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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia's Police Struggle for Right to Bear Arms

Just when you thought everyone in Moscow owned at least one gun, it turns out that at least one segment of the city's population -- detectives in some of the police's investigative departments -- cannot get guns even if they want them.


Nina Kofirukova is chief of the Interior Ministry department that handles economic crimes, but she does not carry a gun, except when she goes out on raids. The police adminstration -- having decided that her duties are not physically dangerous enough to warrant carrying a weapon at all times -- does not provide her with one.


"I've received threatening phone calls from criminals who want me to drop investigations," she said. "My work is dangerous and I would prefer to be armed. But investigators in certain departments are often refused guns."


Like a number of investigators, she also said she would like to be able to carry a police-issued weapon home. "I'm especially nervous when I go home at night," she said.


Lyuda Rabotkina of the Interior Ministry, press office confirmed that investigators are granted or refused weapons only after the nature of their duties has been reviewed by the police administration.


"Each case is reviewed individually," she said. "An investigator is given a gun if it's deemed appropriate."


Rabotnikova added that patrolmen are generally armed during working hours, but are also subject to the same policy if they wish to be armed at all times.


Kofirukova said the policy has nothing to do with money or a lack of equipment.


"They have the weapons," said Kofirukova. "They just don't give them out."


According to the press office, the gun policy is left over from the Soviet era, when the level of street crime was drastically lower than today and there was little need for officers to be armed at all times.


There is no rule preventing police officers from purchasing their own guns. However, most investigators only make about $200 a month, leaving them little money to buy a reliable weapon.


The only other nation in the Western world with a policy similar to Russia's appears to be Britain, which does not allow any of its officers to carry guns on a constant basis.


"We have special armed divisions, squads of police who are trained in gun use, but as for constant, round-the-clock gun possession, this is forbidden," said Mick Jordan, a spokesman for Scotland Yard, in a telephone interview.


Jordan added that Britain was the only country he knew of with such a policy. It is also one of the few countries whose patrolmen do not carry guns as a matter of course, he said.


Conversely, the idea of policemen being unarmed at any time is so alien to the American experience that Sergeant Orsky of the New York Police Department's press office was initially unable to understand the question about the gun policy in his city.


"I don't understand what you mean," he said. "Are you asking when our investigators can carry their guns? They can always carry their guns, that's when."


Even the British policy, however, differs from the Russian policy in one critical way: It is upheld at a time when violent street crime in the country is contained at a very low level. In contrast, Russia's investigators work in an atmosphere where attacks upon policemen are not uncommon.


"We've had a lot of people get hurt in the last few years," said Kofirukova. "Criminals here have a lot at stake. They're not afraid to threaten or harm the police."


The Interior Ministry gun-safety policy also differs from that of other countries due to an unusual rule which requires police to give a verbal warning and to fire a warning shot before firing a gun at a criminal in an arrest situation.


A law was passed in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, July 7, 1994, which afforded the right to carry guns not only to investigators but to judges, jury members, secret agents and the family members of people falling under these categories. The bill also stipulated that the government should provide funds for bodyguards of individuals who can show they are in physical danger.


The bill, however, did not pass in the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament.