Duma deputies draft tough new amendments on weapons law

The right to bear firearms will be granted only on condition that character references are provided by two existing owners of firearms. Source: Alexei Malgavko / RIA Novosti.

The right to bear firearms will be granted only on condition that character references are provided by two existing owners of firearms. Source: Alexei Malgavko / RIA Novosti.

Firearms can now be seized without trial, and licenses can be revoked not only from violators, but also from their guarantors.

From now on, citizens deemed a threat to society could have their weapons seized out of court. Amendments to Russia's Law on Weapons are to be submitted by members of the State Duma – the country’s lower house of parliament. The bill provides for tougher legislation on the issuance of firearms licenses, stipulates two mandatory character references for potential owners, and raises the legal age for ownership.

The initiative follows in the wake of last week's mass shooting, committed by 29-year-old lawyer Dmitry Vinogradov at the office the pharmaceutical company Rigla.

Alexander Ageyev, one of the authors of the bill and a member of the political party A Just Russia, told Izvestia that the amendments to the Law on Weapons are intended primarily to deprive potential offenders of firearms.

"Repeated statements by family members or neighbors' complaints about drunken brawls to the district police may now serve as grounds," he explained. "If it's not the first time it's been reported, or if the drunken quarrels and bad language have gone on for several days, then firearms will be impounded."

Furthermore, the bill stipulates regular psychological examinations for gun owners. Duma deputies also want to impose severe restrictions on the issuance of licenses. To begin with, licenses will be issued for six months, and thereafter for one year, three years, and five years. In addition, the minimum legal age for ownership of firearms will be 21 (or 25 for rifles).

"We adopted the Soviet model, when people had to apply for a weapons permit. They registered, underwent psychological checks, neighbors were interviewed, and the district police could check up any time," said Ageyev.

In addition, the right to bear firearms will be granted only on condition that character references are provided by two existing owners of firearms. These guarantors should possess a license for the same type of weapon as the applicant. Moreover, if the latter is subsequently convicted of an offense, the guarantors will also be stripped of their licenses.

"Guarantors must be 100 percent sure that the applicant is not aggressive or dangerous, and in full control of himself," Ageyev said.

Another sponsor of the bill, Mikhail Serdyuk, is convinced that the problem will not be solved by amendments alone. His intention is to begin work on a new draft of the Law on Weapons.

"The law in its present form is very weak," said Serdyuk. "It’s full of holes and contains mostly references to various police regulations and orders. We propose to make wholesale amendments to the law and develop an organically integral document." 

Maria Butina, chairperson of the NGO Right to Arms, is critical of the idea of out-of-court seizure of licenses, but considers it appropriate and necessary that they be suspended in cases where the public is at risk.

"A suspension could have prevented the recent incident with Vinogradov. His mother could have written a statement about her son's mental state, and his license would have been suspended before the matter was duly investigated," Butina said.

However, in her opinion, the final decision should rest with the court. Otherwise, the license withdrawal procedure could be open to corruption.

Butina also supports the proposal for mandatory guarantors, but considers the condition that they own the same type of weapon to be an unnecessary obstacle.

Meanwhile, she is categorically opposed to raising the age limit.

"The government issues 18-year-olds with machine guns and sends them to hot spots to defend their homeland. But now they want to stop them from protecting their homes and families. There should be no double standards," said Butina.

After the massacre carried out by Vinogradov at the Moscow office of the pharmacy chain Rigla, calls to tighten control over the circulation of weapons also came from Russia's Interior Ministry. The ministry proposed that the president empower police to seize weapons and revoke licenses, prohibit private security guards from using personal weapons, and ban the sale of ammunition and parts to unlicensed buyers.

The shooting on Nov. 7 provoked a major stir. Armed with a Vepr-12 smoothbore carbine and an Italian-made Benelli, Vinogradov came to work and shot his colleagues, killing six of them. Before carrying out the deed, the lawyer posted a manifesto of contempt for humankind on his VKontakte social network page.

Presently, any citizen of Russia who is 18 years of age or older and in sound mental health, with no medical complaints, is able to obtain a license to own smoothbore firearms. The license may be for hunting purposes, in which case he or she must join a hunting club and obtain proper certification. The license may also be for self-defense, whereupon the weapon must be stored at home and never carried on the person.

First published in Russian in Izvestia.

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