Black weapons market flourishing in Russia
Criminal groups are normally well-armed. Sometimes just as well as law enforcement. Criminals use guns stolen from military armories, refit gas pistol making them lethal weapons, smuggle ammunition. What is the current status of the illegal weapons market in Russia?
It’s well-known that not all our citizens can own small guns, submachine guns, or sniper rifles, keep those at home and use, if necessary. Only a limited group of people has such powers, mostly enforcement officers. But in fact, weapons can be obtained illegally, provided that you have money and right connections.
Kalashnikov gun in the attic
On condition of strict anonymity, a police officer agreed to tell a CrimeRussia journalist about illegal firearms and their traffic channels.
"Not only don’t mention my name but even the unit where I serve," – warned Mikhail (let’s call him this way).
The policeman said that almost all his colleagues, in addition to service weapons, have unregistered pistols, while some even possess submachine guns. So-called "clear" weapons, never used in past crimes, are of special value, because used weapons can be tracked.
"How do you or your colleagues get weapons?" – I ask the police officer.
"It’s not a problem for us to get a gun. You can seize it from a detained person and don’t record this in the case file. It’s beneficial both for the suspect (he won’t be prosecuted for keeping a weapon), and me, because I don’t have to pay for it," – Mikhail explains.
Mikhail says that law enforcement officers first of all check whether the seized gun was used in crimes. And if it’s "clear", you can just appropriate it and put to a cache. But the policemen will never sell a gun obtained this way, it’s too risky. The buyer might confess where he purchased the gun he is if caught with it.
Mikhail told that his colleague keeps a Kalashnikov gun in the attic; he procured it a few years ago, during a service trip to the Northern Caucasus. Another policemen found several hand grenades during a search in the apartment of a famous repeated offender. But the officers hope they never have to use this arsenal.
"So, why do you keep it?" – I ask the guardian of law and order courteously.
"Who knows what can happen? Bandits killed the whole family of policeman Andrey Gosht near Sizran this spring. Everybody heard of this high-profile case. We also have foes, so it’s more comfortable with weapons," – Mikhail says.
He believes that free sales of weapons must never be permitted in our country. Otherwise, there would be tons of accidents due to mishandling.
"Of course, gangsters are well-equipped, and we must defend against them. But if all Russian citizens start walking the streets with guns, there would be much more firearms-related deaths," – the policeman thinks.
Mikhail acknowledges that large numbers of guns in possession of criminal groups is a serious fault of his colleagues – the illegal market is still flourishing, despite all efforts by law enforcement. Pistols, revolvers, rifles, and submachine guns of all brands are seized regularly from various criminals: from illegal casino owners to small-time racketeers.
Pistol for 100 dollars
Many experts believe that the Russian black market of weapons is one of the leaders in profitability. Despite risks associated with arms deals, there are always some people willing to make money on the steadily-growing demand. Not only criminals and poachers buy pistols, guns, and rifles, but also bona fide citizens willing to feel themselves protected against criminal intrusions.
The anonymous police officer named several main sources of weapons for the black market:
Despite severe punishments for such offences, the army still remains the major "supplier" for the illegal market. Even the newest and most advanced weapons are being stolen, for example, Vintorez (Screw Plate) silent sniper rifle designed exclusively for special forces. Its cost on the black market is some 15 thousand USD. Needless to say of written-off ammunition that has to be recycled – military men can sell such supplies almost without worries.
The second largest source is production of official military factories illegally sold by their management through familiar dealers. It’s impossible for an outsider to get access to these sources. This is a well-established business, based on long-term trust and mutual interests. It operates with great cautiousness.
There are lot of handymen in Russia, able to create weapons as good as ones produced on big factories. Anybody can purchase required equipment and start underground production. Provided that he has a good "cover" in law enforcement, such a mini-workshop can operate for years and bring huge profits.
Our source in the police says that the most popular and common weapon among today’s criminals is gas pistol refitted to fire live rounds. Some craftsmen do this in their private garages. The advantages are obvious: relative cheapness of such weapons and ease of production. Today a gas pistol refitted to fire live rounds can be purchased for 100 USD.
Illegal weapons traffic constitutes only a small part of the black market. Still, the former USSR countries supply guns and ammunition to Russia. Conflict zones are major sources of submachine guns and pistols that can be easily purchased there.
Despite some common beliefs, World War II weapons have only historical value.
"No one would shoot from these rusted guns, they are not good for anything, except historical movies," – the policeman explains.
Another popular myth is that anyone can buy weapons on Internet. In fact, dealers operating on this market are very cautious. A good reference is required to meet them in person; they carefully study the potential buyer, research his social circle and contacts. A deal can be made only when the sellers are 100% certain that the buyer is not an undercover cop.
Numerous Internet ads offering weapons for sale are posted mainly by fraudsters who receive money and disappear.
Weapon dealers benefit from the legal ban on possession of firearms: because of it, black market prices are two-three times higher than the official cost of weapons legally produced on factories.
By the way, the cost of a Makarov pistol on the black market is one thousand USD, TT (Tulsky Tokarev) pistol would cost some 800 UDS, Kalashnikov gun – 1.5 thousand USD, while the selling price of a Dragunov Sniper Rifle would be at least 2,000 USD.
TT in the jacket
Anton Petrenko, who works in Krepost-3 (Fortress-3) private security company, told the CrimeRussia journalist that he has a service TT pistol.
"The pistol was provided to me by the company, it’s kept in a special strongbox. I receive it before my shift and then return it back. I had to obtain tons of papers certifying that I am not a drug addict, not an alcoholic, not a psycho, but a healthy and absolutely sane person – otherwise I would never get access to the firearm," – the security guard explained.
Anton’s duty is to guard a branch of a large bank. His responsibilities include safety of employees and clients of the financial institution. He keeps the TT pistol in a special holster under the jacket. He is armed, but no one can see it.
The security guard learned how to shoot during the compulsory military service – he was an airborne commando. He practices on a shooting range regularly to maintain the skills.
"What would you do in case of a bank robbery? Will you start shooting in the robbers?" – I am trying to understand.
"We have clear instructions for such situations. We can shoot only if the criminals start shooting first and pose a real threat to human lives – but I hope this will never happen," – the security guard responds.
He prefers the boring everydayness and solving crosswords. Anton believes that weapons can discipline people. If all bona fide Russian citizens were armed and had shooting skills, criminals would be less impudent. And even utter brawlers would think twice before starting drunken conflicts in restaurants. He thinks that the general situation in our society would be much more calm.
Saiga carbine and a wild boar
Oleg Sorokin is an experienced sharpshooter. He has been a member of the Astrakhan Regional Association of Hunters and Sport Fishermen for more than 20 years. He has two weapons: an old but reliable IZH-18 plain-barrel gun that fires birdshot; and a new Saiga carbine with optic sight.
During the hunting season, Oleg can be seen at home rarely – only when he brings hunting trophies: ducks, geese, wild boars, hares. He claims that he never violates hunting quotes, obeys all regulations, and loves the nature in his own way.
"Of course, it takes time and effort to obtain all medical certificates and documents, but I got used to it. And every five years I extend my weapons license," – the hunter says.
Once Oleg barely escaped a furious boar. He shoot the animal from the Saiga carbine, but the bullet just scratched the left hind leg of the intended trophy. The wounded animal roared and charged the hunter, who had to climb the closest tree. The boar ran to the carbine and began trampling it in furor. Apparently, the boar activated the trigger mechanism, the gun banged, and the scared animal ran away.
"The bullet hit the tree where I was hiding, just a meter from me. I was scared myself as much as the boar," – the hunter recalls with a smile.
Then he climbed down the tree and hastily left the forest. He really needed to calm down and ease the nerves.
As per Oleg, all his friends purchase weapons and ammunition in special stores where they must present all required permits. Illegal weapons are times more expensive, and bona fide hunters just don’t need them.
My conversation partner believes that either policy – be it the ban on possession of weapons, or free sales of firearms – would have both negative and positive implications. From one side, if all Russian people get pistols, the social tension and mutual distrust would increase. From the other side, if a law-abiding family man gets a gun, this would improve the safety of his household.
"Let’s leave this dilemma to the government to wrestle with," – Oleg Sorokin concludes.
Give-up your gun and sleep peacefully
Since 1995 the police has been conducting the "Weapons" operation in various regions of Russia. The purpose is to buy out illegal guns and ammunition from the public.
For example, Russian Ministry of Interior Affairs (MIA) General Administration for the Chelyabinsk Region accepts from public various weapons and explosive devices and pays money rewards for these. People can come to the local police station and submit a written application for voluntary surrender of weapons and ammunition.
The amount of rewards varies in different regions. Law enforcement authorities offer Chelyabinsk residents 7 thousand rubles for a Saiga carbine and 1 thousand rubles for hand-made firearms. The most expensive weapons that police expect to buy out from the population are Strela (Arrow), Strela-2 (Arrow-2) and Igla (Needle) anti-aircraft missile systems; their purchasing cost is 35 thousand rubles. 22LR rounds are purchased for 2 rubles per round; each 100 g portion of trotyl or hexogen costs 1 thousand rubles.
Of course, the above mentioned purchase prices are considerably lower than the cost of these weapons on the black market. Therefore, many experts think that the "Weapons" operation carried-out by MIA is not efficient. People often bring to police old non-functional rifles and ammunition, and budget funds are being spent to buy those out. However, police officers believe that the operation is fully justified.
"According to our data, people have a significant unregistered arsenal in possession. Many firearms brought by citizens in the framework of this operation, are fully functional. In addition, voluntary surrender of pistols and rifles releases people from criminal liability for keeping them," – the anonymous police source notes.
Law enforcement authorities presume that it’s absolutely imperative to reduce the amount of potentially dangerous weapons kept in people’s homes.
What is legally permitted?
The Federal Law "On Weapons" of December 13, 1996 #150-FZ allows Russian citizens to purchase and keep:
The first four points relate to specific categories of citizens (sportsmen, hunters, Cossacks, seamen – to signal from ships, etc.), but a gas or traumatic pistol can be purchased by any bona fide citizen. The license can be obtained at the local police station; written certificates confirming good eyesight and clear record with regards to drugs, alcohol, and mental illnesses are required.
Not only medical reasons can result in a rejection to issue a self-defense weapon license, but also the criminal record, past administrative offences, or absence of a permanent place of residence. If a citizen of the full legal age never had troubles with the law, has no harmful habits and mental issues, there should be no problems for him to get a license. A citizen who successfully passed an exam in weapon handling regulations may become an official owner of a gas or traumatic pistol.
Upon purchasing a weapon in a special store, the bona fide Russian citizen must bring it to the licensing department of police where the it will be carefully examined and registered. The pistol owner will receive a 5-year permit to keep the weapon. Upon the 5-year term expiry, the citizen must collect all the required certificates again and apply for a permit extension.
Firearms must be used only in accordance with their purpose. Sports weapons can be used for practicing and in tournaments; hunting weapons – to hunt for feather or fur game; signal weapons – to signal emergency messages (e.g. in the sea); gas and traumatic guns – for self-defense. And the only legal grounds to use the weapon against offenders is a threat to human life or health.
People serving in enforcement or protection structures get service pistols, submachine guns, and sniper rifles when they are on duty.
It’s unlikely that free possession of firearms could be legalized in Russia in the coming years. Law enforcement authorities repeatedly oppose this idea and refer to negative experience of the US where the population is totally armed, which results in bloody tragedies occurring on the regular basis.
Still, the stable high demand for pistols and guns on the black market indicates that the Russian people continue procuring firearms.