As of 2022, 678,592 registered firearms are held by 168,349 people in Belgium, an increase of over 8,000 new registered weapons, according to statistics obtained from the Ministry of Justice by Belgian newspaper Sud Press.
In other words, the average gun licence holder has around 4 weapons. Hainaut, in Wallonia, remains the most heavily-armed area in Belgium, also explained by the large number of shooting clubs and historical shooting traditions, such as pole shooting.
Most weapons held in Belgium are held legally and there is a long history of shooting tradition across the nation. Sud Press spoke with Walloon families who were encouraging children as young as 8 years old to participate in sports shooting.
Shooting ranges offering classes specifically for school children are becoming increasingly popular and sport shooting in the country continues to grow. According to the shooting centres interviewed by Sud Presse, shooting teaches children responsibility and concentration, among other things.
With extremely strict licensing and registration laws, Belgium has one of the lowest homicides by firearms rates in Europe.
Problematic weapons sales
Despite this figure, Belgium has gained a reputation for its vast black market of illegal firearms, which are trafficked from across Europe by organised criminals.
Until 2006, the country had relatively liberal domestic gun legislation and an influx of weapons from the Balkan wars led to increased reports of illegal firearms in the country.
A 2017 report by the Flemish Peace Institute called Belgium a “lethal cocktail of criminal supply and terrorist demand.”
As the legal registration of firearms in Belgium has increased, so have cases of illegal possession increased. Since 2009, there has been a 6% increase in recorded possession of illegal firearms and explosives in Belgium, spiking at 20,358 recorded cases in 2018.
Registered firearm owners often complain that crime committed by criminals with black market weapons reflects badly on law-abiding gun owners. Accidents at shooting clubs are extremely low and insuring a shooting range is significantly cheaper than insuring a football venue.
Even legal gun ownership has come under the spotlight this year. On 4 April, a five-year-old boy accidentally shot his sister in the head after discovering their father’s CZ38 9mm pistol in Seraing on the outskirts of Liège, critically hospitalising the young girl. The weapon in question was both secured and legally owned.