In the middle of a so-called amnesty that has already seen some 13,500 weapons turned over to the state, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has vowed “repressive measures” to bring gun owners to heel.
After 17 people were killed in separate shootings at a school and three towns on May 3 and 4, Vucic promised to see through an “almost complete disarming” of the Serbian populace and warned of a crackdown once the amnesty ended in early June.
Serbians may have reacted to the news of the two mass shootings with shock and anguish; however, shock soon gave way to anger.
Two demonstrations in the Serbian city of Belgrade drew tens of thousands of people, while smaller marches occurred in other towns nationwide.
They marched under the slogan “Serbia Against Violence,” demanding an end to the “culture of violence” they said was responsible for the recent killings.
There will be other demonstrations, and the government appears shaken.
Due to its long history of partisan activity and ethnic and religious conflict, Serbia has a relatively high proportion of gun ownership compared to other European countries. Due to the absence of an “individual right to keep and bear arms” in the Constitution, many firearms are “illegally” held.
According to Serbian authorities, nearly half of the weapons surrendered thus far were being held illegally.
Bojan Elek, deputy head of the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy and an expert on gun problems in Serbia, claims that “there is no pro-gun lobby in Serbia.”
There is a nationwide gun owners’ group, but they don’t accomplish nearly as much as the NRA in the United States.
The president is also targeting lawfully owned firearms. Mr. Vucic has called for a freeze on all new gun licenses and an examination of all existing ones.
Protesters argue that since the Serbian Progressive Party came to office in 2012, there has been an increase in both rhetorical and physical violence, yet, they want to surrender their guns to a government they are unhappy with.