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Surprising Portuguese Gun Policy
You probably will not be surprised to learn that I am not too fond of guns. I realize there is some truth in the saying guns don’t kill people…people kill people. But a person with a knife is able to kill fewer people than one with a semi-automatic. So imagine my surprise when I learned a private citizen can own a semi-automatic in Portugal.
Now to be fair, it would appear Portugal’s gun licensing requirements are much more stringent than in the U.S. For example:
Portuguese citizens are allowed to own firearms for hunting, target shooting, pest control, and collecting. Self-defense is not considered a legal reason for owning a firearm.
The National Firearms Center (an organization affiliated with the police) is responsible for all licensing and regulations. It also oversees all firearm-related crimes.
To own a rifle you must be 18 years of age, pass a thorough background check, mental exam, and police interview. To own a handgun you must be 24. There is a 30 day waiting period.
Gun permits are relatively expensive, and failure to maintain and renew permits in accordance with the law results in strict penalties and confiscation.
It is considered a felony to leave a loaded and unlocked firearm unattended.
Comparing the Numbers
Based on data from the University of Sydney gun ownership has actually declined in Portugal over the last 10 years. It is estimated that there are about 2.1 million guns in Portugal of which 1.4 million are legally registered. This compares to nearly 400,000,000 in the U.S. This works out to 21 guns/100 people in Portugal compared to 120/100 in the U.S. The rate of gun deaths is equally striking. In 2019, Portugal's rate of gun deaths was 0.99 per 100,000 compared to the U.S. at 12.09 per 100,000. Gun violence is often noted as a reason younger expats, with children, have decided to move overseas.
As I researched this post I found many different studies, and not every study agrees on the precise statistics. However, the numbers did not diverge very much. It is also interesting to note that countries with more restrictive gun laws have less gun violence. The United Kingdom which does not permit ownership of semi-automatic weapons or handguns had a gun death rate of only 0.17 per 100,000.
I wrote before that we travel with a curious mind. To me learning “what works better” is one of the most important benefits of travel abroad. And, of course, I understand there is a difference between correlation and causation. So perhaps it is my inherent bias that leads me to believe that stricter gun laws mean fewer gun tragedies. What do you think?