By: Enid Burns
President Joe Biden has been called the best salesman the gun industry could want, and now it seems that Vladimir Putin as well is turning into quite a gun salesman. However, it isn’t Russians who are buying guns – rather it is the citizens of Lithuania.
Throughout the global pandemic, gun sales in the United States reached historic levels. Even into 2022, sales are outpacing pre-pandemic levels.
Now, firearms sales are turning swift halfway around the world in the Baltic state of Lithuania, where local media report that gun sales increased eightfold in recent months, while applications for gun licenses have more than doubled. Shooting ranges have been seeing a large increase in clients looking to hone their skills while first-time buyers want to learn how to shoot.
The sales are clearly driven by fears from Lithuanians that Russia could invade in the not-too-distant future. Just last month, President Joe Biden warned, “(Putin) has much larger ambitions in Ukraine. He wants to, in fact, reestablish the former Soviet Union.”
While the three Baltic States were under the control of the Soviet Union – and were dominated by Imperial Russia since the 18th century – Lithuania, the southernmost of the three states that also include Estonia and Latvia, is a NATO member. Given that Russia launched an invasion against Ukraine, residents of the Baltic state are preparing themselves for a worst-case scenario.
Lithuanians Buying Guns
Across Lithuania, demand for all types of firearms has been on the increase. Handguns remain a popular option for self-defense, while semi-automatic weapons that could be used in a military situation are among the top sellers. Shops in the Baltic state recently reported selling as many handguns in a week as during all of last year. That surge shows no sign of ending anytime soon.
“I already have small caliber rifles at home but never used them. But now, the disturbances are completely unimaginable. I am very scared for my children,” a Lithuanian buyer told EuroNews.
The sentiment is shared by many Lithuanians, even though the country has been independent for three decades now. All three Baltic states gained their independence at the end of the First World War, only to be absorbed into the Soviet Union in 1939. For more than five decades, they lived under rule from Moscow. Clearly, many of those who remember the final years of that rule, as well as those who were born in a free and independent state, won’t willingly go back.
That is why price doesn’t seem to be an issue even as handguns reportedly cost around €600 ($651 USD) while semi-automatic rifles around €2,000 ($2,171 USD). Used firearms, which are selling in the country for about half the price, are also in extremely high demand.
“Many more clients are coming. They buy semi-automatic rifles – unfortunately, I have no more to show them, I sold them out – and handguns,” added gun store manager Gytis Misiukevicius.
“People buy handguns most probably for self-defense, as they are of course not suitable for war,” explained Misiukevicius. “So, they buy them out of their insecurity, to protect themselves, their families and relatives should something happen. Whereas semi-automatic rifles, they can be used for firefights.”
Lithuanian Gun Laws
Under Lithuanian law, police can issue a license for handguns and semi-automatic rifles to those over the age of 23, while hunting rifle licenses are issued to those over 21. Citizens need to have a “spotless reputation and appropriate medical certificates.”
There are no limits to the number of guns that can be owned, but there are storage rules that must be followed, which has set de facto limits.
At the beginning of this year, there had been around 92,000 licenses issued citizens, and citizens owned just over 181,000 firearms in total. Lithuania’s population is currently around 2.7 million.
Military Surplus Also in Demand
In addition to firearms, military equipment is also selling, with shops across Lithuania reportedly selling out of gear including night vision and thermal vision equipment, flak jackets, and tactical clothes. Much of those goods weren’t purchased for domestic use, however.
The Lithuanian Defence and Security Industry Association said that most of those goods have been bought to be sent to Ukraine as privately funded military assistance.
Military surplus stores across Europe have seen brisk business as Ukrainian expats have attempted to source gear and equipment. Reportedly, surplus stores in the UK have essentially sold out of everything from camouflage uniforms to old helmets to body armor.
Enid Burns is a freelance writer based in Michigan. She covers a wide range of topics from antique relics from around to the world to the latest bleeding edge technology. Her exposure to military history and firearms comes from her husband, fellow freelance writer Peter Suciu, and together they have traveled the world visiting about 20 countries on five continents. Together, they have built a collection of helmets, uniforms and small arms representative of armed forces and conflicts that span the globe. She and her husband continue to travel to military collectibles and antique arms shows around the country to find more treasure and discover more topics to research and write about.