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29 Jan, 2010 05:08

Ordinary Russians arm themselves for protection

More and more Russians choose to take their protection in their own hands, as they buy guns and obtain permits for them.

There are some five million gun owners in Russia with nearly half a million in Moscow alone – and, according to the Russian Interior Ministry, that number is rising.

One of the reasons behind the increase is the police. Corruption, poor crime detection and, especially, a spate of recent crimes involving police officers have heavily damaged public trust in law enforcement. One of the highest-profile incidents happened last April, when a senior police officer went on a shooting rampage at a Moscow supermarket killing two and injuring seven people.

Gleb Obukhovsky, a shooting instructor and collector of guns, says people should not rely on the police when it comes to fighting crime:

“I don't think it's safe on the streets and it's getting worse every year. I think it's time for people to learn how to use weapons to be able to take their safety in their own hands.”

Under Russian law, ordinary citizens can obtain permits to own two types of weapons: those for hunting – including shotguns and rifles – and guns firing rubber bullets for personal protection only. Professionals say rubber bullets can also be highly dangerous without proper training – as the punch they pack is often underestimated and could even be lethal.

“Unfortunately, many people don't take these rubber bullet or trauma guns seriously. But we try to teach people that any gun has to be treated as a weapon. And I can tell you, these guns are no exception and can do a lot of damage,” explains shooting instructor Maksim Larin.

Permits are only granted after an applicant has undergone complete medical checks, which include, among others, a mental health assessment. Drug, alcohol-abuse and criminal records are also examined.

“The law has clear rules on how to own, store and, most importantly, use weapons. If a person shoots someone when their life has not been endangered by them, the gun-user could face a jail sentence,” says lawyer Sergey Zaynulin.

Alla Glinchikova, from the Institute of Globalization and Social Movements, says that expanding gun ownership threatens to legitimize criminality and spread violence.

[Gun ownership] will not solve the problem of protection against police. The problem should be solved by curing the ill of the state, and police are part of the state,” Glinchikova says.

While Tim Wall, editor in chief of the Moscow News, says community involvement should be an integral part of fighting police violence.

The problem needs Russian people themselves, who would actually participate in the process and demand changes,” Wall suggests.