Unloaded handguns sit on a table alongside ammunition
Unloaded handguns sit on a table alongside ammunition / Stephen Gutowski

Analysis: What Ukraine’s Embrace of Gun Rights as Russia Attacks Could Mean for Europe

Ukraine has finally managed to do what eluded it for over thirty years: pass a law recognizing the right of civilian firearm ownership.

“Draft Law #5708 on the Right to Civilian Firearms” passed the Ukrainian Rada, or parliament, on its first reading on Wednesday.

Americans should take note, as the US gun-rights movement may have indirectly inspired it. But also because the Ukrainians are about to demonstrate to the world just how important the right to keep and bear arms truly is. The law’s timing could not be any more fortuitous. As Ukraine awaits a massive Russian invasion, their people may be forced to test the oft-repeated maxim: the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

The Interior Minister set firearms regulations up to this point. He used his power to set relatively strict restrictions and could theoretically have banned civilian firearm ownership entirely.

That changed with this new law, though a closer look seemingly does not give pro-gun Americans much to celebrate. It mandates licensing and state-run classes and reinforces an already existent national gun registry. Class A (fully automatic) weapons are banned for civilian possession, and Class C (rifled short-barreled) weapons are de facto banned, with ownership restricted to sportsmen. Class B (smoothbore short-barreled) weapons are legal but restricted to those who partake in dangerous professions (though the list is rather broad, including occupations like judges and journalists). However, those who possess Class B weapons can carry them on their person.

From the perspective of an American gun-rights advocate, it leaves much to be desired and seems at best a mixed bag. However, even with these flaws, I would argue that this is an incredibly important law that gun-rights enthusiasts should celebrate.

For one, the context of the law matters. Ukraine is determined to join the European Union and therefore does not wish to contravene EU laws, one of which mandates licensing for most semi-automatic firearms. Ukraine simply could not pass a law like those in America’s reddest states. Even still, the Rada managed to pass a draft law that essentially mandates shall-issue licensing and the right to gun ownership–no small thing. Furthermore, those without a criminal record can purchase a wide spectrum of shotguns and semi-automatic rifles, including weapons like AR-15s and AK-47s.

Most importantly, however, the law codifies the right to use deadly force in defense of life, health, or property. The Chairman of the Rada, Ruslan Stefanchuk, made clear to Ukrainian News that this bill was designed with one key goal in mind: “to ensure that every citizen receives the sacred right to self-defense.” In focusing first on this essential right, the Rada seems to have subconsciously taken inspiration from the American gun-rights movement. By slowly normalizing the idea of carrying firearms on one’s person over a period of decades, American Second Amendment supporters managed to make shall-issue concealed carry mainstream and the law in the majority of states. That’s a 180-degree turn from just decades prior.

The Rada has chosen a similar path. By codifying the right to defend oneself with a firearm into Ukrainian law, they have begun the process of normalizing pro-gun legislation in Ukrainian society. Indeed, the bill’s sponsors hinted at their strategy as it was passing, indicating that the legalization of Class C weapons for all citizens could be next up should firearms find broader acceptance in Ukrainian society.

That such a bill finally passed now after decades of delay is no accident. As of this writing, there are nearly 200,000 Russian soldiers on the border of Ukraine–over 2/3 of the entire Russian army. Days ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a rage-filled address in which he claimed that Ukraine was a fake country and put to rest any doubts some had as to the likelihood of an impending invasion. In response to these rising tensions, there have been numerous reports of Ukrainians’ spiking interest in gun ownership, from the Guardian’s story on Ukrainians’ rush to purchase firearms to the Ukrainian National Police announcing that they were recording a huge increase in firearm purchases.

Should the Ukrainians mount an effective resistance against a likely Russian occupation, expansions of the draft law is sure to follow. But an expansion of gun rights may not be confined to Ukraine. Some countries Russia has threatened, such as Poland, have relatively restrictive firearms laws. If they witness a successful insurgency by an armed population against an invading Russian army, they may rethink their stance on gun rights.

Although it is good that the Ukrainians are stocking up now, one wishes that the Rada had passed such a law before today. The sad fact is that very soon, the people of Ukraine may not be merely invoking their newly enshrined right to individual self-defense: they may be fighting for the self-defense of their nation itself. All Americans who support the right to bear arms should sympathize with their cause. Indeed, such a notion is at the heart of the American idea of gun rights: that the security of a free state depends upon the right to keep and bear arms. And now, such a right is the rock upon which a free state of Ukraine may rest.

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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