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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gun Decree Just Validates Reality

Muscovites reacted Wednesday with little more than a shrug and a yawn to President Boris Yeltsin's decree making it legal for city residents to arm themselves with tear gas weapons.

"People who really need it already have gas weapons", said Slava Kotov, who works in a kiosk on Bolshaya Dorogomilovskaya Ulitsa and has owned a gas gun for the past six months. "And, in general, everyone needs it for self-defense".

Yeltsin passed his decree -- which also permits fanners to own hunting rifles without a waiting period -- in response to spiraling crime rates, of which urban areas have been particularly hard hit.

Crimes involving firearms and violence were up nearly 100 percent since the start of the year, according to the most recent statistics compiled by the state statistics committee and released by Itar-Tass last week.

The number of robberies of shops, warehouses and other commercial outlets also doubled, statistics showed. Two million crimes had been registered in total, representing a 28 percent increase over the same period last year.

A quick survey Wednesday of Moscow's kiosks and commercial stores showed a widespread assortment of air pistols, gas guns and rifles, which vendors had in stock long before Yeltsin's decree legalized ownership.

In one commercial store on Timiryazevskaya Ulitsa, next to a new shipment of Martini liquor crates, a glass display case boasted more than 20 types of hunting knives. Nearby, a special rack held more than six rifles costing 38, 000 to 240, 000 rubles.

A sign rested above, advising potential buyers that they must have the proper license to buy a rifle -- even though Yeltsin's decree now permits farmers to own hunting rifles without the yearlong wait imposed in the past.

According to Alexei Chekin, who has worked in the commercial store for the past three years, the store sells an average of 10 to 15 rifles every day.

"We don't know whether people are using them for hunting or defense", said Chekin. "We don't ask".

Shopper Oleg Cherkasov eagerly eyed the rifles.

"I'd like to start hunting", he said. "Right now, I wouldn't use it for self-defense, but who knows what will be in the future".

Chekin would like to add gas guns to the store's weapon collection, but is waiting to hear about initial regulations from the militia.

Assuming parliament does not veto Yeltsin's decree within the next two weeks, Yeltsin's pen stroke allowing individuals to carry certain weapons will become law of the land.

But the Russian president did not elaborate on how the law would be carried out.

"We haven't received any instructions on how carry out this decree", said Valery Golubev, deputy chief of the public security department of Russia's Ministry of Internal Affairs. "And we don't expect to for another couple of months".

A kiosk owner, who refused to give his name, said he won't start selling gas guns openly -- at least not until he understands what is legal and what is not. But that has not stopped him from possessing his own personal weapon.

Nor have Russia's gun control laws mandating harsh sentences for those owning, buying or selling arms stopped the stream of illegal weapons flowing into the country and onto Moscow's streets.

A The Moscow Times investigation this spring revealed that Russia's Interior Ministry confiscated more than 34, 000 weapons and 500, 000 gun cartridges in one year in the former Soviet Union.

The breakdown of the Soviet Union and the rise of civil unrest helped create a brisk weapons trade on the streets of Moscow.

Even without Yeltsin's decree, it has been easy to buy weapons. Newspapers such as From Hand to Hand openly advertise organizations willing to sell and buy arms for individuals and organizations.

Yeltsin's decree has been in effect for only 24 hours, but many stores have blatantly ignored the past law.

Alexander Gukasov said he almost bought a gas gun in a commercial store last week. The only reason he did not was that the quality was poor.

The store offered two models; one for 25, 000 rubles and the more upscale version for 43, 000 rubles.

At least one Muscovite applauded the new decree. He said that he celebrated by going out yesterday and buying a gas gun.

"I think a lot of people are going to do the same", said 34-year-old Volodya, who refused to give his last name. "After all, I want to protect myself".