Politics Putin Society 17 May 2021

Kazan school shooting sparks gun control debate

Mercifully, school shootings are rare in Russia. But a 19-year-old student went to a high school in the city of Kazan with a gun Tuesday and killed nine people, most of them children. President Vladimir Putin immediately called on officials to come up with proposals to tighten the requirements for gun ownership – but Russia’s rules are already among the strictest in the world. The real problem lies elsewhere.

  • Ilnaz Galyaviev, 19, went on a killing spree at his old high school, Gymnasium No.175, in Kazan, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan. Seven pupils aged between 13 and 15, and two teachers, died. Two of the children fell to their deaths as they tried to leap to safety from a second-floor window. Galyaviev was carrying a cheap semi-automatic rifle that he purchased legally after acquiring a permit on April 28, two weeks before the shooting.
  • While school shootings are not common in Russia, they do occasionally occur. The most recent such incident was in 2018 in Crimea when vocational school student Vladislav Roslyakov, 18, killed 21 people with a semi-automatic rifle. He then shot himself.
  • Galyaviev, who is currently in police custody, turned out to be from a wealthy family and was unknown to law enforcement or social services. Although, it later emerged he was last year diagnosed with brain atrophy, which can lead to cognitive impairment.
  • The Russian authorities reacted exactly like they did following the 2018 tragedy when Putin demanded officials tighten the rules on weapon sales. Yet it’s easy to show that little was actually done: Rosgvardiya, which is responsible for gun control, proposed several laws, including the introduction of a compulsory annual medical assessment for everyone with a firearms license (at present, these tests take place every three years). That might have helped to prevent the shooting in Kazan. However, it was spiked by the Kremlin which,according to Novaya Gazeta, thought the amendments were too severe. Now, however, things might change. Parliament is currently looking at three new laws on weapon permits.
  • Whatever the political response, tightening gun control laws is unlikely to actually stop school shootings. Russian laws are already very strict, not only in comparison with liberal U.S. gun legislation, but also compared with much of Europe. The problem is the Russian issue of effective implementation — once again the old cliché that the severity of Russian law is compensated by a lack of obligation to comply (at least that’s how expert Alexander Golts put it).
  • Another issue is a lack of psychologists in Russian schools. At present, there is something like one psychologist for every 500 pupils, and independent experts claim this is not enough. So far, though, there has been no official interest in changing the situation.

Why the world should care

The Russian authorities may not blame foreign agents or terrorists for this shooting, but they are still capable of using the tragedy to further their own aims. Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the lower house of parliament, for example, suggested it may be a reason to abolish anonymity on the internet.