From Iceland — Great Moments In Icelandic History: Police Try To Buy Machine Guns From Norway

Great Moments In Icelandic History: Police Try To Buy Machine Guns From Norway

Great Moments In Icelandic History: Police Try To Buy Machine Guns From Norway

Published November 30, 2022

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Wikimedia Commons

On October 21st, 2014, Icelanders woke to the news that the Icelandic police had acquired an arsenal of MP5 machine guns and Glock 17 semiautomatics.

While this might not be news in many other countries, Icelandic police are known for not carrying sidearms, let alone machine guns. There is a “Viking squad,” the Icelandic SWAT, but regular officers typically keep pistols in a locked box in their patrol cars rather than on their person.

What followed was a truly Icelandic example of finger-pointing, blame-shifting, and excuses.

Was it a gift or a purchase?

The natural question to this news was: why? Almost immediately, the public received two contradictory explanations.

Jóhannes Þór Skúlason, then an assistant to former Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, responded to criticisms on Facebook, stating that the guns were a “gift from Norway,” and that the cost to the Icelandic state was none. He added that the guns were a part of the “good teamwork in police matters” between the two countries.

This contention, though, directly contradicted a statement made by then chief of the National Commissioner of Police, Jón F. Bjartmarz, who told RÚV the police bought 150 machine guns.

Icelanders protest, Norway has receipts

The next day, hundreds of Icelanders turned out in front of Parliament to voice their objections to the police owning these weapons, demanding they be sent back to Norway.

Jón Bjartmarz told reporters that the Icelandic Coast Guard acted as a middleman in the weapons purchase, but when Icelandic Coast Guard director Georg Lárusson was asked he was initially vague on the details, saying he did not exactly have all the information on the matter, only to later contend that they were a gift.

The one time the Customs Office was based

Due to the nature of the dispute—that is, on whether the guns were a gift or a purchase—Iceland’s Customs Office seized the weapons and warehoused them, refusing to hand them over until the Coast Guard could provide proof that they were indeed gifts from Norway.

If they were a purchase, then the Icelandic state would be on the hook to pay VAT on the weapons. Anyone who has ever had to contend with the mysterious fees imposed by the Customs Office on gifts and purchases from abroad can attest that these can get pretty expensive.

Norway comes forward

With all this back-and-forth and no one providing any clear answers at home, Icelandic media reached out to Norwegian authorities, who turned out to be a lot more forthcoming.

Dag Aamont, a spokesperson for the Norwegian army, confirmed that the Icelandic Coast Guard signed a deal with the Norwegian army on December 17 of the previous year to purchase some 250 MP5 machine guns to the tune of over 11 million ISK.

Bent-Ivan Myhre, a spokesperson for the Norwegian Ministry of Defence, backed this up by telling Icelandic reporters, “We signed an agreement for the sale of 250 MP5 submachine guns for 625,000 [NOK] on December 17, 2013. That is the price of purchase and will be paid. That has always been the plan.”

This befuddled Icelandic reporters, that is, until the Norwegian Army said that the Icelandic Coast Guard had asked that the entire deal be kept a secret. Whoops!

A Farewell To Arms

Amid protests, both within Parliament and amongst the general public, as well as the very public embarrassment over the whole thing, the Icelandic Coast Guard opted to simply return the weapons rather than go ahead with what had proven to be a very unpopular decision that was not at all a secret anymore.

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