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Soviet Gun Control With a Twist: Give Out Weapons to Fight Crime

June 15, 1991

MOSCOW (AP) _ The Soviet Union used to contend that under Marxism-Leninism, anti-social behavior would wither away. Now it is so worried about crime that it wants to let citizens arm themselves with stun guns and tear gas.

Admitting it needs help to protect people from criminals and their flourishing arsenals, the Interior Ministry on Friday proposed legislation allowing possession of the non-lethal weapons, the state news agency Tass reported.

″Despite the fact that the number of weapons legally available to the country’s residents is rather high, ... law enforcement agencies admit that they cannot ensure the full safety of citizens,″ Tass paraphrased ministry official Eduard Kalachev as saying.

Kalachev, head of the ministry’s department for maintenance of public order, told a conference of Soviet law enforcement agencies that more than 3,000 crimes have been committed with a firearm this year.

No comparison figures were given, but officials last year had reported 5,000 such crimes as of November 1990, according to a report at the time by the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda.

Kalachev said there are nearly 4.7 million legally registered firearms in the country of 289 million people, including 3.5 million hunting guns and 1.1 million combat guns in possession of various government agencies, Tass reported.

The ministry evidently did not count combat weapons possessed by the Soviet military, which has an estimated 2.5 million servicemen. The ministry also did not give an estimate of illegal firearms in the country.

The Komsomolskaya Pravda report last year said officials estimated Soviets had 3.6 million illegal guns. In a report on the flourishing black market arms trade, the newspaper said it was possible to buy a ″railway car full of weapons″ including grenade launchers and heavy machine guns.

Kalachev said more than 15,000 legally registered firearms, including more than 150 machine guns, are missing from government arsenals. Others are missing but haven’t been accounted for, he said.

Alexander Turbanov, a deputy chief of the ministry’s legal support department, said the draft legislation covers ″self-defense weapons″ such as tear gas and other weapons that shoot chemical irritants.

It would allow sale of ″shock-and-pain causing devices,″ like the stun guns used by American police to deliver an electric shock.

The weapons would be sold through a network of government-run stores to people over 16 who have obtained permits from law enforcement agencies, the Interfax news agency quoted Turbanov as saying.

Some participants at the conference took issue with the proposal, Tass and Interfax said, without giving any details. Kalachev said a final decision rests with the national legislature, the Supreme Soviet.

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