Vienna, July 20 – As the economic crisis deepens and fears of crime spread, not only are more Russians buying guns of various kinds – including pistols and gas guns -- but many of them are buying more than one, trends that are prompting some Duma deputies to consider repealing existing restrictions on the purchase of hunting rifles for self-defense.
But as could be expected on the basis of the experience of other countries, many of these guns are not used for self-defense but rather in settling personal scores or, the Russian interior ministry says, in the kind of ethnic and group conflicts that have already left many dead and could claim more lives as gun ownership spreads (newizv.ru/news/2009-07-20/112048/).
According to an article in today’s “Novyye izvestiya,” “besides the unemployed, activists of certain organizations are arming themselves.” The paper gives as “an example,” the Movement against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) “whose members have been directed to obtain for themselves not only licenses for guns but guns themselves.”
Over the past decade, the paper reports, ownership of guns of all types has increased approximately five percent a year, but in the course of the last “crisis” year, the number of people owning them has gone up by seven percent and the number owning self-defense weapons has risen “more than 10 percent annually.”
Residents of the capital, the paper continues, are “arming themselves more actively than others,” with the number of guns for self-defense as opposed to hunting and sports shooting officially sold in Moscow from July 2008 through June 2009 amounting to 37,000, with the possibility that the actual number was still higher.
“Novyye izvestiya” says that there are already 213,000 people in the Russian capital with officially registered self-defense weapons – approximately one gun for every 60 residents – and there are 1.2 million owners of such guns in Russia as a whole, a figure that it just under one percent of the country’s total population.
Owning and carrying weapons of self-defense, Vladimir Yermochenkov, the deputy head of the Moscow militia’s licensing administration told the paper, is “becoming generally accepted.” And Vladimir Zhikharev, the head of the interior ministry’s department for weapons control, added that “people do not intend” to stop buying guns for this purpose.
The main reason Russians are doing so, polls suggest, is fear of criminals. The interior ministry reports that crime has been falling, but, as “Novyye izvestiya” points out, “citizens do not believe the assurances of the law enforcement agencies and not infrequently purchase guns with their last rubles.”
Purchasing such guns can be expensive, with a gas or trauma pistol costing a minimum of 20,000 rubles (600 US dollars), and the licensing procedure prolonged, often lasting two months or more. Electro-shock pistols are cheaper (1500 to 4000 rubles or 50 to 130 US dollars), and gas canisters are even less expensive but experts say they work “only as a defense against dogs.”
Any adult can acquire a license for such guns unless he or she has been convicted of a crime, is an alcoholic or drug addict, or has been judged “psychologically” ill. Such licenses are good for five years and must be carried at all times, the paper notes. Losing a self-defense weapon entails a fine of 2500 rubles (80 US dollars), far less than the cost of a pistol.
As part of the licensing procedure, applicants are required to take an examination on their knowledge about the rules of using guns. The interior ministry has proposed that in addition, they be required to take special courses “in order to reduce the speed with which citizens are arming themselves.”
But if Russian law enforcement agencies are moving in one direction on the regulation and control of weapons, at least some members of the Duma are moving in another, with several deputies having proposed a bill that would allow some Russians to acquire more heavy-gage weaponry for self-defense.
Admittedly, “Novyye izvestiya” says, “not all” Russians would be given that right: “Only those who had served in the force structures not less than five years,” an idea that the Russian government says it opposes and one that certainly will do little or nothing to reassure ordinary Russians about their safety.