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Guns, Class, and Ethnic Strife in Russia

Glock 9mmFrom: Sergei Roy <sergeiroy@yandex.ru>
Subject: Re: guns in Russia and Arizona
Date: Tue, 18 Jan 2011

Last week's shooting spree in Arizona, the last ­ pardon me, the latest in a long series of similar incidents, appears to have added ammunition to Russian President Medvedev's campaign to severely restrict the sale of non-lethal, "traumatic" handguns in this country (no question at all of RF citizens being permitted to own ordinary, lethal handguns). To me, this seems plain silly, as was the whole of the media campaign obviously mounted on orders from above. The gun situation in the United States should be left strictly aside as bearing no resemblance at all to what we have in Russia.

Medvedev's drive against non-lethal weapons appears to me, as someone who has been the target of a lethal attack, to be one of the worst, most iniquitous of our talkative president's numerous initiatives. Its aim is to conserve the present situation in which the absolute majority of Russian citizens are left without any legal means of defense against criminals.

The most obvious, nay, glaring aspect of gun ownership and generally protection of individuals in Russia is its social, class character. Briefly, the haves either have guns or people with guns to protect them, the have-nots have their bare hands. A few years ago I had some stimulating conversations with four-star general Andrei Nikolaev, then Duma deputy and former head of Russia's frontier service. According to him, Moscow alone then had 100,000 private security guards. That's ten full complement divisions. I'd say the rich (self-appellation "elite") were more than adequately protected, whatever the gun laws.

What about the not so fortunate have-nots? They are said to have millions of weapons, with "400,000 people legally keeping 470,000 weapons" in Moscow alone. All I can say is, there are lies, damn lies, and Interior Ministry statistics. The absolute majority of those millions of "weapons" are shotguns, maybe good for hunting but absolutely useless as means of self-defense. As an old hunter, I legally own three such shotguns. According to the standing rules and regulations, I must keep those guns disassembled, under lock and key in a safe or metal box, with ammunition kept in a separate place. Our uchastkovy (sort of local police overseer) regularly checks on this. Any criminals planning breaking and entering would have to give me a call at least half an hour in advance to let me find the damn key, open the safe, assemble my gun, find the ammo, load the gun, etc. As for publicly carrying a shotgun for self-defense, well, that's good for a joke, or as a means of getting oneself locked up, pronto.

One could understand Medvedev's drive to ban non-lethal, self-defense weapons if the crime situation in Russia were, say, at the European level. With Russia's murder rate 34 times greater than Germany's, an ordinary Russian feels about 34 times more vulnerable to lethal attack than a German, and proportionately more in need of some weapons to defend him/herself.

That need would be not as pressing if the police in this country were a proper shield against crime. Well, numerous polls show that most Russians fear their police ­ with good reason, as some high profile cases have shown. Last year, a police major shot dead several people in Moscow with a pistol he held illegally, as most of them do in addition to their service guns. In the Kuban region, 12 people, including children, were murdered in a single home. It was the scale of the crime that prompted a more than usually thorough investigation, and it revealed an absolutely rotten picture of police chiefs, public prosecutors and judges hand in glove with outright criminals. It has been publicly admitted by Kuban governor that similar situations could have arisen, and do arise, all over the place (v. the Gus Khrustalny case that was only investigated after Premier Putin intervened).

Apart from the class, there is also the ethnic dimension to citizens' helplessness in the face of crime. The whole of the Caucasus is heavily armed, both illegally and legally. President Ramzan Kadyrov of Chechnya appears to believe that a handgun is part of the costume of a real, macho man of the Caucasus, a djigit. One would very much like to know how many permits to carry guns (ordinary, lethal guns) have been handed out by the officials of those Caucasus ethnic republics. Now, the owners of those guns carry them into Russia proper ­ and use them with impunity, bribing their way out of legal prosecution. The recent murder of the football fan Sviridov by a criminal from Kabarda, a man with two previous convictions released from prison Allah knows why, caused mass disturbances in the square by the Kremlin walls. But that was only one incident in a long series of cases where those djigits used their weapons ­ and went scot free. If it were not for the riotous behavior of young people in Manezhka, shooting Sviridov in the back of the head would have been dismissed as self-defense, little doubt about that.

Medvedev and official supporters of his drive have a curious argument in favor of making self-defense weapons virtually inaccessible to Russians: there is no proper gun culture in Russia, like there is, say, in America; the Russian people "are not ready" to own guns. Our president obviously follows in the footsteps of that Kaluga governor in Czarist Russia who forbade the movement of motorcars through city streets "until the horses get used to them..."

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