The right to bear arms: assessing the accessibility of self-defense for Ukrainians during full-scale warfare

Before the onset of full-scale war in Ukraine, approximately three hundred companies were engaged in supplying weapons to the civilian population, including pneumatic, traumatic, and hunting firearms. This occurred despite legislation regulating firearm use, significantly influencing the market. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), in 2021, over 1 million firearms were officially registered. However, estimates suggest that the quantity of illegal weapons surpassed two or even three million. Has the situation changed recently? Let’s delve into this topic in the following article.

Acquiring a firearm license in Ukraine: a lengthy, complex, and unclear process

The firearm licensing system in Ukraine remains a vestige of the Soviet era — characterized by bureaucracy, intricacy, and artificial obstacles. Furthermore, the data provided on firearm quantities is unreliable due to the absence of a unified database. In practical terms, there has never been oversight of the recording of «firearms» in territorial subdivisions. Consequently, it is unsurprising that even within the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), the accurate number of issued permits remains unknown.

The situation unfolds as follows: Ukraine possesses a firearms market, individuals are keen to make legal firearm purchases, but there is a lack of specific legislation. In the absence of dedicated laws, reliance on the outdated MIA Order No. 622 from August 21, 1998, became necessary. According to this order, obtaining a permit involves completing specific training at a specialized center, obtaining the requisite certificate, purchasing a certified safe for storage, and requesting a local law enforcement officer to verify compliance.

 

Originally, Ukrainian citizens were required to obtain two distinct permits — one for purchasing a firearm and another for its storage and use. The first document was issued by an inspector from the Department of Preventive Activity or a representative of the territorial branch of the National Police, based on a submitted application. Supporting documents included a certificate of no criminal record, medical certificate 127/o, a training certificate, a precinct officer’s report, photographs, document copies, and an insurance contract.

After navigating through queues, inspections, and waiting for the purchase permit (which, incidentally, was only valid for three months), the applicant gained the right to visit a specialized store and select the appropriate firearm. Post-purchase, there was a mere 10-day window for registration, involving another bureaucratic process at the territorial branch of the National Police. Furthermore, the permit had a limited duration.

This described the process for obtaining a permit for hunting weapons. The ability to purchase a «traumatic» weapon was restricted to police officers and their relatives, officials, journalists, members of parliament, military personnel, judges, and their family members.

 

The complicated and paperwork-laden procedure, filled with queues and artificial barriers, was understandably a breeding ground for corruption. It’s no wonder that Ukrainians sought to simplify it through corrupt means or resorted to purchasing firearms illegally, storing them at their peril. Clearly, the state system, long entrenched in post-Soviet principles, did not prioritize the issue of citizens’ self-defense.

One can only speculate on what might have happened if russian occupiers had entered cities in February 2022, where a significant portion of the population was armed. Perhaps the pace of occupation and losses would not have been as shocking?

How to obtain a firearm license in other countries: insights from the EU and the USA

In the majority of EU nations, civilians’ rights to firearm ownership are tightly regulated. Prospective firearm owners must undergo training, a medical examination, and become members of relevant shooting clubs to secure a permit. These permits are issued for a specific duration and subject to revocation if the prescribed rules are violated.

Across the EU, the prevalence of firearms among the general population is relatively low. In Finland, recognized for having the highest for each person firearm ownership, there are 38 units per 100 individuals. In contrast, other EU countries exhibit significantly lower figures, such as 12, 13, and 11 «firearms» per 100 individuals in France, Germany, and Italy, respectively.

In the U.S., the constitutional right to bear arms is a fundamental aspect of the legal framework. Acquiring a firearm permit involves reaching the age of majority and undergoing a background check to assess any criminal convictions. In states with less restrictive firearm regulations, the purchasing process is streamlined — individuals can buy a firearm by providing personal details to the seller. The seller then forwards this information to law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, initiating a five-day background check. Upon clearance, the individual can return to the store to collect the firearm, accompanied by the necessary permit.

Notably, experts in the U.S. have consistently argued that regions with relatively liberal firearm policies tend to exhibit crime rates that approach statistical insignificance.

Firearms access for Ukrainians: assessing the prospects for a sensible procedure

Entrepreneur and civic activist Yana Matviychuk strongly believes that Ukrainians have the right to freely acquire and possess firearms, especially considering the persistent external and internal threats. She contends that there is a substantial societal demand for such provisions.

Results from a survey conducted via the Diia app in spring 2022, just a few months after the full-scale Russian army invasion, highlighted that nearly 59% of Ukrainians are eager to have the freedom to own firearms for self-defense. Additionally, they express a collective desire for corresponding legislation to be enacted in the country.

Despite these compelling survey results, government representatives have persisted in manipulating public opinion. Through controlled media channels, they have disseminated the notion that «freely owning firearms equates to chaotic shootouts in the streets».

 

«But, during that period, the country had already undergone the mass distribution of automatic weapons among the populace to counter occupiers», — reflects Yana Matviychuk. — «And did we witness chaotic gunfire? No, citizens patrolled the streets alongside the police, defending cities and deterring marauders».

Together with other conscious Ukrainians, Yana Matviychuk fought persistently to dismantle the outdated and corrupt firearm permitting system. She presented her arguments and proposed solutions in a petition to the President of Ukraine. Although the petition fell short, securing 8,838 votes out of the required 25,000, it didn’t go unnoticed. The points raised in the petition ignited significant discourse in society and played a role in achieving a pivotal outcome: the streamlining of the firearm permit application process.

The overwhelming civic pressure led to the initiation of the Unified Firearm Registry in Ukraine on June 23. Now, citizens can submit their documents online or directly at the store during a purchase, eliminating the need for personal visits to permitting centers, enduring long queues, and navigating bureaucratic hurdles. When visiting a store, a buyer only needs to provide the necessary documents, and the seller will take care of the application, submitting it to the police.

«This was the very idea I championed through the petition», — comments Yana Matviychuk. However, she cautions that, while theoretically, this approach should dismantle corrupt schemes, it’s premature to relax. Permitting authorities earned a significant amount through bribes (rumored to average $200), so they may not willingly give up such a lucrative source of income.

Simultaneously, this situation once again underscores the need for a powerful signal from society to prompt government action.

«But this marks just a step in our ongoing struggle. Our objective is to simplify the firearm permit process to the maximum extent and minimize the required documentation», — emphasizes Yana Matviychuk.

She envisions a scenario where obtaining the legal right to purchase and use firearms would only necessitate one document – either a passport or a driver’s license. The reasoning behind this is that these documents provide access to a database containing the necessary information about the citizen, eliminating the need for additional paperwork regarding criminal records or mental health. Yana Matviychuk is confident that, with the active engagement of civil society, this goal is also attainable. Hence, the fight continues.

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