deputy-Ombudsman, a restraining order is strong grounds for considering whether to take temporary possession of a firearm. However, it is not in itself sufficient grounds to cancel a permit to possess a firearm.

It is always necessary to evaluate on a case-by-case basis whether a person should not be allowed to possess a firearm according to the grounds in a restraining order.

Additional information will be provided by Senior Secretary Juha Haapamäki, tel. +358 9 432 3334.

Decisions are available on this website, DNo 709/4/09 and 3716/4/09 (in Finnish).