“Lithuanian culture, mentality [and] traditions… are sufficient to prevent such tragic events from happening,” one Conservative lawmaker told Euronews.
Politicians in Lithuania want to widen access to automatic firearms, claiming it would make the country safer, though others warn the changes could bring new dangers.
Two conservative MPs have put forward a bill amending the Arms and Ammunition Control Law to allow those who have been conscripted and completed initial military training to own automatic firearms.
Amid the grinding war in Ukraine, Laurynas Kasčiūnas – one of the lawmakers behind the proposal – claimed it would “strengthen national security.”
“In case of a security threat, a population trained and equipped with automatic rifles can be mobilised quickly. This is particularly valuable for small states which might have limited standing military forces,” he said in a statement sent to Euronews. “With limited defense budgets… [this] can be a cost-effective strategy for national defense.
“The knowledge that a population is well-armed and trained can act as a deterrent to potential aggressors,” he added. “It makes the cost of any hostile action higher, as they must contend with widespread armed resistance.”
The Ukraine war has fuelled deep-seated fears about a revisionist Russia in Lithuania, once part of the USSR.
Approximately 10,000 more firearms were purchased in the country since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, according to the Lithuanian Gun Owners Association. These sales were mostly by hunters and for sport, but also those concerned with self-defence.
However, experts have warned about the potential dangers of looser gun controls.
Speaking to Euronews in August, Dr Brian Wood of the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) said increased numbers of guns can lead to more threats to the public and rob them of their freedom.
The researcher blasted what he called an “almost romantic nation” that firearms make people safer as “simply not true.”
Automatic weapons can fire continuous rounds or bursts, depending on the model, and can have large, easily changeable magazines, meaning they can kill large numbers of people.
Lithuanian opposition MP, former prime minister Saulius Skvernelis even warned, in November, that the legal changes could bring US-style mass shootings to Lithuania.
He told the Lithuanian radio station radio Žinių Radijas that boosting police and other services would be a better way to prepare for possible threats from invasions.
Paulius Saudargas, the other MP behind the bill, told Lithunia’s public broadcaster LRT the changes would open up the possibility of owning automatic guns to 100,000 people – only 28,000 of whom are in the active reserve. The Baltic country’s population is around 2.8 million, as of 2022.
In an email to Euronews, the Conservative lawmaker claimed wider accessibility of automatic firearms would not be a danger to society.
“There are very few incidents in public life in Lithuania due to the possession of weapons,” he said, citing the lack of “shootings in the streets” as an example.
“Lithuanian culture, mentality, traditions and security system are sufficient to prevent such tragic events from happening.”
Research by the University of Syndey shows there were 30 gun deaths in Lithuania in 2019, which includes accidents, homicides and sucides. The cause was not specified in their data.
Saudargas said applicants who wanted to purchase automatic guns would be subject to psychological checks, repeated every five years. Existing rules also put age limits on owning powerful weapons.
Wider access to automatic weapons increases the risk some may end up in the hands of criminals or terrorists.
Such weapons could pose an issue for Lithuania’s neighbours and the wider EU if they are smuggled out of the country.
Only professional and volunteer soldiers and members of the Riflemen Union can own so-called “Category A” – automatic or semiautomatic – weapons, under the existing rules.
Seventy-nine people owned 122 categories A weapons: 115 semi-automatic and seven automatic, data cited by LRT from October shows.