Two weeks ago, tragedy struck the United States of America after a gunman rampaged through a high school in Parkland Florida killing 17 people. The occasion quickly gave rise to a yet another nationwide discussion over gun control, regarding whether it is appropriate to implement rules limiting the access and ownership of guns – and the respective type of weaponry.
In the context of this discussion, we have decided this month to take a glimpse at our laws concerning gun ownership and usage. In fact, gun control regulations have been in place for a long time in the Macau SAR. At least since 1973, since the approval of the first Weapons and Ammunition Regulation, the possession of any firearm or other object normally used by security forces, among others, is regarded as a weapon and requires a license issued by the Public Security Police.
After 1973, two other pieces of legislation were further approved, namely Decree-Law no. 11/93/M – which reviewed the sanctions for the possession, usage and bearing of weapons – and Decree no. 139/SAS/99 – setting annual fees to be charged for issuing or renewing licenses for the usage and possession of defense and competition weapons and for issuing authorizations for possession of collection items.
The said legislative diploma no. 21/73, the Weapons and Ammunition Regulation, then underwent a major revision, in order to bring it in line with the current times, namely given the considerable technical and technological evolution of weaponry in general. The result of such review was Decree-Law no. 77/99/M, which was approved and published in the Official Gazette on 8 November and thus entering into force 30 days later in the same year, having revoked the majority of the previous legislation.
The legislator began by classifying the different existing weapons, separating self-defense weapons from competition, ornamental and collection weapons, and also defining forbidden weapons and ammunitions
In Macau, the license for usage and possession of a defense weapon may be granted to a common citizen provided that the necessary legal requirements are observed. Accordingly, these defense weapons consist of pistols and revolvers of a caliber not exceeding 7,65 mm (•32) and having a barrel length not exceeding 10 cm. It should be stressed that this is no ordinary license, and the administration holds a high degree of discretionary power in the process and under substantial criteria, which results in the fact that only a few are able to meet the administration’s standards for holding a gun. The conditions set by law to obtain a license are as follow:
- to be of age;
- to show adequate moral and civil creditworthiness;
- to show the need to carry a weapon for personal or family-related defense, due to special life situations or the risk inherent to carrying out a given professional activity;
- to have basic weapon handling ability.
On the other hand, certain political and government official entities benefit from a special exemption which entitles them to the possession, usage and bearing of any of the aforementioned defense weapons without having to apply for a license. They are, namely:
- The Chief Executive and the President of the Legislative Assembly;
- Ministers or equivalent entities;
- Members of the Legislative Assembly;
- Judges and Prosecutors;
- Other entities exceptionally authorized by the Chief Executive.
Other important aspects are also regulated in this diploma such as internal and external weapons and ammunitions sale, other registrations, exchange of weapons between license holders, among others.
As far as sanctions are concerned, the regime prescribes a wide range of fines applicable up to the amount of 200,000.00 patacas, without prejudice to criminal liability in the more serious offences.
We would like to finish by highlighting that our system does not provide for a constitutional right to bear arms – unlike in the United States of America, in which the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the right of the people to keep and bear arms since 1791 – and overall, the access to firearms is, in the Macau SAR, as aforementioned, quite restricted.