By Paul Goble
Many assume moves to allow Russians to own more guns and to do so with fewer restrictions is the work of the gun lobby, the network of companies that make and sell weapons and that benefit from expanding their markets, Vladislav Grinkevich says. But that is not the case: many others, including some individual lawyers are involved as well.
The Russian commentator notes that the actions of the big gun manufacturers always get widespread media attention as do any crimes committed by Russians who own guns legally or illegally. But the manufacturers are no longer the only game in town as far as expanding access to guns is concerned (profile.ru/obsch/item/126357-nuzhno-bolshe-stvolov).
These corporations are supported not only by people in official structures like the Military-Industrial Commission but also by lawyers who have adopted the strategy of “small victories” to extend the rights of Russians to own more guns of more varied types, Grinkevich continues.
“Formally,” he says, the Russian arms lobby “consists of the very same players as the one in the US: arms companies and structures like the Union of Russian Arms Manufacturers, sporting and hunting organizations, public movements, and individual politicians and activists” of various kinds.
But the size of the Russian lobby is entirely different: If the NRA in the US has five million members and is politically powerful, “not a single Russian organization” involved in this fight can count on more than two or three thousand members. As a result, they don’t have the clout and typically follow in the wake of the arms manufacturers.
Russian legislation is “much stricter than in the US, Canada, Switzerland, and Austria” and than in many former countries of the eastern bloc. But “on the other hand, Russians have a greater possibility of owning weapons than do the English and the French” and than do residents of Ukraine, Belarus and Central Asia.
Until approximately 2013, Grinkevich continues, the main goal of Russia’s arms lobby was to change laws so that Russians could own pistols and more rifles and other long guns. That program was promoted by the Right to Arms, founded by Maria Butina, who has attracted notoriety recently following her arrest in the US as a Russian agent.
She and her group were supported by then-Senator Aleksandr Torshin, who is now deputy head of the Central Bank. But despite their efforts and a report they released suggesting that the government would take in billions of rubles in fees if it agreed to liberalization, they did not make big progress with the government or the Duma.
Because these groups focused primarily on pistols, they also alienated many hunting and sporting groups who suggested that this was the wrong approach because it would frighten the population and make it more difficult for sports enthusiasts to gain the right to own more and different kinds of long weapons.
Instead, these groups have been pushing what can be called “the strategy of small victories,” using lawyer activists to push the limits of the law in localities and thus expand gun ownership and gun rights. One commentator said he would call these people “extremist lawyers in the good sense.”
Their efforts, Mikhail Degtyaryev continues, show that “we live in a legal state. We see real results from the struggle for our legal rights. Results with a positive effect.” And these victories have been solidified by certain modifications in laws by the Duma that have expanded gun ownership as well.
Such lawyer activists and the gun lobby more generally have serious support within the government, including Dmitry Rogozin, now head of Roskosmos, Igor Shchegolyev, presidential plenipotentiary in the Central Federal District, and Sergy Kiriyenko, first deputy head of the Presidential Administration.
But they and their allies still face an uphill battle to expand gun ownership possibilities, Aleksandr Kudryashov, the editor of Russia’s leading gun rights publication, Kalibr, says. According to him, “a pistol in contemporary Russia is viewed not as a weapon but as an attribute of membership in a certain social stratum.”
I have the sense, he says, that “if you have a pistol, you are from one stratum. Without a pistol, from another. With a pistol but without permission from a third. All who are focused on this issue know that [someone with a pistol] is either a deputy or a high-ranking official or has 100,000 dollars” to spend.
That is, he concludes, “today a citizen with a little pistol for the present powers that be is just like a peasant with a sabre was in tsarist Russia,” someone who doesn’t quite fit the model that the regime has for itself.