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Ukraine: Parliament Shoots Down Gun Law

By Viktor Luhovyk and Stefan Korshak

Kyiv, 8 December 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Legislation giving Ukrainians the right to bear arms has stalled in Parliament, as some deputies have objected to provisions legalizing the sale and carrying of handguns, and simplifying registration rules.

Current Interior Ministry rules allow civilians, who undergo a laborious registration process, to buy a hunting rifle or an air pistol. Deputies last week voted to return the bill to a committee, after opponents argued that handgun sales would lead to more crime.

"Such a law is necessary", said Communist Deputy Yevhen Krasnyakov. "But we must not allow sale of short-barreled weapons, and, until this clause is removed, deputies will never approve the bill." Law enforcement officials are also strongly opposed to loosening the country's gun controls.

"We are actively working against the measure," Interior Ministry spokesman Viktor Kryvorotko told RFE/RL.

Legislation legalizing possession of handguns with a caliber of nine-to-12 mm was first filed in Parliament in 1995. Backers of the latest bill say the issue is secondary to the need to transform Ukraine's maze of administrative rules on firearms into comprehensive legislation.

"Being an independent country, Ukraine cannot afford not to have a law regarding weapons", said Deputy Valentyn Nedryhailo, who drafted the bill. "They (opponents of the legislation) have fastened onto the legalization of short-barreled weapons sales, but this is a minor issue." The way the bill has been debated shows that most deputies don't know what they are voting for," said Nedryhailo. "They could have postponed the short-barreled weapons issue and approved the rest of the law."

Besides permitting handgun sales, the bill would codify regulations governing the production, certification, testing and the use of weapons. It would also overhaul existing gun registration and purchase regulations. Based on Soviet-era codes, current rules make ownership of shotguns and hunting rifles possible - but, by most standards, very difficult. The potential Ukrainian gun owner must obtain proof from the police that he is not a felon and be certified as physically and mentally capable of bearing arms by a medical doctor and a psychologist.

"Each one of those certificates costs 70 hryvnya," said Ludmila Likhogruda, manager of the Rybalka-Okhota (fishing-hunting) store in Kyiv. "And you have to renew them every four years or you lose the right to own the weapon."

A gun owner is also required to register his weapon at the local police station, make it available for regular police inspection, store the gun in a dedicated cabinet, and in some cases even inform authorities when transporting it outside the home.

Nedryhailo's bill would change that, requiring only a physical fitness certificate and the necessary cash to get a gun. Police registration, visits to make sure that the weapon is still owned, police background checks and reporting when one is traveling to the gun range would fall by the wayside.

Some gun shop owners polled disagreed with Nedryhailo's proposal.

"The last thing we need is to make pistols available to the bandits," one shop owner told RFE/RL. "The country is dangerous enough as it is without this additional weapon."

But others argued that law-abiding citizens need to defend themselves from heavily-armed criminals. "If a citizen is attacked by bandits today, how is he going to defend himself, with a stick?" asked Sergei Teplyuk, owner of a Kyiv gun shop. "I am wholly in favor of making handguns available to citizens." Like almost everyone who spoke to RFE/RL, Teplyuk strongly backed mandatory firearms training for gun owners. "People should have pistols, but they should also have to complete a training course and practice with their weapons once a quarter," he said. "That is the way to a more responsible populace. You can't just give people guns."

Customers interviewed at Teplyuk's shop, which sells shotguns alongside antique firearms and military-type sniper rifles, generally registered their support of looser gun laws.

"Sure I'd like to have a pistol," said Viktor Lopatko. "The criminals already have them. Why shouldn't I be allowed to?"

But other gun shop visitors were skeptical.

"If I want a weapon like a shotgun, I can already get one," said Gennadi Pilipenko. "The only reason anyone would want a pistol is to hide it and carry it somewhere. Better that only the police can do that."

Some questioned the proposition of a generally armed populace.

"This isn't America," said a potential shotgun buyer, who identified himself only as Bogdan. "You can't trust everyone here with a weapon."