Staunton, June 17 – Given how heavily armed the population of Dagestan remains, the authorities in that North Caucasus republic have launched a gun buy-back program in which citizens can turn in illegal weapons for cash. But experts doubt that many Dagestanis will do so because the amount of money offered is so small and the risk of being put on a black list so high.
Several times before 2007, Makhachkala had offered residents the opportunity to turn in illegal guns without the risk of criminal prosecution, but those programs had little effect and nothing of the sort had even been tried there over the last seven years. Now, the republic has added cash as an incentive.
According to the “price list” the authorities have published, they will pay someone who turns in a sniper rifle up to 25,000 rubles (US $800) depending on make and condition, up to 20,000 rubles ($600) for an automatic weapon, up to 15,000 (US $450) for a revolver, and up to 2,000 rubles ($60) for explosives.
These offers are absurdly low compared to what Dagestanis can get on the black market, and they are being paid in rubles rather than in harder currencies like the dollar. And consequently, experts suggest, few Dagestanis will sell back their weapons especially since many of the republic’s residents view them as a mark of manhood, a means of defense or a fashion “accessory.”
Officially, there are now more than 20 million guns registered in the Russian Federation, with the number of unregistered ones several times that. According to estimates, “a good half” of them are in the hands of the North Caucasus – or perhaps as many as 30 to 40 million weapons in the hands of the region’s nine million people.
Many of these weapons, experts say, were not purchased from dealers but were left behind when the Soviet Union collapsed, the first Chechen war ended, and at various points during more recent conflicts. Because of that provenance, no one really knows how many and what kind of weapons are to be found among the population.
Experts say that even this buy-back program is treating a symptom rather than underlying causes. They say that in addition to those involved with the militants, many people feel they have to keep guns on hand because of “the weakness and low quality of law enforcement” in the North Caucasus.
Such concerns and the low amounts of money officials are offering are only two reasons that this program is unlikely to make a dent in the problem. The far larger reason is that despite the offer of amnesty for those who turn in guns, few Dagestanis reportedly believe that the authorities won’t include those who do so on blacklists.
Law enforcement and security agencies may not arrest them, but they will identify those who have turned in their weapons and keep a much closer eye on them in the future. As a result, most Dagestanis who have guns and other weapons are likely to keep them, even if they have no intention of going into the forests and fighting alongside the militants.