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A firearms/terrorist fudge – or an opportunity to begin a slow process? Ukraine

July 16, 2015

A recent entry relating to the events in Mukachevo stated thus: “Both Ukraine and Russia are awash with illicit weapons that entered the east of Ukraine and either seeped out of the ATO zone into Ukraine, or were smuggled back into Russia by Russian organised crime.  Both nations, as predicted when events in Donetsk initially unfolded more than a year ago, will have to face a well armed criminality, vigilantism, and “underground movements” as never before – and find a way to disarm or retrieve the illicit arms.”

The presidential response it appears, at least legislatively, will in part, mirror that of the Balkans:  “In the Balkans, when the war was subsiding and there were huge amounts of weapons, any armed appearance in the street not connected with law enforcement bodies activity was qualified as terrorism.  Consequently, law enforcement bodies exercised their exclusive right to treat you like a terrorist.

After studying this experience, I do not exclude submitting to the Verkhovna Rada this legislative initiative in the near future.”

This, he qualified, would be temporary legislation until the situation in the country was stable.

A prudent course of action?

The aim, temporarily at least, is clearly try to dissuade armed groups outside the command and control of the State – be they organised crime, vigilantes, or terrorists, or “volunteers” – taking to the streets heavily and illegally armed.

Should that not be the aim permanently?

Thus, is legislation temporarily allowing law enforcement to treat as terrorists all those with illegally possessed weapons wandering the streets in any way going to address the short or longer term issues of the nation being awash with illicit and “anonymous” weaponry?

Illegally held firearms/explosives/heavy weaponry as proscribed by any legislation are just that – illegal – whether those holding those weapons are temporarily identified terrorists de jure or not.

Does making such a temporary de jure proscription regarding terrorism, genuinely assist the law enforcement officers approaching anybody/group carrying a weapon(s) within the territory of Ukraine?  Until they can ascertain whether somebody is legitimately in possession of a weapon – or not, they will not know whether any temporary de jure terrorist designation applies – or not.

Considering the high number of reported cases of SBU arrests for terrorism and subsequent weapons seizures, with few if any deaths during those arrests thus far, will this actually practically progress law enforcement ability in any meaningful way?

As and when it is established whether the weapon is legally held or not, the grounds for arrest, powers of weapons seizure, and any subsequent prosecution would may be far better dealt with by way of illegal possession rather than necessarily proscribing and prosecuting all offending citizens as terrorists, many of whom probably won’t actually be terrorists by way of existing legislative definition.

If it becomes apparent that those detained are indeed terrorists, then existing terrorist legislation would then apply – as it has been thus far.

The question asked therefore, is whether or not existing firearms legislation, and existing terrorism legislation do not already suffice if properly applied and enforced.  Would any temporary legislation proscribing all those carrying illicit weapons in the streets of Ukraine as “terrorists” make any practical difference, or enhance the policing required at the time any such offence is commissioned and offenders detained?

Much will depend upon the wording and interpretation of any temporary legislation presumably.

What will qualify as the legal carrying of weapons under any temporary terrorism law, and how best could it be employed?  Can it be used to begin to address future, medium/long term issues?

Looking forward, the question remains as to how Ukraine will deal with the large quantity of unregistered and illegally held weaponry/explosives/heavy weaponry that has now seeped across its territory?

Is a person lawfully employed within the military, law enforcement or national guard exempt – even if the actual weapon is not registered, or formally issued, but has been “acquired” along the way?

Is now not a good time, if necessary under the auspices of this proposed temporary legislation, to review who (national guard, military, law enforcement) legitimately holds, and is in possession of what – and regardless of how they acquired it, now formally register and  formally issue it to them, thus creating a new and up to date register of then lawfully held and accountable weaponry?

Any weaponry then undeclared is subsequently classed as unlawfully held regardless of the lawful status of those proscribed to legally hold firearms?

Discounting lawfully issued weaponry to those on active service, clearly there is a need to review existing firearms laws, deciding what weapons can be privately held and those that will be prohibited by law, how and where they must be registered, how they must be stored and how they can (or cannot) be carried in public places – All the usual parameters to legitimate private firearm ownership.  (Whether or not there would be a need for legislative changes after that review remains to be seen.)

Thereafter providing a legal window for those holding currently anonymous/unregistered weapons that they will legally be allowed to hold the opportunity to identify and register those weapons with the State would seem rather sensible – together with an amnesty for surrendering all weapons that will be prohibited by law from being privately held, post any review.

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The result being all illicitly held firearms/weapons/heavy weapons – having given the nation opportunity to legalise the currently illegitimate – would fall under the reviewed (and possibly unchanged) firearms legislation – or terrorist legislation where appropriate.

No amount of legislation or amnesty opportunities will account for all the weaponry that has seeped, and will continue to seep, across Ukraine.  It would be a fantasy to think that organised crime, vigilantes, or “swivel-eyed underground groups” will not retain weaponry, appoint quatermasters, and secrete weapons for “future operations”/”just in case”.  No doubt illicit arms stashes will be found a decade from now, buried, hidden etc., and no doubt many will be used in illegal activity in the years ahead too.

The point being however, if new temporary legislation relating to the illegal possession of weapons on the street will be classed as terrorism, should it not be accompanied by the opportunity to legalise – or surrender – currently illicit and unregistered weaponry held, that does not and will not appear on the street, to owners who can then be held accountable for the weapons they now possess – thus beginning to address what will be a very difficult future issue.

Does it not seem sensible to start a process of bringing illicit weaponry into the legal realm, or providing opportunity to depose of it without legal consequence via amnesty, and thus begin to account for it and its ownership as soon as possible – particularly that illicit and anonymous weaponry held outside of the ATO zone?

Is it not a reasonable to use any proposed temporary terrorist legislation as part of a wider firearm/weapons policy platform considering the nationwide publicity it will attract?

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