Discussions on the need for a law to regulate arms trafficking among the civilian population have been going on for years. The petition on the president’s website has already collected the necessary number of signatures, and its authors urge Zelensky to ensure Ukrainians the right to protect their own lives. Together with experts, we tell whether this law is necessary and what its risks and advantages are.
Does Ukraine need a law on weapons?
Dmytro Sinchenko, the head of the public organization Association of Political Sciences, is convinced that this topic is long overdue, and Ukraine has long required a legislative settlement of arms trafficking.
“In Ukraine, the rights to own and bear arms by citizens were limited by the communist dictatorship since the Soviets were afraid of their own citizens. Then, citizens were powerless, all decisions were made in the communist party. Citizens did not even have the right to defend themselves or to protect their private property. We still have to reap echoes of the Soviet past – after all, the Ukrainian courts still allegedly don’t recognize the right to self-defense for citizens, making the decisions in favor of attackers. We have to get our rights back.”
Serhii Krymets, a representative of the gun owners movement Your voice will affect, also insists: the adoption of the law on weapons will help to realize the right of the Ukrainians to protect their lives.
“Should citizens be allowed to effectively exercise their constitutional right to protect their lives, health, and property from unlawful encroachments? According to the Instructions on the Organization of Response to Criminal and Administrative Offenses in the Units of the National Police of Ukraine, the estimated time of arrival of the police to the scene can be up to 10 minutes in the city, and up to 40 minutes in rural areas. In reality, it is much larger. So how appropriate is it to give citizens a chance to survive this period of time and wait for the police?”
Viktor Shendybylo, a lawyer in the National Corpus, agrees that the law is really needed and explains: in 2007, a real “legal vacuum” was formed on the issue of arms trafficking.
“So, after the abolition of the law “on property”, contrary to the norms of the Constitution and the Civil Code, there is not a single law in Ukraine that would affect this issue. In fact, the only act regulating the circulation of weapons is the instruction approved by the order of the Ministry of Internal Affairs No. 622 of 1998. It means that the executive power replaces the legislative power, and one minister can determine the rules of arms trafficking throughout the country at his own discretion. Moreover, article 263 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine, which provides for liability for illegal handling of weapons contains the wording ‘without permission provided by law’. But the law which would provide permission for the weapon doesn’t exist! What responsibility could there be?”
Ihor Lubkivsky a psychologist, an analyst and a volunteer involved in the rehabilitation of ATO (OOS) soldiers also supports the need to adopt the law on weapons, because, according to him, now it is all regulated by “strange Soviet laws” and “by unknown departmental regulations”. So sometimes the situation reaches the absurd point.
“The law on the circulation of weapons is necessary – especially regarding the Soviet regulations, which for some reason allow the possession of short-barreled weapons only to a selected few. This privilege is unambiguously necessary to cancel, in particular, the Verkhovna Rada deputies need to be deprived of this right for sure – to make them work so hard that they wouldn’t need to be afraid to go out and meet citizens. Perhaps, it is even necessary to allow to own certain types of weapon to owners of private estates for the purpose of self-defense. After having regulated the concept of ‘self-protection’ by the law.
But as to allowing the possession, and especially concealed carrying of handguns – we should definitely abstain from doing it. Especially when you consider what strong, financially powerful international arms lobby is behind this – because we will certainly not be able to “roll back” if necessary after such an introduction.”
What are the risks?
Dmytro Sinchenko does not exclude that the increase in legal circulation of weapons could lead to a parallel increase in accidents as a result of careless handling of a gunshot.
“However, this is a justified risk because I expect less of such cases than crimes that can be avoided with the legalization. However, it should be understood that together with the legalization of firearms, it is necessary to change the judicial practice. Citizens should have the right to shoot robbers without the fear of punishment.”
Serhii Krymets is convinced that the adoption of the law will only regulate and clarify the legal relations that have long existed in our society, and serious risks, in his opinion, do not really exist.
“The fact is that according to the official data, the citizens of Ukraine now have more than a million barrels of registered weapons. According to official statistics of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, they count 30-70 cases of illegal use of registered weapons per year, which includes careless handling, accidents and the like. That’s a tiny fraction of one percent. That is, we can’t say that it is the weapon that puts the Ukrainian society under any risk.”
Andrii Martynov, in turn, fears the possible strengthening of “conflict potential” in society and notes that now there is no effective law enforcement system in Ukraine.
“Shooting by ‘unknown snipers’ on February 20, 2014, on the Maidan in the center of Kyiv, gave a lesson that in case of acute public conflicts uncontrolled circulation of weapons can happen. It is an open question whether the conflict potential in society will increase under the influence of the expected libertarian reforms. The problem lies not even in the legalization of arms trafficking, but in the absence of an effective law enforcement system in Ukraine. If even in the United States, where a policeman is protected and respected, and the state has a real monopoly on legal violence, excesses with weapons give the number of victims equal to the internal conflict of ‘low intensity’ according to official statistics, in the case of Ukraine, this practice is hardly relevant.”
Liliia Brudnytska believes that the only risks are psychological because the weapon, according to experts, requires not only liability but great self-control as well.
“I can talk about it as a person engaged in bench shooting with military weapons for several years. When you have a firearm in your pocket, you are tempted to pull out a gun at first sight and scare your opponent. That, in fact, is happening more and more often, and even in military units. Judging myself, I would say, it is very hard not to use a weapon if you have it. But we were taught that a gun in your pocket is a great cooler for emotions. It should be used as a last resort. Therefore, in my opinion, it is necessary to provide either psychological courses on handling such weapons or wide promotion of the rules for it in the law on weapons.”
What are the benefits?
Serhii Krymets is confident that the adoption of the law on weapons in practice will embody the principle laid down in the Constitution on equal constitutional rights and freedoms and equality of citizens before the law. However, this, according to the speaker, is not all.
“In addition to the establishment of rules of the access to means of self-defense that are uniform for all, the adoption of the law will lead to the opening and development of a network of institutions throughout the country (schools, shooting ranges, clubs, shooting sites, etc.) for the training of gun owners. And it is thousands of workplaces and millions of hryvnias of taxes in the state budget.
The experience of the countries where the right to self-defense weapons is regulated by law shows a decrease in the crime rate. After all, a criminal who plans an assault always has a threat to get repulsed by an armed victim.”
Dmytro Sinchenko reflects about reducing crime, economic growth, and several more potential benefits in his commentary.
“First of all, the reduction of crime. Practice shows that in countries with legal trafficking of firearms, crime rate falls significantly. Second, the growth of the economy and the increase in tax revenues. Legalization will bring the market out of the shadows and the government will get revenue. Third, the increase in the country’s defense capability. Armed men will resist any occupier. Fourth, reducing the risk of the usurpation of power. It is easier to shoot unarmed protesters than those who can shoot back.”
Viktor Shendybylo notes: the adoption of the law on weapons is a matter of public safety, and a gun in your pocket can often be much more effective than a phone conversation with a police officer because it can really save your life.
“In addition, under the conditions of the war with Russia, the number of illegal weapons has increased significantly in our country. It is clear that criminals will have access to it under any conditions, but without an adequate law on weapons (which will allow short-barreled rifled-pistols), law-abiding citizens will be deprived of the opportunity to protect themselves.
In addition to proper legal regulation and improving the level of protection of citizens, the adoption of the law will create a number of economic benefits. Thus, clear rules of circulation will allow to launch the arms market, import and develop our own production which stimulates the creation of new jobs and economic growth of our country. Instructors will be needed to conduct courses on the handling of weapons which will allow to also employ veterans of the Russian-Ukrainian war.”
Liliia Brudnytska notes that the adoption of the law on weapons can increase the level of responsibility of citizens because, according to the speaker, weapons are very disciplinary.
“An imaginary example: the confrontation between the residents of the neighborhood (activists) and developers will be on an equal footing when armed activists will come out against the no less armed security structures on the side of the developers. The latter will think seriously before shooting people. In addition, the legalization of weapons will bring the majority of unregistered “barrels” out of the shadows and at least in this way allow for assessing the real volume of its turnover in Ukraine, and perhaps even detecting supply channels.”
Text by Dmytro Zhuravel