(Bloomberg) — Ukraine’s top law-enforcement official is championing a loosening of gun restrictions as Russia’s attack on the country shifts sentiment toward more openness on civilian possession of firearms.
Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky said Russia’s war showed that “tens of thousands” of guns, including assault weapons, that have been distributed by the government for national defense were proof that Ukrainian citizens can “handle arms.”
“This is the reason for me to believe that one can allow buying and storing handguns, meaning pistols, at home,” Monastyrsky, 42, said in an interview with Bloomberg News last week. A postwar call to surrender the arms “wouldn’t be heard, since most Ukrainians will continue to feel unsafe,” he said via video link.
The pitch has fueled a debate about purchasing and using firearms in a country that currently forbids civilian ownership of most guns except for hunting rifles. As the Russian invasion enters its fifth month, the toll on lives and infrastructure have hardened attitudes about gun ownership, even as a significant number of Ukrainians still see risks tied to proliferation.
The number of Ukrainians who support broader civilian gun ownership has doubled to 58%, while 39% oppose it, according to a survey from polling agency Rating taken in May. It was the first poll to show promoters of owning weapons outnumbering those who say they belong in the hands of law enforcement, Rating said.
Monastyrsky argues that a legal openness to hand guns would be a preemptive measure in anticipation of a sharp rise in crime when the war ends in a country awash in weapons. The move comes on top of the reality of millions of unregistered weapons in the country, particularly since fighting began in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
The minister, who is in charge of Ukraine’s police force, wants the new rules as part of legislation that had already been drafted before the war. He’s optimistic the drafting can be finalized in two months. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s ruling party pledged to approve the law on firearms ahead of his 2019 election.
“Certainly, for protection of their homes, civilians should be allowed to use arms,” Monastyrsky said.
But that initiative is colliding with warnings from Interpol and the European Union’s law enforcement agency, Europol, who warn that a flood of weapons in Ukraine may fall into the wrong hands. Europol’s executive director, Catherine De Bolle, has compared the situation with the Balkan wars three decades ago, which left a surplus of weapons when the fighting was over.
“The weapons from these wars are still being used by criminal groups,” De Bolle told Germany’s Die Welt newspaper on May 28. “We need to find a way to deal with this situation after an end to the war.”
With Ukraine’s current restrictions, at least on paper, the discussion in the country at war offers a contrast with the US, where the debate on gun control erupted again after massacres at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, last month. US Senators in Washington are struggling to reach a bipartisan deal on gun safety legislation.
The US example is enough for some. Yaryna Klyuchkovska, a 46-year-old public-relations specialist opposed to the legislation, says she fears the aftermath of war. She was a student in the US in 1999 during the Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colorado, in which 12 students and a teacher were killed.
“That affected me a lot, as well as all further mass shootings in schools,” she said. “A civilized society shouldn’t allow weapons out in the open. It should be a monopoly of the state.”