Russia was hit by a rare and tragic event on Monday: a school shooting. Sergei Gordeyev, a 15-year-old student armed with his father's hunting rifle, allegedly killed two teachers and briefly held around 20 people hostages before police detained him. Such incidents are virtually unheard of in the country, and politicians and others are offering circuitous remedies.
In an interview with Russian newspaper Pravda, the Association of Child Psychologists' Alexander Kuznetsov blamed video game and TV violence, suggesting that they foment antisocial attitudes. The State Duma is now considering a bill that would ban shooter-based video games.
Activist Boris Altshuler suggests that the nation's children are burdened by the loneliness of the internet and should engage in "semi-mandatory extracurricular activities" as students did during Soviet times.
President Vladimir Putin asserts that a more refined and cultured education would teach youths greater empathy, ultimately preventing them from engaging in crimes.
While some of these propositions may (or may not) affect the underlying social problems Russian youth face, they don't at all address how to actually prevent future violent crimes like the one that shocked the nation yesterday.
The shooting happened despite the fact that Russia has very strict gun control laws. Handguns are entirely banned from private ownership. Anyone who wants to buy a rifle must demonstrate a genuine reason for needing it (such as hunting), submit to a background check that includes criminal, mental, and medical records (suffering from alcoholism is an immediate disqualifier), participate in safety training, and renew their license every five years. Even in one's own home, guns must be locked up and are subject to inspections by police. Both concealed and open carry are largely prohibited.
Russians own fewer than 13 million firearms (compared to the nearly 310 million firearms in America) and predictably face few gun-related crimes. That's not to say that guns are inaccessible or unused for criminal pursuits. Black market arms dealing is highly lucrative. And, last year one of the nation's top mobsters was shot and killed in broad daylight.
Meanwhile, law-abiding civilians seem to be most encumbered by regulations. "Successful use of long-stemmed guns is depressingly rare," writes Vladimir Simonov of RIA-Novosti, because "burglars have already broken in while you're still fiddling with the key to the case to get hold of your favorite gun."
Yet, violent crime doesn't appear to be in any way stifled by the scarcity of legal guns. United Nations' data from 2011 (the most recently available) shows that Russia experienced 11.2 homicides per 100,000 people, which is more than double what the U.S. faced. This may be unsurprising, given a recent Harvard study that crunched numbers on gun crimes world-wide and found "no correlation of high gun ownership nations and greater murder per capita or lower gun ownership nations and less murder per capita."
The loss of life yesterday in Russia deserves much mourning. The nation has been lucky to experience so few school shootings. But, if it hopes to prevent similar incidents and curb its overall homicide rate, both the government and the people must reconsider their belief in restricting the self-defense of law-abiding citizens.