While self-defense and protection of property is a constitutional right guaranteed to Russian citizens, Russian legislation on gun control is relatively strict, limiting the circulation of firearms to Russian citizens older than eighteen years of age with a registered permanent residence, and for the purposes of self-defense, hunting, and sports activities only. The acquisition of guns is based on licenses provided for a five-year period by local police departments at one’s place of residence after a thorough background check, including a review of the petitioner’s ability to store guns safely and an evaluation of his/her medical records. Mentally ill people and those who have been treated for substance abuse are not allowed to possess firearms.
Major issues related to gun control are regulated by the Federal Law on Weapons and implementing regulations issued by the federal government and varied executive agencies. Legislative assemblies of the Russian Federation constituent components can enact provincial laws related to the circulation of firearms so long as they do not contradict federal legislation. Individuals are allowed to have up to ten long-barreled guns in their possession, and more if they are collectibles. Individuals are not allowed to carry guns acquired for self-defense; a license only serves as a carrying permit for hunting and sport firearms when these guns need to be transported. Russian citizens may not own guns that shoot in bursts or have magazines with more than a ten-cartridge capacity. The legalization of short-barreled handguns is currently being discussed by the legislature.
According to a report by the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (police), at the end of 2012 there were more than 6.3 million nonmilitary weapons registered in the Russian Federation, with a population of 142.5 million. This number includes 700,000 firearms with a rifled bore and 4.2 million firearms with a smooth bore. According to the same report, approximately twelve million guns are held illegally and are not registered. In 2012, 7,500 crimes were committed with the use of firearms. This constituted less than .5% of all crimes registered in the country. At the same time, police investigated 26,500 crimes related to the illegal circulation of weapons.
Most of the weapons used in crimes committed in Russia turned out to be unregistered or were acquired by a person who used it for criminal purposes. While Russia maintains relatively restrictive gun control legislation and strict procedures regulating the purchase and storage of firearms by private individuals, there is a huge black market for weapons, and most weapons used by criminals are stolen military or police guns, guns sold by law enforcement personnel who seized illegal weapons from criminals and did not register the confiscation of those firearms, or firearms made from modified nonlethal guns.
According to news reports, the legal sale of weapons as well as the illegal acquisition of guns has significantly increased in recent years, especially after terrorist attacks on a hospital, theater, and school in 2002 and 2004, and a number of more recent mass shootings in public places committed by criminals or mentally unstable people. These guns were apparently purchased for self-defense in response to the presumed inability of the state authorities to defend individuals from terrorists and criminals, which has provoked an ongoing public discussion about the necessity of additional gun control measures or further simplification of firearms laws and expansion of the types of weapons allowed for personal possession.
Current Gun Control Legislation
Russian legislation that regulates the acquisition, transfer, and use of firearms consists mainly of the Federal Law on Weapons, which sets forth the major principles defining the rules for acquisition, possession, and use of firearms, and implementing regulations issued by the federal government and selected executive agencies. Relevant provisions are also included in specific legal acts, such as federal laws on education, licensing activities, state protection, and countering terrorism, as well as the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.
It appears that the main goal of existing legislation is to regulate the circulation of guns depending on the weapon’s functional purpose (e.g., self-defense, hunting, sports activities) and maintain a licensing system that allows government monitoring of all operations with legally acquired guns. The Law on Weapons establishes the criteria under which an individual who intends to acquire guns may apply for a permit issued by local police authorities and regulates the type and quantity of firearms an individual may have in his/her private possession. Existing legislation also applies to the circulation of ammunition and cartridges for firearms. Procedures related to the issuance of licenses for the acquisition of weapons and permits for their possession, carrying, use, exhibition, trade, and collecting are regulated by implementing regulations based on the background check requirements established by the Law on Weapons.
According to the Russian Constitution, “each individual has the right to defend his/her rights and freedoms by all means not prohibited by law.” This means that people may use weapons that they legally own to protect their life, health, and property when necessary. Necessity is defined by criminal legislation; it is presumed that a person who engages in necessary defense may use all measures needed to stop an ongoing attack. The use of a firearm in the case of necessary defense must be recognized as legal if the use was proportional to the degree of danger posed by the attacker and the level of damage prevented. However, the courts traditionally compare the actual damage inflicted by fighting parties and recognize as justifiable the defense of those individuals who suffered more damage than they inflicted. Because of the broad distribution of more lethal weapons recently, injury to an attacker is more often very serious than before. Legal scholars have called for a review of the laws on necessary defense and related judicial decisions. Also, unlike previous laws, the Law on Weapons allows the use of firearms for the protection of personal property. For many years, courts had viewed the health and life of an offender as more valuable than the property of a law-abiding citizen who defended such property with guns. Current law does not say what type of threat to private property would be enough to justify the use of firearms against an individual who commits a crime, however.
The Law on Weapons states that the use of weapons for necessary defense must not cause harm to third parties. In a number of recently resolved cases, Russian courts found several police officers guilty of injuring bystanders when they used their service firearms to defend themselves and other individuals. Additionally, the Law prohibits the use of firearms against women, individuals with obvious signs of disability, and minors when their age is apparent or known. An exemption would be a case where the aforementioned individuals are engaged in an armed or group attack. Each use of weapons that entails injury to an individual must be reported by the gun owner to the police immediately, and no later than within twenty-four hours.
Types of Firearms Permitted for Individual Possession
The Law on Weapons defines three types of firearms based on the purpose for which they are used and their technical characteristics: civilian, service, and combat firearms, and edged weapons. Manual combat firearms and edged weapons are intended for official operational tasks carried out by agencies and services, as defined by federal legislation. The list includes the armed forces, police, border protection services, tax police and customs, and some other agencies. “Service weapons” include weapons intended for use by officials of government agencies and employees of companies who have been permitted by law to bear, keep, and use arms for self-defense and for performance of the duties assigned to them for protecting individuals and their property, nature and natural resources, valuable and dangerous freight, and special correspondence.
This report focuses on the circulation of civilian weapons, which can be used by Russian citizens for purposes of self-defense, hunting, and sports activities. The definition of the “circulation” of weapons was provided by the Russian Supreme Court in 1996 and includes the production (research, development, testing, artistic finishing, and repair), trade, sale, transfer, acquisition, collection, exhibition, accounting for, possessing, carrying, shipment, and transport of weapons. The distinguishing characteristic of civilian firearms is that such firearms cannot be fired in bursts or have a cartridge capacity of more than ten bullets.
According to the Federal Law on Weapons, only Russian citizens can own civilian weapons in Russia. Foreign nationals are not allowed to own guns. They may receive police permits to acquire weapons based on requests from the embassies of the countries of their citizenship but are required to export their acquired weapons within five days after acquisition. Foreign hunters and sportsmen can bring their hunting and sporting weapons into the country for the duration of a hunting period or sporting event, as specified in their invitation.
Article 3 of the Federal Law on Weapons specifies the types of guns that can be used by individuals for self-defense, hunting, and sports activities. These include smooth-bore long-barreled firearms, smooth-bore long-barreled firearms if the rifled part of the barrel is no longer than 140 millimeters, and pneumatic weapons with power of up to 25 joules. Bearing long-barreled weapons for the purpose of self-defense is prohibited.
An individual cannot have more than ten guns in his/her possession, with the exception of guns included in a registered collection of weapons. An individual’s possession of weapons cannot exceed five hunting rifled-bore guns and five smooth-bore long-barreled guns.
On the basis of a decree issued by the President, Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, or head of a federal military organization, Russian citizens can be awarded with weapons. This could include any type of civilian or short-barreled combat handgun. Award weapons are subject to possession and carrying requirements. Carrying permits must be issued by local gun registering authorities at the individual’s place of residence following the registration of an award weapon by the owner within two weeks after receipt. A weapon that can be fired in bursts and one that is prohibited by law for circulation on the territory of the Russian Federation cannot be given as an award.
Special restrictions are imposed on the circulation of civilian weapons. Prohibited firearms are those with a cartridge capacity of more than ten bullets, those that can fire in bursts, those with a barrel length of less than 500 millimeters or an entire length under 800 millimeters, and those that can be shortened to a length of under 800 millimeters without losing their shooting capacity. Rifled-bore sporting guns and pneumatic guns with a pumping power of more than 7.5 joules and a caliber of more than 4.5 millimeters must be kept at shooting ranges.
The list of prohibited firearms includes (1) those with shapes that imitate other objects; (2) cartridges with bullets for armor-piercing, incendiary, explosive, or tracer action; and cartridges with shot charges for gas pistols; (3) weapons and other objects whose destructive action is based on the use of radioactive radiation and biological factors; and (4) gas weapons charged with nerve-paralytic, toxic, and other substances not permitted for use by the government or gas weapons that can cause a medium degree of harm at a distance of more than one meter. Also, the sale and installation of silencers and sights for night vision are prohibited, with the exception of sights for hunting. The policy for using such sights has been specifically established by law. The Law on Weapons does not allow the shipping of weapons by individuals.
Acquisition and Possession of Firearms
Russian citizens have the right to acquire and possess weapons according to rules established by legislation. These rules allow citizens of the Russian Federation who are eighteen years of age and older to apply for a license that would allow an individual to possess weapons of a specific type as stated in the license. Legislative assemblies of Russian Federation constituent components can lower the mandatory age by no more than two years. Usually, such decisions are made in those regions where industrial hunting is conducted or in areas with a significant indigenous population that has historically been involved in hunting activities. Before applying for a license to acquire hunting weapons, an individual must be registered as a hunter and be a member of a hunting society.
Licenses are issued by local police departments at one’s place of permanent residence and each license is issued separately for a specific type of weapon—hunting rifled-bore, hunting smooth-bore, and sporting firearms. Licenses have unified federal numbering and their specific series and numbers are assigned to particular Russian territories. Official licensing documents have eleven protection levels, complicating the manufacturing of false documents. Each license allows the petitioner to acquire and keep up to five different of weapons.
Where hunting weapons are purchased for hunting purposes, a license will also include a carrying permit. Licenses are issued for a five-year period and can be renewed. Hunting weapons with rifled-bore barrels and combined weapons where smooth-bore and rifled-bore barrels can be interchanged can be acquired by those hunters who have five years of experience possessing smooth-bore long barrel guns. Until recently, individuals who were found to have violated hunting rules or rules related to the use, storage, or circulation of weapons were prohibited from acquiring rifled-bore long-barreled weapons. Because the law did not specify the type of violation and the level of public danger that would trigger this ban, and did not define the length of the ban, the Constitutional Court of Russia held this restriction to be unconstitutional in June 2012, and ordered the legislature to provide for specific rules regarding the acquisition of these types of weapons.
Individuals who acquire weapons for the first time are required to attend six and a half hours of classes on the safe handling of guns offered by organizations designated by the government of the Russian Federation and to pass federal tests on knowledge of safety rules. A license for weapons acquisition is required in order to accept guns as a gift or inheritance. Tests must be retaken and passed when an individual applies for license renewal.
The following documents must be submitted to a local police department, together with the application for a gun license:
- Statement that an individual has no medical contraindications for possession of guns
- Statements issued by boards monitoring psychiatric and substance abuse services within the administrative area where an applicant permanently resides that the applicant was not treated for mental illnesses or drug abuse
- Proof of Russian citizenship
- Two photographs
- Statement from a territorial police officer that weapons can be safely kept at the applicant’s residence
- Hunter’s card
- License fee
- Proof of no less than five-year possession of smooth-bore barrel guns if applying for a license to purchase rifled-bore barreled guns
Applications are reviewed within one month; the applicant then has six months to purchase guns before the expiration of the license. Licenses are not issued to those who cannot guarantee secure storage of weapons, have a court record that has not expired, or have committed at least two minor violations of public order within a one-year period. Individuals without permanent residency in a specific location cannot acquire guns.
A list of diseases preventing an individual from having weapons has been established by the federal government and includes the following:
- Chronic and long-lasting psychiatric diseases with severe or continuing forms of relapses
- Addictions to alcohol, narcotics, or other toxic substances
- Vision problems of -5 or worse in one eye when another eye is worse than -2, or -7 in one eye if the person is blind in the other eye
- Absence of a thumb and index finger, or three fingers on one of the hands
The State Duma of the Russian Federation is currently debating a proposal to introduce a measures that would impose criminal responsibility on physicians for issuing false statements about the medical conditions of those who apply for a gun license.
All weapons must be registered within two weeks after their acquisition. Registration must be conducted by the same police department that issued the license for acquisition. According to article 22 of the Law on Weapons, it is the gun owner’s responsibility to make sure that his/her weapons are stored safely. The local police inspector is obligated under the Law to visit a gun owner’s residence at least once a year and review the safety of weapons.
Public Discussions and Proposed Legislation
Measured by the number of registered guns in the possession of individuals, Russia is ninth in the world. Even though legally acquired and registered weapons are traced to a minimal number of crimes committed with firearms, there are ongoing public debates on whether to introduce stricter gun control legislation or simplify the rules for obtaining and possessing guns for self-defense. Proposals to allow individuals to acquire and carry short-barreled handguns for self-defense are being discussed by legislators. Even though one such proposal contains restrictions on bearing handguns in public places and educational institutions, it appears that it has more opponents than proponents among the lawmakers. Among other gun-control proposals currently under discussion are measures that would increase the age for acquisition of guns from eighteen to twenty-one, and the creation of a national collection of bullet case samples in order to make it possible to identify a gun used in a particular shooting. Other proposals would provide for new rules to expedite the licensing process and allow individuals to prepare cartridges for their hunting guns.
Among other measures being discussed are suggestions to equip weapons sold in Russia with biometric scanners, which would prevent the use of a gun other than by its owner, and a ban on the sale of all types of weapons on Russian territory between January and April 2014, in order to secure the safety of the 2014 Olympic Games, which are to be held in Russia.
Prepared by Peter Roudik
Director of Legal Research
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- Law No. 150 of Dec. 13, 1996, Sobranie Zakonodatelstva Rossiiskoi Federatsii [SZ RF] [Collection of Russian Federation Legislation] (official gazette, in Russian) 1996, No. 51, Item 5681 (hereinafter Federal Law on Weapons). [Back to Text]
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- Constitution of the Russian Federation art. 45.2, http://pravo.gov.ru/export/sites/default/konstituciya/ Konst_2011.pdf (official version; in Russian). [Back to Text]
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- Federal Law on Weapons art. 24. [Back to Text]
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- Id. art. 2. [Back to Text]
- Ruling No. 5 of the Russian Federation Supreme Court Plenum, Rossiiskaia Iustitsiia, No. 8, 1996, at 34. [Back to Text]
- Federal Law on Weapons art. 3. [Back to Text]
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- Id. art. 13. [Back to Text]
- Id. art. 20-1. [Back to Text]
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- Leonid Vedenov, Zakony Rossiis ob Oruzhii [Russian Laws on Weapons] 7 (Moscow, 2003). [Back to Text]
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- Government Regulation No. 814 of July 21, 1998, Ros. Gaz., Aug. 20, 1998, available at http://base.consultant.ru/cons/cgi/online.cgi?req=doc;base=LAW;n=135139. [Back to Text]
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- Bill 576559-5, introduced July 8, 2011, reintroduced Aug. 7, 2012 (Bill 123846-6), http://asozd2.duma.gov.ru/main.nsf/%28SpravkaNew%29?OpenAgent&RN=576559-5&02. [Back to Text]
- Bill 171032-6, introduced Nov. 13, 2012, http://asozd2.duma.gov.ru/main.nsf/%28SpravkaNew%29? OpenAgent&RN=171032-6&02. [Back to Text]
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- Bill 171032-6, http://asozd2.duma.gov.ru/main.nsf/%28SpravkaNew%29? OpenAgent&RN=171032-6&02. [Back to Text]
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- Vladimir Voloshin, Guns Will Have Black Boxes, Izvestiia (Oct. 5, 2012), http://izvestia.ru/ news/536891 (in Russian). [Back to Text]
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Last Updated: 09/16/2014