Staunton, November 24 – Russians increasingly want to have the right to carry guns for the same reason many people in the United States say they do – their conviction that police are not willing or able to defend them and their belief that they must therefore be in a position to defend themselves.
And it is that sense about the nature of Russian officialdom, rather than the calls of some for the right to bear arms, that should disturb those who care about the future of the country and lead them to demand that the government live by and enforce laws, according to Yaroslav Belousov, a political scientist who was arrested in the Bolotnaya affair.
In an article on the APN.ru portal today, Belousov says that the decision of the Russian government to allow citizens to have weapons for self-defense was largely a cosmetic one. It did not represent “a full-scale legalization of the right to bear arms,” but it has as similar decisions in other countries sparked a debate about that.
People in the United States and other Western countries are familiar with the debate between those who see the ability to bear arms as a fundamental right and those who argue that there should be severe limitations on the ability of citizens to have weapons that they might use in unfortunate ways.
Russia has more police per capita than any other country, 634 for every 100,000 residents. But in the view of Russian citizens, this force is something they view with suspicion, particularly as far as its commitment to enforcing laws and protecting the citizens from those who violate them.
Ever more Russians, Belousov suggests, “are beginning to see in the state structures not guarantors of sovereignty” and the protection of their rights and freedoms, but instead see “competitors of the criminal groups who play by rules dictated by the shadow milieu” in which both operate.
That is an extremely “unwelcome” and even dangerous development, one that is reflected in the growing conviction among Russians that they need guns to defend themselves: “If the police cannot defend me,” such people argue, “then I must do it myself.”
Given all the conflicts which divide Russian society, (ethnicity, class, and so on), and the fact that these have “only temporarily been eclipsed by foreign policy issues,” the danger is that some who get weapons for personal protection will use them for other purposes in the names of defending their rights.
Thus, allowing the citizenry to own guns could open a Pandora’s box of problems, Belousov suggests, and he argues that Russians must come to see that “the root of the problem is in the backwardness of state structures,” their extraordinary centralization, and their inability to protect citizens and their rights.
“Our citizens are losing hope that their desires in the near term will be realized in the near term.” As a result, more and more of them are trying to find a quick fix, including demanding “the legalization of all civil weaponry.” The only way to prevent a disaster, Belousov suggests, is for the opposition to press for better law enforcement.
Otherwise, it is entirely likely that at least some Russians will take the law in their own hands, with all the unpredictability and tragedies that will entail.