SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina – The wars from 1991 to 1999 as Yugoslavia broke up took up to 200,000 lives, turned millions into refugees and left much of the region's people traumatized and heavily armed. It was the bloodiest conflict in Europe since World War II.
The millions of weapons that remained in possession of civilians after the fighting have caused fatalities every week, as traumatized former soldiers either shoot family members or commit suicide or children find guns at home and die while playing with them.
All of the seven new countries that emerged have banned civilians from owning weapons with varying degrees of success.
Serbia has about three million weapons owned by civilians, according to the Small Arms Survey, a nongovernmental organization from Switzerland. It says Serbia has the fifth-highest number of weapons per capita in the world, with some 38 firearms for every 100 people.
In contrast, the U.S. has 88.8 weapons per 100 people and leads the list worldwide, with Yemen second at 54.8 arms per 100 people. England and Wales are low down on the list with 6.2 weapons per 100 people.
Serbian gun laws were tightened several years ago when authorities proposed an amnesty for all those with illegal weapons. Heavy weapons like mortar launchers that were handed over were impounded, but small arms were allowed, with owners required to get a license and pay taxes on them.
In recent years there have been several incidents where hand grenades were activated during minor arguments, including one last year when four people were killed when they were refused entry into a bar in northern Serbia.
On Tuesday, police said a 60-year-old veteran gunned down 13 people in a house-to-house rampage in a Serbian village. The motive for that was unknown.
Macedonia takes second place in the region, with approximately 24 weapons per 100 people, according to the Small Arms Survey. Authorities have introduced voluntary firearm surrender schemes and weapons seizures to reduce the number of illegal guns, collecting tens of thousands.
Montenegrins have 23 guns for every 100 people, according to Small Arms Survey. Automatic and semi-automatic weapons are prohibited for civilians and handguns are only permitted with licenses. Authorities have confiscated weapons and held voluntary firearm surrender programs, collecting tens of thousands of illicit weapons.
Civilians are not allowed to possess any automatic or semi-automatic weapons, while handguns are only permitted with licenses. Still, according to the Small Arms Survey, there's almost 22 weapons for every 100 people. Additionally, Croatia, like Bosnia, has a severe land mine problem. The Croatian Mine Action Center says the country is contaminated with over 90,000 land mines. Clearing them has been slow and costly.
Kosovo's government has banned civilians from owning weapons and introduced programs to encourage people to hand over guns voluntarily, but there's still 19.5 weapons for every 100 people, the Small Arms Survey says. The law foresees up to five years in prison if caught owning an illegal weapon but enforcement has been lax. Kosovo Police have held TV campaigns with NATO peacekeepers to encourage people to hand over their guns.
The 1992-95 Bosnian war was the bloodiest of all the conflicts that erupted after Yugoslavia's breakup. When it ended, most of Bosnia's citizens were armed but the government declared that all weapons owned by civilians were illegal and offered amnesty to those who surrendered them. A public awareness campaign also pointed out how dangerous weapons can be for children. Tens of thousands brought their weapons to police stations or handed them over to NATO peacekeepers every year.
The Small Arms Survey says the country has 17 weapons for every 100 people. A former soldier once shot his wife with a bazooka after a domestic dispute.
Bosnia is also the most landmine-contaminated nation in the region, with an estimated 120,000 still dotting the country.
Civilians are not allowed to possess automatic firearms since the country declared independence in 1991. Semi-automatic assault weapons and handguns are permitted only with special government authorization. According to the Small Arms Survey, Slovenia is the least armed nation from the former Yugoslavia, with 13 weapons per 100 people.