4 August 2021
Rossiyskaya Gazeta – Federal Issue No. 174(8525)
Written by Mikhail Falaleev
Translated by Elizaveta Ovchinnikova
Innovations in the Russian weapons laws – an increase in the age limit, stricter rules for medical examination, tougher criminal penalties for illegal arms trafficking etc. – have caused a mixed reaction in society. The controversy about the need for free movement of weapons among the population has flared up with a new force. We have been talking about such freedom with varying degrees of intensity for three decades now.
President of the International Police Association Russian Section (IPA RS), Lieutenant General, Doctor of Law, Professor, Honoured Lawyer of the Russian Federation Yury Zhdanov told Rossiyskaya Gazeta about the risks of loosening, especially the lack of state control over civilian guns, for ordinary citizens.
- Yury, you must agree, because it sounds beautiful and noble for every self-respecting man: a free person has the right to own personal weapons to protect their Motherland, honour, home and family. However, in Russia, we face some difficulties with this – you cannot have combat pistols, let alone machine guns. And it is becoming increasingly difficult to acquire other weapons – smooth-bore, especially rifled ones. All the dissatisfied people point to America –that’s where the standard is. And they remember the canonical ‘truth’ going like God created men equal. Colonel Colt made them equal. But, apparently, something went wrong?
Mr Yury Zhdanov: ‘Colt the Equaliser’ myth has finally collapsed. What was this theory based on? They say if every citizen is armed, then bandits will be afraid to attack passers-by and rob people’s homes. After all, you can get a bullet at any time. Yes, it worked for a while, although it did not always stop bandits. After all, the mere presence of a pistol or a gun is not enough – you still need to be able to use this weapon. And most importantly, to have time to use it at the moment of the attack on you or your house.
But there was, alas, an entirely different problem. It so happened that the owners of weapons purchased seemingly for self-defence, suddenly turned out to be the aggressors themselves.
It is strange, in our social networks some people say the authorities are simply afraid to arm citizens. And again, they point to the United States – here, they say, there is a very special national culture of gun ownership, unlike us. That is why they can buy any pistol and even a submachine gun without any medical certificates, presenting only their driver’s license. But we have to perform a whole set of bureaucratic exercises to buy a simple double-barreled shotgun or a traumatic pistol.
Mr Yury Zhdanov: First of all, the Russian people are not unarmed – 4.5 million of our citizens have more than 6 million different firearms in their hands. Not every army in Europe can say the same. And secondly, the authorities are not afraid for themselves, but for the citizens, so that they do not start killing each other. As it is happening now in the United States.
- Do you mean the excesses after Floyd’s death?
Mr Yury Zhdanov: It is more than ‘excesses.’ Here are statistics. In the United States, 430 people were killed and 1007 people were injured in shooting incidents in one week. This was recently reported by the American television company ABC on the basis of data collected by the research organisation Gun Violence Archive (GVA). This year, 24 thousand people have already died as a result of the use of firearms in America, and this number continues to grow. And last year, according to the estimates of the GVA, about 43 thousand people were killed in such incidents in the United States. Note that we are talking about the same ordinary people who shot at ordinary people – the owners of civilian weapons, including the notorious Colts. At the same time, remember how many similar tragedies we have? Can you list it?
- But we had them, including in Kerch, in Kazan...
Mr Yury Zhdanov: There were. But it is not 916 cases in just one (!) week, as in the USA. During the ten years of the war in Afghanistan, we lost a little more than 15 thousand people, who were soldiers. And they lost 43 thousand civilians in a year. Do you call this the ‘civilian gun culture?
Russia understands the danger of uncontrolled trafficking in firearms. And I do not believe that the United States does not understand this.
Mr Yury Zhdanov: Of course, they understand. And they even try to fight it. For example, US President Joe Biden has unveiled a new strategy to counter such crimes. On 23 June, at the White House, he launched a ‘zero-tolerance policy’ for rogue gun dealers and a new direction of the Ministry of Justice aimed at stopping illicit arms trafficking. He stressed that the country had ‘for too long’ watched the ‘epidemic of gun violence and other violent crimes,’ and announced a series of decrees.
Among his initiatives is a call for Congress to pass a gun control bill. As an argument, he cited, characteristically, not national statistics but police data from some of the major cities. Thus, 194 murders have been committed in New York since the beginning of 2021, while 171 murders were committed in the same period last year. In Los Angeles, the second-largest city in the United States, the number of murders is 148 compared to 121 last year, and in Chicago, the third-largest city, the number of murders increased from 296 to 307.
- And what about us?
Mr Yury Zhdanov: And our number of murders is decreasing to the level of the 80s.
- What stagnation! Who would have thought!
Mr Yury Zhdanov: Nevertheless, First Deputy Head of the Main Investigative Department of the Investigative Committee of Russia for Saint-Petersburg Marina Parastaeva stated that if 312 murders were registered in Saint-Petersburg in 2011, then in 2016 – already 212, and in 2020 – 149, which is comparable to the situation of the ‘prosperous’ 80s.
- Yes, the reverse process. And how do they explain this in America?
Mr Yury Zhdanov: The logic is strange. A curious conclusion of the US President is that the increase in the number of murders and shooting incidents began last summer after relaxing COVID-19 restrictions.
- Is that all?
Mr Yury Zhdanov: Alas, he did not name other factors.
- What does he offer?
Mr Yury Zhdanov: Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland also met with a group of local law enforcement agencies representatives, community leaders and White House staff on 23 June to discuss their efforts to fight crime. The main thing that the Prosecutor General focused on was that an effective strategy for reducing violent crime should also address the problem of illegal firearms trafficking. It should also pay special attention to ensuring that weapons do not fall into the wrong hands.
- And how to achieve this?
Mr Yury Zhdanov: First of all, arms dealers who violate the rules will be brought to justice. Most federally licensed firearms dealers operate legally by selling guns. But those dealers who intentionally violate the law increase the risk of weapons falling into the wrong hands. In the absence of emergency circumstances, the Ministry of Justice’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) initiates a procedure for revoking licenses from dealers who intentionally violate the law by not conducting the necessary background checks, falsifying records, not responding to tracking requests, refusing to allow the Ministry of Justice’s ATF to conduct checks or transferring firearms to persons who are prohibited from owning them.
- That is, for the sale of weapons without checking the buyer’s biography – just the cancellation of a license? Well, that’s the real ‘fight.’ And we are outraged by ‘draconian measures’ that only block access to weapons to all kinds of thugs...
Mr Yury Zhdanov: No measures threaten their thugs. Here is another example: Biden and the Attorney General talked about controlling the illicit trade in firearms. But what is considered illegal weapons? There are many paradoxes in general. So, in early June, a court in California lifted the ban on assault weapons, which had been in effect in the state since 1989. In his decision, the judge found that the ban violates the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. He highlighted that in the vast majority of cases, assault weapons are used by Americans for legitimate purposes. For example, when protecting homes. Perhaps. But to make it clear, both our Kalashnikov and the American AR-15 rifle, an analogue of the M-16, which is in service with the army and police, belong to assault weapons. In California alone, 185,569 assault weapons were legally registered. It is semi-automatic assault weapons that are often used by criminals who commit mass murders. In particular, the AR-15 rifle, among other things, was used by criminals in the murders at a country festival in Las Vegas and at a gay club in Orlando - the two largest in terms of the number of victims in US history.
By the way, at the federal level, the ban on the sale of assault weapons was in effect in the United States from 1994 to 2004. In March of this year, US President Joe Biden called on Congress to re-adopt such a law, this happened after two mass murders in a row occurred in the country in a week.
- When our President proposed to change something in the gun legislation, fundamentally new acts appeared. Were Biden’s concerns heeded?
Mr Yury Zhdanov: I am afraid they were ignored. The President is calling, and state judges are acting according to their beliefs.
So are the governors. Biden says that he wants to tighten something there, and Texas Governor Greg Abbott signs a law allowing people to carry firearms without a permit and without a background check. This law, which comes into force on 1 September 2021, can be used by anyone who does not have a criminal record for serious crimes or other legal obstacles to owning weapons.
- Russian governors do not allow themselves to do this, especially when it comes to the safety of people. And in general, our licensors would try to issue a permit for the purchase of a gun just like that. A natural question: where are the American police looking?
Mr Yury Zhdanov: To be honest, I feel sorry for the American police. I feel very sorry for my overseas colleagues. They are really in a very difficult situation, where they have got thanks to their own authorities.
Judge for yourself – on the one hand, Biden spoke about the need to hire an additional number of police officers. On the other hand, one of the Biden administration’s main innovations was the reduction in spending on the police Cities such as Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, Portland, Oregon, Austin and Texas have transferred funds from police departments to social service programmes. Therefore, in all states, regardless of their political orientation, the police are understaffed. Employees are afraid to go in uniform, they are afraid that they will be attacked, they are afraid to fight back against ‘racially correct’ aggression.
- We should assume that this does not contribute to reducing the crime rate.
Mr Yury Zhdanov: It still does not contribute. In Minneapolis, where the notorious criminal repeat offender Floyd died of a drug overdose, the city council unanimously approved a budget in which about $ 8 million was transferred from the police department to violence prevention and other programmes. As a result of these ‘preventive measures,’ the number of murders in the city has increased by 46 percent.
And in New York, the number of murders in the city has increased by 11.8 percent since the beginning of the year. In 2021, the number of shootings increased by 40.1 percent and the number of shooting victims jumped by 39 percent during this period. By one and a half times!
It is unlikely that they will be able to defeat crime in the near future, practically without fighting it. And, first of all, without controlling the circulation of weapons – both legal and illegal.