The following is a guest blog by a Ukrainian gun owner.
There is an old joke about people and guns here in the Ukraine.
A man went outside and saw his neighbor showering a flowerbed using lubricating oil.
“What are you doing, my friend?” he asked. “Your flowers will wilt!”
“Sure,” his friend replied. “My flowers will wilt, but my machinegun will not rust!”
Such is the state of firearm ownership in the Ukraine. The right to own a firearm is heavily restricted. With Russian soldiers and tanks in our streets, you might think a citizens’ militia would be a reason to remove such restrictions. But it isn’t and decades of such restrictions have led to well lubricated flowers here.
From the first stone axe used by one caveman against another, the right to arms for self-defense – and national defense – is one of our oldest stories. So too is the story of craven government agencies preventing self-defense and causing bloodshed as a result. The easiest way to control is to dictate.
I would like to tell you about the modern Ukrainian situation concerning firearms, legal and illegal guns, and people’s right (or lack of a right) to own and to carry guns.
The way the law works
It is no secret that war has come to the Ukraine. Russia, the Soviet Union’s reincarnation, is laying its violent hands on our land. That is why the subject of firearms is merely important to us … it is a matter of survival and independence.
Ukrainian firearm laws are designed to keep the average citizen from owning anything but hunting weapons, and to make getting those as difficult as possible. Without an equivalent of America’s Second Amendment, all gun laws are by bureaucratic edit. Our Ministry of Internal Affairs provides guidelines, rules, regulations and plenty of delay, but no law guides them.
All legal gun owners in Ukraine fall into one of a few groups:
- Members of the army or the police.
- Deputies, prosecutors, judges and well-connected connected half-officials/half-criminals.
- A small group of sportsmen and people with award guns.
- All other (The legal weapon in Ukraine we could separate to army and civil, and civil separates to hunting or sporting weapon. Therefore, most of Ukrainian gun owners obtained guns for hunting, but few of them sought-out hunting licenses. Most of us need a pistol to protect ourselves, but we are instead forced to buy rifles or shotguns).
The last item starts painting the picture about armed self-defense in the Ukraine. You can, with great effort, get a rifle or shotgun for hunting. But a pistol for protecting yourself cannot be legally obtained. Most Ukrainian citizens have no right to buy a pistol, though in rare instance the government may award you a pistol, typically if you are well-connected. The Ministry of Internal Affairs should know how many award pistols are in the Ukraine. Yet when journalists try to get this information, the Ministry’s press-office insists that such information is secret. Non-official sources say you can be “awarded” a pistol if you have about $15,000 U.S., with the price of the pistol (all monetary units in this article are U.S. dollars, but keep in mind the salaries for Ukrainians are much lower, and thus the relative expense of firearms and bribery is much higher).
You might think that in a country so rigidly regulated that the Ministry of Internal Affairs would have a fair estimate on the number of guns not under flower beds, as well as crimes committed with guns and legal shootings (what Americans call “justified”). Interestingly there exists no official statistics of legal weapons in the country. Why?
“By 2005, official accounting of permissions does not appear accurate, and some of the old data has been lost by the police. All data, every month is brought from districts to central office on floppy disks.
So it is physically impossible to get official data from the Ministry. However, according to our count there are about 2.5 million of licensed weapon in Ukraine, and about 1.5 million people are the gun owners [ED: from a population of 43 million]. There are hunting arms (smooth-bore and sliced), traumatic [ED: low-velocity, small caliber, rubber bullet firearms that reportedly don’t even bruise a person] (about 300,000 units) and awarded (about 25,000-40,000 units).
According to statistics of the Ministry for 2014 year, there are 217,614 gun permissions (you can find the scans of official Ministry’s answer and statistic here: http://zbroya.info/ru/blog/5939_statistika-po-vydannym-v-ukraine-razresheniiam-na-oruzhie-za-2014-god/).”– Told Georgiy Uchaykin, Chairman Ukrainian Gun Owners Association.
Statistics for illegal guns in the Ukraine are laughably unreliable, even if one estimates the number of flower beds here. The Swiss Small Arms Survey project claims the volume of illegal weapons in Ukraine was between 2 to 6 million units (quite a spread) and this doesn’t count recent Russian imports. However, after talking with some knowledgeable people about their observations, the Small Arms Survey estimates could easily be multiplied by five.
One reason why there are fewer than 400,000 legally owned guns and between 2-30 million illegal ones is price. All gun shops in Ukraine are owned by a small number of Ministry of Internal Affairs ex-officials. They have, in effect, created a small monopoly on firearm retailing, and thus control prices and keep them high. A shotgun starts at 230$ and 330$ for rifles. AK-47 made by a Ukrainian state plant and converted from the Army’s stockpile by “modernizing” it by blocking automatic fire (in fact – breaking one internal piece in it) sells from 890$ to 1,471$ at gun shops. [ED: The average weekly salary for a Ukrainian worker, depending on the region, is from $100 to $500, making a civilian AK-47 an expensive firearm]
But the money isn’t the hard part for a Ukrainian citizen that wants a long gun. Getting permission is the socially expensive part. To get a permission to buy smooth-bore hunting weapons you
- Must be 21 years old for shotguns, 25 years old for rifles.
- Go to the Ministry of Internal Affairs permission center (which is only open a few hours a day, and only three days a week)
- Complete an application form
- Provide them a copy of your ID, your photos and proof of where you live or alternately are registered (for example, I live in one district of Kiev with my husband, but I am registered in another where my parents live – to get the registration papers, I had to get my husband, three neighbors from different flats, have them all should sign the paper stating that I lived there, and we can do it only 1 time a month)
- Buy a safe (yes, all guns have to be stored in safes)
- Visit a training center twice; first to take a number of exam questions and second (one week later) to pay over 7$ and to pass a live shooting test – shoot five bullets from 22lr pistol
- Go to a medical center, where you pay 21-34$ to obtain a medical certificate that states that you can own and use the gun
- Go to one of those monopolistic gun stores (not mandatory, but is highly desirable) and pay 50% of the gun value to ensure you can get the gun you want (because the permission period to actually get a gun is only three months)
- After waiting one month, go back to the permission center and pay 45$ to cover administrative fees to get written permission to buy the gun [ED: $45 is about 1/3 of the weekly food costs for a Ukrainian family]
- Go buy the gun
- Wait 10 working days register it
- In 1-3 months receive the official permission to own, keep, carry and use the gun
It is almost as bad as California! We don’t even conceive of instant background checks in the Ukraine.
In theory, in a month from your first visit to the permission center, a district police officer must come to your home to verify that you live there and that you have a safe in which to store your gun. But in all the experiences I and my associates have, the policeman newer comes. The same situation exists for the training – no one really cares. Before coming to that training I learned all the materials – from criminal law relating to firearms, to the Ministry’s instructions about firearms, to first aid theory, to ballistic theory, all the hunting rules – and my instructor told me that I am crazy for studying so hard … no one need such information and that the 30 exam questions were simple enough.
The ways the law doesn’t work
That is the legal way to get a gun in the Ukraine. There are also half-legal ways, which are primarily used by deputies, prosecutors, judges, connected half-officials/half-criminals and I estimate 30% of ordinary citizen gun owners. The half-legal way involves providing 300$ plus copies of your ID and photos to a Ministry of Internal Affairs ex-officer. In a month they move the paperwork from hand to hand within the Ministry, saving you running around the city, taking medical examinations and training in any way. Even if you have a previous criminal conviction that might otherwise prevent you from getting permission to own a gun, this is your best alternative – you just need to pay more money than someone who hasn’t been a criminal.
Then there is the absolutely illegal way. This involves paying money to a Ministry of Internal Affairs ex-officer or an army officer/ex-officer and get a gun without waiting and permissions. These become flower bed fertilizer.
The first and second methods still only get you a shotgun or hunting rifle. No revolvers. No pistols. Nothing better suited for self-defense. The reason is that there is little in the way of justifiable self-defense as a matter of law. We have instead institutionalized victimhood.
Think for a moment the practical effects. You will not walk about the city with a rifle on your shoulder. First off, it is strange and won’t win you many friends. Second, it too is illegal. When transporting your hunting rifle, you must carry the gun unassembled and without the magazine in it, which makes it perfectly useless. Third, it is inconvenient to protect yourself with a rifle in the center of the city.
Protecting yourself with a shotgun or rifle in your home is a bit more practical, but largely illegal. By Ukrainian law, you may have a right to own a gun, you have a right to train with it, you have a right to hunt with it. But you will have big problems protecting yourself, your family, your home or other people with your gun. This despite a stated right to self-defense.
The Constitution of Ukraine, according to the Basic Law, states that every citizen “has the right to protect his life and health, life and health of others from unlawful encroachments.” The right to self-defense enshrined in the main document of my country and it is an inalienable right of every citizen. But the definition of self-defense is not spelled out in the constitution, and thus has been squashed by bureaucrats and judges. The first and third parts of Article 36 of the Criminal Code say that injury to the person who infringes (the attacker) shall be necessary and sufficient for the immediate prevention or stopping of an encroachment. Causing severe damage (death or grievous bodily harm) to the person who infringes, must meet two interrelated circumstances: danger of assault and environment protection.
Translating this legalese to the people’s language, you can protect yourself by means that do not exceed those is attacking. If you are small thin woman returning from parental duties with a child, and you jumped chunky “hopnik” (a.k.a. Ukrainian white trash) with a stick, you can defend yourself and your child with only a stick. If “hopnik” has a knife, then only a knife. If he has a gun, then only a …Oh, sorry. Ordinary people (those without a spare 15,000$) can have only a “traumatic” gun, which at a distance greater than a few meters away are ineffective, and the less effective if they knock and not shoot. Or you will be judged for exceeding the boundaries of self-defense.
Some claim these limitations on self-defense are by design. Weapons are regulated by internal order of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. These orders and instructions of the Ministry can change then by its own will. All legal weapons trading is farmed-out by the Ministry, an organization which is totally against the people’s right to defend themselves assumedly because this will lead to a reduction in crime and reduced funding of the Ministry. It is much easier to make money by selling fewer guns at higher prices, and the demand will stay high is street crime does.
If you distrust our Ministry of Internal Affairs, understand we do as well since most of its workers from Crimea and East region betrayed Ukraine, going over to the Russian/terrorist side at the beginning of the war.
Why we know so little about crime and guns in the Ukraine
It is about as hard to get statistic from the Ministry as it is to get dirt off a flower bed machine gun. Yet the quantity of crimes with legal guns is too small (since there are so few and people fear using guns for self-defense due to it being considered “excessive force”). Add to this that the authorities do not like to show these statistics to the public. The newest information comes from the years 2002 through 2012. In that 10 year period, there were 33,500 murders. Of these 1,150 were committed with guns, or about 3.5%. The Ministry does not provide the number of murders with legal guns, but unofficial sources says – there are few such incidents over a ten year period.
Example: in March 2012 in the town Kodima (Odessa district) a 62-year-old businessman named Oleksiy Sokolov used his legal rifle to shoot two of the four robbers who climbed at night into his building. Those two are alive and were convicted of robbery, mugging and car theft. Alas, Sokolov has been charged with a criminal action under Article 118 (exceeding the boundaries of self-defense).
Ordinary citizens are always guilty, even when they are not!
So we have to ask about the illegal guns in that case. We may never know. Ukrainian authorities do not like showing this problem to the outside world, and don’t discuss personal realities inside of the Ukraine. When you visit the official Ministry of Internal Affairs web page, you see news about illegal guns one after another:
However, when you will visit the Ministry of Internal Affairs web page for English speakers, you will see nothing in the news about illegal guns at all:
Why does the government change the story depending on the reader? Many theories have been provided. I believe there exists an uncomfortable theme for the government, one where perhaps 10% of people with illegal guns are criminals, and the other 90% are otherwise law-abiding citizens … people who grow lots of flowers, who are hiding guns, machineguns, whizz-bangs, grenade-guns, explosive and other essentials for bad days (and watching Russian tanks prowl our streets makes this prospect very real). Lot of our soldiers and volunteer soldiers, who are protecting our country from Russia, are burying weapons for such bad days. This creates a problem for the Ministry of Internal Affairs – if they caught these gardeners, they would catch our country’s defenders and our national heroes.
Government’s no-win design
So when you have a painful process to get gun ownership permission, suffer high prices, and are absolutely unprotected by law when you do defend yourself with a gun, a huge number of illegal guns find their way into the hands of good people. What is it the Americans always say … that when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns? Every gardener in the Ukraine was made into a criminal by their own government.
Our people are not criminals. They do not want to kill innocent people. They do not want to take someone’s property. They do not want to do illegal things. They just want to protect themselves from those that do. Protect themselves, their families, friends, neighbors, country. There are a growing number of flower beds in the Ukraine. The people lubricating the flowers may be doing something illegal, but not criminal.
The Ministry’s main official argues against changing our gun law, claiming it is easier to criminals than it is for criminals to get weapons. That is a mare’s nest. Criminals do care about gun laws. They already got guns and they are not interested in law at all. Only law-abiding citizens need a fair gun law, but they do not have it. Add to this the real need that war presents, and you have otherwise law-abiding citizens acquiring illegal guns and studying horticulture.