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From Russia With Love (and Guns)

Maxim Popenker takes a detailed look at Russian gun ownership.

From Russia With Love (and Guns)

A Russian gun store clerk with his wares, a .223 PAR Mk.2 AR-15-style rifle and a 5.45mm Kalashnikov TR3 (civilian semi-auto AK-12).

Russia and guns. What do you know about this? Kalashnikov? Mosin? But how about present-day Russian shooters and hunters? All right friends, here is a take on Russians and their gun laws from Russia with love.

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A poster from 1918 calling on citizens of Soviet Russia to surrender their military weapons such as: handguns, rifles, and “cold arms” like sabers and bayonets.

Russia is an old country with centuries of history. It is also very big country and up until the 20th century it was mostly agrarian, covered with endless fields and plains, and even greater woods of all types. Hunting was, and still is, a recognized and respected pastime. However, Russian gun culture is much broader and more complex than just hunting.

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Pages from pre-1917 mail-order catalogues of various Russian gun dealers.

A Bit of History

Back in imperial times, that is, before 1917, hunting was popular among all classes of citizens from mere peasants and factory workers and up to nobility and emperors themselves. Of course, reasons for hunting were different. For lower classes, game getting was a way to improve family food supply (or even a matter of survival), while upper classes enjoyed hunting as a hobby and a popular social pastime. Many famous Russian writers of 19th and early 20th century were passionate hunters and wrote a lot about their own exploits and nature. Due to popularity and often necessity of hunting shotguns were sold freely across empire, and, in fact, many dealers and distributors printed mail-order catalogues that offered shotguns and shooting supplies for anyone. Typical offers ranged from inexpensive but robust guns made in Tula or Izhevsk and up to finely crafted high-end European guns, mostly of Belgian or French origin. American shotguns typically represented middle class. Rifles and handguns were a different story, though. During early 1900s, a person was required to procure a purchase permit from local police chief to obtain a rifle or a handgun. Normally this was not a big deal, unless the applicant was known to the police as a troublemaker, criminal, or political radical. Rifles offered were from both domestic or foreign manufacturers, while most handguns were imported. Again, Belgium and France were most prominent, although Germany and the USA also supplied their wares to Russian market.

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A page from a late 1920s manual for 6.35mm Korovin TK pistol. Note that on the left side it lists safety rules for firearms, which sound really familiar for modern shooters.

It must be noted that when the Bolsheviks came into power after the second revolution of 1917 that they never intended to fully disarm people. While they did their best to confiscate “weapons of war” (military issued rifles, machine guns, handguns, etc.), which were abundant everywhere after the Great War, revolutions, and the Civil War, the government still recognized hunting as an essential activity. You also might be surprised, that during 1920s and early 1930s, Soviet Russia was producing a pocket-type civilian pistol chambered in 6.35mm (.25ACP) known as the Korovin TK, which was sold or issued to Communist party members and other “active” citizens.


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A 1957 newspaper ad for TOZ BM shotguns available via mail order.

The Soviet government also made effort to militarize the society during 1930s. Schoolchildren and adults were encouraged to join government-sponsored shooting clubs, and shooting galleries were built in many public parks, schools and universities. Teenagers were taught to shoot airguns and small-bore rifles and pistols, and by 18 years of age many were already familiar with Mosin bolt-action rifles. Hunting was also encouraged, and during the Great Patriotic War many former hunters became famous snipers such as Semen Nomokonov. He had recorded score of 360 kills, including one German general, and he usually shot his Mosin M1891/30 rifle with iron sights, same as he hunted fur game before the war. Hunting was so important to supplement wartime rations of people that in 1944, at the height of the wartime production, Soviet government ordered Izhevsk weapons plant to resume mass manufacture of hunting shotguns.


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1958 hunting and sporting gun catalogs.

Up until late 1970s, shotguns were easily obtainable by most soviet people. Normally, it took only an ID card (in the form of a passport), a membership card from a hunting club, and a small pocket of money to get a shotgun which was produced in Tula or Izhevsk. In 1970, the average price for a single-barrel shotgun, such as 16-gauge Izh-17, was about 35 rubles, less than a half of a typical monthly salary of a factory worker. Double guns, such as Izh-27 or Toz-34 (over/under shotguns in 12, 16, 20, and 32 gauges) were more expensive at 100-200 rubles for plain or slightly embellished version, but still within a reach of an average citizen.

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Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev hunting in 1973. Note one of his Colt revolvers strapped to his belt.

Rifles were still considered to be tools for professional hunters though, and thus sold only on special permits; handguns were out of civilian circulation completely, except for the very top brass in Communist party or Soviet Military. Many top-ranking generals and marshals owned presentation pistols of various types. Leonid Brezhnev, Secretary General of Communist party and de-facto leader of Soviet Union, owned and often carried (while on hunt) one of four Colt revolvers, presented to him by American movie star Chuck Connors in 1973, and President Gerald Ford in 1974. (For more information on the Chuck Conners trip to Russia, visit OurChuckConnors.com/trip-to-russia.html).

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A schoolboy shooting a .22LR TOZ-8 rifle, circa 1970. (Mikhail Chernichkin, TASS)

Sport shooting was still encouraged for everyone. During the final two years of high school, kids of both genders (yes, girls too) were given a brief but mandatory military preparedness course, which included safety and marksmanship basics and handling of infantry weapons. As a side note, military toys and toy guns also were abundant and ever popular; my parents still have a photo of me at six-years old, from 1979, with fairy accurate but scaled down plastic copy of Type 3 AK slung across my neck. Other gun toys ranged from small pistols firing pistons or plastic projectiles, and up to quite spectacular (and highly desirable by most boys) Maxim machine guns on wheeled mounts scaled down for about 2/3 or original size. In short, Soviet society had rather widespread gun culture, but it was primarily centered on defense of motherland and secondly, on hunting.

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Military training at high school in the mid-1970s.

Exit USSR, Enter Russia

The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 created a huge political and economic turmoil, which caused surge of all types of crime, including organized and gang crime, religious terrorism, national conflicts and so on. Therefore, new Russian law on weapons, which was put into effect in late 1996, added home defense as a legitimate reason to own long guns. This legislation, with many amendments, is still in effect and governs ownership and use of civilian weapons in Russia. Below is a brief overview of this law, with necessary comments.




First, law recognizes three main types of weapons – “civilian”, “service”, and “combat”.

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The R-92S revolver, made by KBP in Tula and chambered for 9x17mm (.380ACP) ammunition using special star-shaped clips, was one of the early offerings for private security companies.

Civilian guns are intended for use in self-defense, hunting, sport, as well as for education and cultural entertainment. The law recognizes several types of firearms that are legal for civilian use, under different circumstances and limitations. Ownership of most types of firearms requires purchase permits and mandatory registration with local police. Other types or weapons (such as low-power airguns and blank-firing guns) do not require any paperwork and are sold freely to any adult aged 18 or older.

Service weapons are intended for use by licensed private security companies, money transfer companies, and private detectives. Such weapons are owned by a company which must hold an appropriate certification from Ministry of Internal Affairs and issued to its employees for the duration of their service. Those weapons include specially certified shotguns and less lethal guns, as well as handguns in 9x17mm (.380 ACP) only. Service pistols and less lethal guns cannot be resold to civilian markets but used service shotguns (usually in .410 or 12 gauge) can be found in gun shops from time to time.


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Examples of permits to possess and carry firearms, which belong to the author of this article. Each permit is for one specific gun, which is listed by name, caliber and serial number. Permits must be renewed every five years.

Combat weapons are restricted to government only, and include all types of guns, from pistols to heavy machine guns, grenade launchers and bigger ordnance, which can be issued by state-controlled military and law enforcement organizations. Those weapons are prohibited for civilian ownership in their original form.

Licensed weapons include; air guns with muzzle energy of more than 7.5 Joules (5.5 ft. lbs.), less-lethal weapons which can fire tear gas or rubber bullets, and long guns – rifles and shotguns. Each type of weapon requires its own type of purchase permit and its own registration card, although there are currently talks about introduction of an “e-permit” in the form of a smart card that can hold information on all guns owned by a person in a single chip. Th law also limits number of guns of each type that can be owned by a single citizen. These numbers are: up to two less-lethal guns, up to five shotguns and up to five rifles. However, these limits can be easily extended with collector license, and in this case only the sky (and a bank account) is the limit. The law also requires safe storage of firearms that precludes access of unlicensed persons to guns and ammunition. Basically, this means that all guns and ammunition must be stored in a locked gun cabinet or safe. Another limitation imposed by law is that ammunition for firearms can be purchased and owned only in calibers one has a weapon license(s) for. That is, if you have a registration card/carry license for a shotgun in 12 gauge, you can only purchase loaded ammunition in 12 gauge. Sales of gun powder (black and smokeless) is also restricted to holders of firearm registration cards, although no one would check a specific firearm type and caliber on the card in this case.

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A fairly typical gun cabinet/safe, which can hold up to seven long guns. In this particular case, it contains four long guns, one less-lethal revolver and roughly a couple of thousands of rounds of ammunition in 9x19mm, .357 Magnum, 5.45x39mm, and 12 gauge.

Procedure of purchasing of any licensed weapon starts with obtaining a purchase permit from the local police. The first-time buyer must be 18 years of age or older, have a clean criminal record, pass brief medical exam (including visits to psychiatrist), and drug test. First time buyers also have to attend mandatory half-day firearms safety class and pass subsequent test. Official paperwork from these tests is brought to a local licensing office, which in due course issues one or more (as requested by an applicant) purchase permits. Each permit is valid for one gun of a specific class (rifle, shotgun, or less-lethal) and must be used up within six months or it becomes invalid. After purchase, new gun must be registered at the same licensing office within 10 business days from the date of purchase. Face-to-face transfers of guns between persons can be done at the premises of the licensing office. Sale of used guns through gun shops requires special sales permit from the same police office which the gun is registered with.

According to the recent police statistics, there are about five million of firearm owners in Russia, from a total population of 140 million people. Total number of licensed gun shops across the country is estimated at five hundred. While you may find guns posted for sale online in Russian-language segment of internet, all actual sales of guns and ammunition must be made in person and through gun shops or licensing offices. Online services are used for ordering of guns and ammo with delivery to a specific dealer, as well as for ordering all sorts of non-regulated but gun-related items such as sights, magazines, slings, and so on.  There are only a handful of gun manufacturers, big and small, but number of private companies that produce gun-related items, non-regulated parts, accessories and services is slowly growing.

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A glass display in one of the local gun shops with “shotguns” in 366TKM and 9.6x53 Lancaster.

What is in our gun cabinets?

Now, let’s look closer on civilian guns. First, as you probably noted, ownership of handguns is not permitted for civilians in Russia, with sole exception of “presentation” guns, issued by government for certain achievements. Long guns, which can be certified for sales on civilian market but must follow some guidelines. First, in ready to fire condition, a civilian long gun must not be shorter than 80 cm (32 inches). If gun features a folding stock and is shorter than 80 cm with stock folded or collapsed, it must include special trigger lock which precludes firing in folded position. Magazine capacity is officially limited to 10 rounds, with special exemption for practical shooters who may use magazines of any capacity. However, wording of the law only prohibits use of high capacity magazines, so selling, buying, and owning them is legal. Also, there is no well-formulated punishment or penalty for use of “high-capacity” magazines when shooting at the range. Use of large capacity magazines for hunting, however, is specifically prohibited by separate rules, and is punished by a significant monetary fine. Similar situation surrounds use of sound moderators. Wording in the legislation prohibits use of “silencers”, but there’s no formal definition of the silencer in the law! As such, many muzzle devices are certified by their makers as “muzzle compensators” and “flash hiders” and sold freely on civilian market.

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Russia-special smoothbore ammo 366TKM and 9.6x53 Lancaster. Note that available loads include mostly slugs, but also available with birdshot in white plastic cap for .366, and with 8.5mm buckshot in green plastic cap for 9.6mm

Shotguns

Shotguns by far are most popular and versatile weapons in Russia. They are used for hunting, sport, recreational shooting. Quite a few also are bought for home defense purposes, although this mostly happens in rural areas of the country. Of course, Russian market is dominated by domestic brands, which are few. In fact, there are only three manufacturers that make mass market shotguns in Russia – Kalashnikov concern, VPO Molot, and TOZ (Tula Arms factory). Kalashnikov offers single and double barrel shotguns as well as classic semi-automatics under its “Baikal”/“MP” brand. Of those, there are three top selling models: MP-18 single barrel shotgun, MP-27 O/U, and MP-155 gas operated semi-automatic. In terms of chamberings, 12 gauge is most dominant, and ammunition and components of domestic and foreign makes are widely available across the country. Other options for hunters include TOZ-34 O/U and Molot Bekas-12 pump and semi-auto shotguns. Foreign brands are represented by many Turkish guns at the bottom of the price spectrum, and by European brands at the top. Besides traditional “B triumvirate” (Beretta, Benelli, Browning) other strong contenders are Franchi, Fabarm, Merkel, Sauer, and Blaser. American shotguns are represented mostly by Remington and Mossberg and form a middle class between Turkish and European offers.

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Tactical shotguns are very popular in Russia, for plinking, home defense/SHTF and as starting platforms for IPSC. There are two brands that unquestionably dominate this segment – “Saiga” by Kalashnikov and “Vepr” by VPO Molot. Both systems are based on a proven and highly reliable Kalashnikov AK action, and both have strong and dedicated fans. Until recent times, this segment was dominated by 12 gauge guns, with 20 gauge and .410 weapons slowly fading out of favor. Starting in about 2016, tactical shotgun market in Russia was severely affected by appearance of an entirely new type of cartridge – the .366 TKM. This is a highly interesting round which does not look like a shotgun shell at all. It is based on a 7.62x39mm case necked out to accept .366 caliber slug but certified as a shotgun (“smoothbore”) round because Russian gun law recognizes the “Paradox” and “Lancaster” barrel designs as smoothbore. The original weapon for the .366TKM was the VPO-208 from Molot, basically a Simonov SKS carbine rebarreled with Paradox barrel. Soon both Molot and Kalashnikov introduced their own version of the venerable AK-47 action in the .366TKM, which look exactly like their ‘rifle’ parents, but with slightly bigger bore. Those weapons can shoot slugs with decent accuracy out to 150-200 meters, and can be used for hunting, as the muzzle energy for .366 TKM is usually between 2,000 and 2,700 Joules (1,475 to 1,991 ft. lbs.). Bullet weight ranges from six to 15 grams (96 to 232 grains), and muzzle velocities vary from 800 to 550 meters per second (100 – 230 grains at 2,620 – 1,800 fps). To keep appearances of a proper shotgun, this round is also available with a load of birdshot inside a bullet-shaped plastic container. For bigger game there is a 9.6x53 Lancaster cartridge of similar concept, based on the old 7.62x54R case. Because of this, “shotguns” in this caliber with Lancaster-type oval bore rifling are based on older M1891/30 Mosin bolt action and Dragunov SVD semi-automatic rifles. With more than 4,000 Joules (over 2,950 ft-lbs.) of muzzle energy, the 9.6x53 Lancaster makes a decent big game round, usable for elk, moose and boar, with practical ranges extending out to 200-250 meters. On the other end of the power spectrum, there are two new quasi-pistol calibers, the .345TKM and 9x22 Altay. Both rounds are mimicking the ubiquitous 9x19 Luger in external appearance and ballistics with small changes in external dimensions but are certified as smoothbore and can be fired through Lancaster or Paradox type barrels, fitted to carbines originally made for 9x19mm.

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A typical display in the same gun shop, with most popular rifles available on the market. Note that there’s one EU-made AR-15 rifle among Kalashnikov and Dragunov type rifles made in Russia.

Rifles

According to our legislators, rifles require more “mature” approach, and thus a rifle purchase permit can be applied for only after at least five years of trouble-free shotgun ownership. It does not matter if you want to purchase a .22LR plinker, a civilian clone of AKM or SVD, or a .338LM long range target rifle – either way you have to wait for five years while owning and shooting shotguns. However, recent appearance of the “rifle-based smoothbore” cartridges like .366TKM, 9.6x53 or .345TKM previously mentioned, allows a lot of people to shoot guns with rifle-like performance right from the start, and that is well enough for many. A lot of shooters, who initially bought SKS or AK-type guns in .366 as temporary substitutes for “true” rifles, now think that those "" guns are good enough for them not to bother with rifle license. Still, people do buy rifles for a variety of purposes. Of course, quite a lot of hunters use rifles for any game from small to large. Their options include relatively inexpensive domestic weapons, either based on proven military designs (SKS, AK, SVD) or specifically designed from hunting (i.e. Baikal-145 from Kalashnikov), or a lot of more pricey foreign guns like CZ, Browning, Benelli or Remington. Plus, there’s a small number of domestic private companies that can make really accurate guns for hunting, target and long-range shooting. Of those, two most prominent names are ORSIS and Lobaev, which in many respects offer serious competition to most popular precision rifles from U.S. and Europe. Another fast-growing market niche is the practical shooting. Here, people are split between two camps – one group sticks to heavily modified Kalashnikovs, another rides ‘inomarki’ (foreign brands). For domestic brands, basic platforms are represented by Vepr and Saiga rifles, from Molot and Kalashnikov respectively. However, number of companies and small gun shops that offer custom parts and services is growing fast and probably runs in many dozens. Foreign platforms are almost exclusively represented by an AR-15 and its derivatives, made in EU, U.S., China, and Russia. Imported rifles are noticeably more expensive that Russian-made ones, so for an entry-level “practical shooting” AR-15 one can have a fully customized Saiga or Vepr plus a year or two supply of Russian-made ammunition. Availability of proper cartridges is a big concern, as most domestic rifle ammunition is made with steel cases and steel-jacketed bullets. It is quite inexpensive and runs great in Russian-made rifles with chrome-lined barrels. However, many imported guns require brass-cased and brass-jacketed ammunition for adequate functioning and longevity, and such ammunition is usually several times more expensive than Russian equivalents. To give you an idea, the cheapest .223 made in Russia by Tula or Barnaul is retailed at about 10 rubles per round (13 cents per und USD); cheapest foreign brass cased ammo, such as PPU or Armscor, runs at 60-70 rubles per round (78-91 cents USD), and premium European made ammo such as Lapua or Norma can run close to a 100 rubles per round or even more. With current exchange rate of Russian Ruble to USD being about 75 to one, this means that in American currency equivalent .223 Rem ammo in local stores is priced between US $0.13 to $1.5 per round. Until recently, reloading was legally permitted only for shotgun ammunition, but prohibition of rifle reloading was not enforced. Starting in 2019, reloading of rifle cartridges was made officially legal.

Rifle ammunition, which can be sold on civilian market, must be officially certified as such. Sale of incendiary, tracer and armor piercing (with hardened steel or tungsten core) ammunition is prohibited, but most anything else is legal. Theoretically, there’s no top limit in terms of power and caliber, and the biggest certified rifle caliber this far in Russia is the 12.7x108mm, an old Soviet equivalent to American .50BMG. At least two civilian-legal rifles are available in this “Russian Fifty”, both based on military long-range sniper/anti-material weapons, namely ASVK and OSV-96. Another peculiar and formerly military caliber is the 9x39mm, which is available in ‘civilized’ VSS sniper rifles, fitted with dummy sound suppressors. Most popular calibers, though, are ex-military 5.45x39, 7.62x39, and 7.62x54R of domestic origin, plus .223 Rem and .308 Win which dominate the foreign calibers segment, although both are also produced in Russia. Most domestic ammunition is produced by large and formerly state-owned makers such as Barnaul, Tula or Novosibirsk cartridge plants. Among relatively young makers Techkrim (of .366TKM fame) is probably the best known one. Many handgun cartridges like 9x18, 9x19, .357 Magnum, and .45ACP are officially certified as “rifle” ammunition and can be bought for use in a variety of pistol-caliber carbines, such as Saiga-9 by Kalashnikov, or imported guns like Czech V-AR in 9x19 or Rossi 92 in .357/.38, .44 Magnum, and .45LC.

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The PPSh-O, a simple semiautomatic conversion of the WWII-era submachine gun, which is available for Russian gun enthusiasts in its original 7.62x25mm chambering or rebarreled for much more abundant and noticeably cheaper 9x19mm.

Machine guns for hunting? Yes, please!

How about hunting with Degtyarov DP or Maxim M1910, both firing their original 7.62x54R? Too big, too powerful too or expensive for your taste? No problem, there are “hunting” subguns such as PPSh-41 in 7.62x25 or German MP-38 in 9x19. Am I pulling your leg? Well, a little bit.

Russian law requires civilian gun to be semi-automatic only, and to follow requirements described above. However, gun does not have to be made as semi-automatic from the start; current legal situation allows licensed manufacturers to obtain surplus select-fire weapons from Russian military and convert them to civilian legal semi-automatic configurations. For example, all that it takes to convert a PPSh-41 is to weld its selector in single shot position. With guns like AKM or AK-74 conversion requires alterations of the trigger pack, and with open-bolt gun such as DP-27 or MP-38 modifications to the trigger and bolt could be a bit more serious, but still doable. And since civilian guns can be classified upon certification only as “for sport” or “for hunting”, all converted weapons are officially considered to be “civilian semi-automatic hunting rifles”, even belt-fed machine guns, which are sold with belt segments cut to 10 rounds. Prices on those conversions may vary greatly. Semi-auto PPSh-41 are quite inexpensive, and cost about US $500; converted AKM or AK74 can be priced close to $1,000, and “hunting Maxim” will set you back for anything between four and five thousand in U.S. dollars, in Russian ruble equivalent. Magazine-fed guns are sold with magazines restricted to 10 rounds, but standard capacity magazines are freely available on the market. 70-round PPSh drum will cost you about $20, and lightly used 30-round AKM magazine in bakelite usually costs less than $10. Of course, no one really expects someone to go deer hunting with DP or PPSh, as these gun owners are mostly interested in military history and collecting; but it is possible, at least in theory.

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A new Russian-made .22LR match-grade pistol for Olympic type competition.

Handguns

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Small selection of semi-automatic less-lethal pistols at local gun shop. Three guns are of Russian origin, while gun on the top is based on Slovakian Grand Power pistol.

As has been said above, handguns are not available for common citizens. However, certain types of pistols can be owned by appropriately licensed companies and then lent or issued under specific limitations. Private security and similar companies can own pistols and revolvers chambered for 9x17mm ammunition, better known in US as .380 ACP. Those guns can be issued to employees of such companies in the line of their duty. Sport shooting clubs also can purchase pistols which are certified as sport guns and lend them to club members and even to the visitors, provided those are 18 years old or older. Not long ago a special provision in weapons law was made for sportsmen who hold a rank of master in one of recognized shooting disciplines (such as Olympics small-bore pistol or IPSC handgun).

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Another new pistol for IPSC sport is a locally made clone of the highly popular 9mm CZ Shadow II, although there are several important differences inside.

Those sportsmen can purchase appropriate pistols (match-class small-bores or IPSC-approved centerfire guns) for their own personal use. However, those guns must be stored at the shooting club, and could be taken out only for practice session or specific official competitions. Number of sport pistols available for Russian practical shooters includes both Russian made and imported models. Most common Russian pistol so far is the 9x19mm Viking, a sport derivative of the military Yarygin PYa. Most common foreign brands, not surprisingly, are CZ and Glock, but there are some other European pistols such as Tanfoglio or Berretta, plus a number of Chinese NORINCO-made guns, although those are usually reserved for rentals to walk-in customers rather than practicing sportsmen and club members.

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Author’s own less-lethal revolver firing 9PA ammunition with rubber bullets. Made by Taurus in Brazil, it has visible constrictions at the front of each chamber, to preclude use of ‘hard’ projectiles.

Less Lethal Weapons

Less-lethal weapons for self-defense are the most controversial of all. First, guns of this type that appeared on Russian market during early 1990s were cheap tear gas / blank firing pistols, made in Germany and semi-legally imported into the Russia. Sold freely in Germany, those were also not regulated in Russia for a brief time. However, later on tear gas guns were incorporated into the weapons law, requiring purchase licenses and registration. Recognizing low effect of tiny doses of tear gas, by 1999 Russian designers developed a special type of ammunition which fired non-penetrating rubber bullets, similar in concept to ‘baton’ rounds used by Western police for riot control, but of smaller size. Weapons of this type used unique, electric primed ammunition of a rather large caliber (18 mm), but soon Izhevsk mechanical plant began manufacture their tear gas gun, based on Makarov PM and PSM pistols, with capability to fire cartridges loaded with rubber ball bullets of 9mm caliber. Those pistols usually had some kind of obstruction (constriction) inside the bore to avoid use of “hard”, non-deforming projectiles. Russian-made guns in a variety of “traumatic” chamberings were soon complemented by an influx of similar, although usually less durable, guns made in Turkey. Other sources of more quality “traumatic” weapons were Brazil (Taurus) and Slovakia (Grand Power). However, over the time government imposed more strict limitations on the power of traumatic ammunition, decreasing maximum muzzle energy from 120 joules down to 90, thus further limiting its effectiveness. Considering the fact that large parts of the Russia have long cold winters and people usually wear thick winter clothes for months, those guns had indeed very limited practical use. While total of less lethal guns sold in Russia is estimated as one million plus, actual number of people who still carry them is relatively small and is steadily decreasing with time.

It must be noted that there also is a number of unlicensed less-lethal options which are more or less popular. Those include aerosol cans with various tear gas mixtures and pepper sprays, plus some gun-like dispensers that use disposable “cartridges” to launch a portion of lacrimating (eye-tearing) agent at the range of two to three meters.

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American knives are quite popular in Russia.

Knives

Russian weapons law takes distinction between utility knives and other cutlery implements and the “cold weapons”. There is a specific government-issued standard which allows relatively easy classification of any knife, axe, machete or other similar tool. Utility cutlery is sold freely and can be carried along in the pocket, sheath, bag or in the trunk of your car, except for specific public places like schools, government buildings, airports etc. Large hunting knives with certain properties can be carried while on hunt and stored at home or transported packed as long as its owner owns at least one hunting weapon. Military grade cold arms, such as sabers, swords or bayonets can be owned for collecting and decorating purposes, but carrying of a sword, shashka, or kinjal is permitted only with certain historical national costumes. Most folding pocket knives are considered to be utility and are available in retail shops and online. Knives range from cheap Chinese or domestic ones to the very expensive imported brands or hand-forged and crafted custom blades, which are offered by a multitude of companies and individual knife makers and blacksmiths.

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A small selection of pistols available for rent, as listed at the web-site of the “Baltic Shooting center” in St. Petersburg, (www.tirspb.ru).

Manufacturers

Most of the bigger gun manufacturers were already mentioned above. Kalashnikov group, with its “AK”, “Baikal” and “Izhmash” brands is by far the biggest, and controls close to a 90% of total gun manufacturing in Russia. VPO Molot is the second biggest maker, with its “VPO”, “Vepr” and “Bekas” brands, and the Tula Arms Factory (TOZ) is the third. Private gun manufacturers include relatively small companies such as ORSIS and Lobaev, that mostly make precision rifles, as well as a number of even smaller shops which make AR-15 clones (such as Kurbatov arms) or match-grade pistols (Soratnik and Souz-TM). Each company that manufactures guns must follow strict government guidelines and had to obtain proper manufacturing licenses, but it has been proved possible to do so even for small businesses. A number of companies that make gun accessories is much bigger, and one prominent name which is mentioned often is the “PuffGun”, a company from the city of Chelyabinsk which is often called “a Russian Magpul”. Puffgun began its business by making aftermarket magazines for SKS, AK and AR-15 platforms, and now offers an even broader line of polymer magazines in various calibers and capacities, including patented four-column AK-type magazines that hold 60 rounds of 5.45mm or 50 rounds of 7.62x39mm. It also produces a number of polymer pistol grips and other accessories for AK and other similar weapons.

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The author shoots a rental Degtyarov DP-O semiautomatic “hunting rifle” at one of the local indoor ranges.

Shooting Ranges and Clubs

Generally, shooting guns outside of designated hunting areas and out of season is prohibited, except for specially designated shooting clubs and ranges.   However, non-hunting related shooting on private property can be permitted only in specially equipped and designated areas. So, per legal regulations, one can and should build a proper shooting range on his land to be able to shoot there at any time. To be able to hunt on private property, one has to have his land designated as "permitted hunting grounds" by authorities, but he can do so only during the designated season and only with a specific game permit, unless he breeds the game (i.e. boar or deer) himself. And even then, seasonal restrictions apply. (EDITOR’S NOTE: In some European countries, shooting on your own land is illegal even if you own 1,000 acres. This can be in part due to strict environmental laws or due to safety concerns.)

Back in Soviet times there were many government-sponsored shooting clubs that practiced Olympic-type small bore shooting disciplines, as well as trap and skeet shooting. Unfortunately, very few of these clubs survived turbulent post-Soviet times. To give you an idea, a city of St. Petersburg, the second largest city in Russia with more than five million of inhabitants, has only five indoor shooting clubs, and only one of these has 100-meters firing lane, the rest being 25 or 50 meters long. There also is similar number of outdoor shooting ranges, located in suburbs. Some of outdoor ranges offer shooting lanes as long as one kilometer (roughly 1,100 yards). Most clubs have instructors on staff that can either teach basics or give you proper IPSC or “tactical” training. You can walk in with your own guns and ammo and rent a shooting lane or rent a gun (most often a pistol). In latter case, all rental prices are usually included in the price of club-supplied ammo. As an example, I buy 9x19 Luger ammo for my Saiga-9 carbine at roughly 8 rubles (10 cents in USD) per round. If I want to rent a CZ-75 or a Glock-17 at a local gun club, price for a round will be in 50-rubles vicinity, with minimum amount of 20 rounds, but it would be an all-included price ($13 USD to shoot 20 rounds from a pistol).

from-russia-with-love
Plinking at a Russian outdoor range outside of the city limits.

Conclusion

In this text, I did my best to describe situation with civilian guns and gun ownership in Russia. Of course, my description is far from being complete. For example, it does not cover defensive use of guns, which is quite complicated but refers more to criminal code and its application and interpretation by courts. However, as you can see, while in general Russian gun laws are stricter and more prohibitive than American ones, especially in regard to handguns, we still can enjoy our freedoms and own some nice toys. I also must add that many Russian gun enthusiasts are closely watching American situation about 2nd Amendment issues and are fully on the “2A” side. So, as one really famous Russian cartoon character once said: “Ребята, давайте жить дружно!” - “Kids, let’s live in friendship!”

EDITOR’S NOTE: As you can see, Russian citizens have more freedoms to own semi-auto “modern sporting rifles” than American citizens residing in California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, as well as other states depending on which aspect of gun ownership one is examining - and Americans have a God-given right, recognized by our government in the 2nd Amendment, to defend our liberty and our lives against tyranny and genocide. Value your liberties and hold your representatives accountable.

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