Russian gun control on the firing line; Recent incidents of gun violence have heated up debates about weapons control in Russia
By Kristen Blyth
Moscow News, January 21, 2013
In the early hours of November 7, 2012, 30-year-old lawyer Dmitry Vinogradov posted a message on his VKontakte profile. “I hate human society, and I am disgusted to be a part of it,” he wrote. “I see only one way to justify it: to destroy as many particles of human compost as possible.”
Hours later, Vinogradov walked into the Moscow offices of Rigla, a pharmaceutical company where he worked, and opened fire on his colleagues murdering six and critically injuring one more. He is now in police custody, still awaiting the conclusion of a psychiatric evaluation.
Vinogradov’s killing spree is not the only recent example of local gun violence. On Wednesday, mafia boss Ded Khasan was murdered by a sniper on the streets of the capital. Last Monday, in Russia’s Republic of Bashkortostan, a 51-year-old unemployed man fired several shots through the window of a kindergarten from his apartment balcony. There were no casualties at the kindergarten, but the shooter himself was killed in a firefight with the police after they stormed his apartment.
Russia is no stranger to bloodshed. Such frequent instances of public shooting, however, are unusual in a country whose laws on private weapon ownership are tightly restricted.
The letter of the law on guns
Ownership of all automatic and semi-automatic guns is illegal for Russian civilians. “Traumatic” pistols and revolvers (shooting rubber bullets only) are legal for self-defense, as well as smoothbore longbarreled (80 cm or more) shotguns and rifles for hunting. Both require licenses: a restrictive process which includes a criminal background check plus medical history and psychological evaluations.
The applicant must pay a number of fees, prove a genuine reason for possessing a firearm, and pass a test on firearm laws and safety. If buying hunting weapons, the applicant must purchase and install a secure wall-mounted gun storage safe which will be verified by a home visit by the police. Each weapon must be registered, during which a sample bullet pattern and cartridge are taken and recorded. Gun owners have to re-apply for a license every five years.
Black market weapons and control
Naturally, Russia’s criminal underworld is not exactly known for paying attention to the existing laws on guns as the sophisticated weapon used in Ded Khasan’s killing indicates. According to Business FM, the murder weapon a Russian-made automatic assault rifle AS Val can only legally be carried by military snipers.
Yet in the wake of recent violence, as well as December’s Sandy Hook elementary school slaughter in Connecticut, the gun debate in Russia has sparked up again, ignoring the issue of the black market altogether.
Irina Yarovaya chairwoman of the Duma’s Security and Anti- Corruption Committee has been an active proponent of tighter weapons control for some time. In November, Yarovaya proposed raising the age for purchasing guns from 18 to 21, banning intoxicated individuals from carrying weapons, and banning weapons entirely from educational and medical institutions and eating areas which sell alcohol. “Those who favor the proliferation of weapons as a means of self-defense create an additional level of threat for society,” Yarovaya told the Moscow News. “The wider the spread [of weapons], the greater the likelihood that they will fall into the hands of the wrong people.” The bill may be passed in the Duma’s spring 2013 session.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has also announced his support of stricter gun control. Following the Sandy Hook shooting, he posted his condolences to the American people on his Facebook page. “It was a terrible tragedy. I fully agree with those who are against free weapon possession.
This is my principal position as well,” Medvedev wrote.
The majority of Russians seem to concur. A 2011 Levada poll indicated that 80 percent of the population does not want looser gun laws.
Others, however, disagree. Federation Council deputy speaker Alexander Torshin proposed an initiative last year to legalize use of short-barreled weapons for self-defense, arguing that it would make Russians “more disciplined.” The proposal met with disapproval from the Interior Ministry and the presidential administration.
Right to Bear Arms, a Moscowbased organization which is dedicated to developing weapon culture, has attracted over 1,000 members so far. Its 24-year-old founder, Maria Butina, claims membership in the National Rifle Association in the United States and is a staunch advocate of loosening Russia’s gun restrictions.
“Our citizens are deprived of normal tools of self-defense, and that plays an important role in public safety,” Butina told The Moscow News. “We have conducted studies which identify a clear pattern: the more a society is armed, the lower the level of criminal violence. This is why there was no Third World War between the Soviet Union and United States: mutual deterrence makes violence non-profitable.”
Gun violence by numbers
Gunpolicy.org has compiled data from multiple sources on civilian gun ownership rates and homicide statistics for countries around the world and it shows no completely consistent pattern.
Honduras, for example, has a relatively small number of firearms (6.2 guns per 100 civilians) but an extremely high homicide rate (81.83/100,000 people in 2010), most of which are committed by guns.
Japan, which boasts some of the most restrictive gun ownership laws in the world, also has very few guns (0.6/100 civilians), but very low levels of violence (0.5 homicides/ 100,000 people in 2008) and a total of only 11 people killed by guns in 2008.
The United States, for a developed country, has an immense amount of weaponry (90 guns/100 civilians) and a high level of gun violence (10.2 homicides by gun/100,000 people in 2009) twenty times higher than Canada’s in the same year, though Canada’s private gun ownership is also none too shabby (24 guns/100 civilians).
In Russia, five million people hold licenses to own weapons. There are relatively few guns in the country: 9 per every 100 people. There is no data available for annual gun homicides, but Russia does have a high rate of criminal violence (15 homicides/100,000 people) suggesting that Russians don’t usually need guns to kill each other.