Controversy over liberalizing Russia’s gun laws

Drawing by Niyaz Karim

Drawing by Niyaz Karim

Arguing that handguns in citizens’ hands act as a deterrent against crime and the Russian economy could put on an extra $30B over the next five years if Russia liberalized its gun laws, First Deputy Upper House Speaker Alexander Torshin has announced plans to table a measure this autumn which would allow the citizens to possess and carry handguns.

In a report he released this Wednesday, he acknowledged, however, that his initiative needs to be carefully weighed, lacks majority public support and has so far failed to win followers in the Kremlin or the Interior Ministry.


The controversy, meanwhile, is already raging.


Sergei Goncharov heads the union of veterans of the Alpha counter-terror unit:


"Please consider the situation created by the permission to possess and carry rubber ball guns which fire rubber projectiles. Everyday disputes, including on housing estates and roads, are now often settled with the help of traumatic pistols. Imagine real handguns in their place, and a vision of unmitigated deadly violence will emerge."


A co-author of the Torshin report Dr. Maria Butina disagrees. She calls attention to police statistics showing that only one in a thousand traumatic pistol owners tend to use their weapon in an illegitimate way, and of the 6.5M or so high-velocity weapons legally owned by Russian citizens, a mere handful has ever been involved in any crimes:


"Rubber ball guns fire rubber projectiles and are much less effective as self-defence weapons compared with handguns. For this reason, citizens do not perceive them as deadly and tend to use them quite liberally. Moreover, unlike a metal bullet fired from a handgun, a rubber bullet fired from a traumatic pistol cannot be used by investigators for indentifyingthe owner of the weapon."


In Aurora, where a disturbed gunman burst into a movie theatre a week ago, handguns are outlawed, which enabled the killer to fire his automatic rifle without encountering resistance. He massacred 12 people. In Delaware, where a hoodlum opened fire in a football stadium last May, citizens can carry handguns. This enabled some of them to quickly neutralize the gunman by wounding him. The gunman was the only casualty in the incident.

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