Kazakhstan strengthens restrictions on gun ownership

By Alexander Bogatik

An Almaty police officer checks a weapon at its owner's residence July 27. [MVD photo obtained by Alexander Bogatik]

An Almaty police officer checks a weapon at its owner's residence July 27. [MVD photo obtained by Alexander Bogatik]

ASTANA -- Police in Kazakhstan are cracking down on illegal firearm ownership.

The move comes after terrorists staged deadly attacks in Aktobe June 5 and in Almaty July 18. In Aktobe, they stormed two gun stores in search of weapons.

Operation Karu (Weapons) took place nationwide July 25-31. Police confiscated unregistered firearms and checked whether gun owners were storing their weapons safely.

The operation was part of security measures that President Nursultan Nazarbayev ordered at a June 10 meeting of the country's Security Council, days after the Aktobe terrorist attack.

About 235,000 citizens owned about 284,000 firearms, as of July, according to the government.

Confiscating illegal weapons

Police accomplished much during Operation Karu, they say.

They are not disclosing nationwide statistics but say they primarily seized unregistered shotguns, non-lethal pistols and tasers.

Police in one province are reporting what they accomplished.

In West Kazakhstan, police seized 16 weapons. They visited more than 6,000 gun owners and found 243 violations of weapon storage regulations. The violators were fined.

Illegal owners of firearms face "a fine of up to 10m KGS [US $29,000] ... or up to five years of prison", Janatas lawyer Aidos Otorbekov told Caravanserai.

Those who surrender their weapons voluntarily are exempt from prosecution, he added.

Kazakhstani citizens may purchase "hunting weapons, gas pistols and tasers with a permit from the police", Taraz gun store saleswoman Altynai Asylbekova told Caravanserai. "Pepper spray is the only self-defence means that you may buy without a permit."

Foreign nationals may not obtain a weapon permit in Kazakhstan, she said.

One owner describes police visit

"I understand these inspections," Boris Trukhov, a Taraz resident, told Caravanserai. "I keep my firearm and bullets in a safe with an alarm system .. In conditions where terrorist attacks are a menace, we need to be understanding about these kinds of measures."

Starting April 15, Kazakhstan is also buying back weapons from the public.

The national government is paying about 21,000 to 210,000 KZT (US $60 to $600) for weapon, the Interior Ministry (MVD) website says. The pay-out depends on each weapon's condition.

As of January 1, citizens no longer may own pistols that fire rubber bullets, though they still are allowed to own pistols that fire tear gas cartridges.

The government cited the frequent criminal use of rubber-bullet pistols as the reason for the ban.

Authorities seek tighter security in gun stores

Authorities are questioning the security of gun stores.

Terrorists who wanted weapons attacked gun stores in Taraz November 12, 2011, and in Aktobe June 5. In both cities, they encountered almost no resistance and stole guns. A gun salesman and store security guard were killed in Aktobe.

The government is seeking tougher security in the country's 103 gun stores to deter future terrorist targeting of the stores. They already have video surveillance systems, but by the end of the year, the police want every gun store to have a "panic button" for notifying police of an emergency.

Other ideas that the government is reviewing include stricter requirements for citizens applying for gun permits and prohibiting the siting of gun stores in apartment buildings. If the second idea becomes law, such stores would have to operate out of their own buildings.

A third idea would require all stores to keep weapons disassembled, so that police would be likelier to reach the scene before thieves could obtain a ready-to-use firearm.

Gun owners, through their association in Kazakhstan, suggest other reforms.

"Our views do not always coincide [with the government's]," Sergei Katnov, vice-president of the Almaty-based Kazakhstan Weapons Association "Koramsak", told Caravanserai.

Koramsak especially disagrees with the proposal to make gun stores move out of apartment buildings.

"More than 80% of Kazakhstan's gun stores are in apartment buildings," he said. "If they have to move ... some will shut down. The others will move into cheap buildings on the edge of town, which would greatly increase police response time."

The Taraz and Aktobe attacks on gun stores showed "that security guards were unprepared ... and [the stores] did not communicate well with law enforcement", Koramsak said in a statement.

The association proposes measures like fastening weapons to stands in the stores and installing alarm and video systems that are directly connected to police stations.

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