By Cody Wisniewski
Nearly three months in, it’s tough to judge the overall state of Ukraine’s war with Russia. But there’s widespread agreement (and amazement), that Ukraine has defeated Russia’s initial effort to take Kyiv and topple the Ukrainian government. Much of Ukraine’s success in this regard has come from ordinary citizens bearing arms in defense of their country.
This is almost certainly the gun rights story of the year and possibly the decade—showing the world that the natural right of self-defense is an integral part of individual liberty and an essential check on tyranny. Whatever happens now, these lessons should never be forgotten.
But does Ukraine’s own government sufficiently understand these truths? Reports out of the country suggest an underlying gun control ideology still has a hold on officials, despite some movement in the direction of liberty.
Ultimately, Ukraine will undermine its own fight for freedom from Russian tyranny if it steps back from protecting citizens’ natural self-defense rights.
The nation’s initial embrace of civilian armament was sudden and dramatic. As Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February, Ukraine handed out more than 25,000 automatic rifles and 10 million rounds of ammunition to volunteers in Kyiv. Simultaneously, Ukraine’s parliament overcame decades of debate to pass a more friendly gun rights law. While the legislation has major flaws, it’s better than the prior system: a Soviet-era holdover in which a single official could ban all private gun ownership.
In April, a new communique from the Ministry of Defense praised the “volunteers who took up arms” for “doing an incredible job . . . with weapons in hand, you liberated the north of Ukraine from the Russian occupiers, and now you are fighting for the south and east of Ukraine.”
This same message, however, goes on to take a different tone from Ukrainian officials’ stance in February.
The communique orders volunteers in several regions to return their weapons: “Some of our regions have been liberated from the occupiers, and there is no fighting . . . in these regions, it is time to concentrate weapons in certain storage areas. You will take care of [the weapon], take [it] for training, and, if necessary, get [it] to complete tasks.”
Even if the weapons are state property, this disarmament decree seems unwise — especially for a country still very much at war, where civilians have allegedly been indiscriminately killed and otherwise brutalized, and where some Russians would reportedly like to “do it again.”
The order also indicates Ukraine may be uncomfortable with the armed citizenry that has helped to keep it free thus far. And it’s not the only indication of that discomfort.
Prior to Russia’s 2022 invasion, President Zelenskyy opposed a major campaign to expand the legal protection of gun rights. As Firearms News noted in a recent article, Zelenskyy’s current vision of security is for Ukraine to become “a ‘big Israel,’” as well as a European Union member.
While Israel is well-known for its military prowess, that country also (in the words of its Public Security Ministry) “does not recognize a right to bear arms, and anyone wanting to do so must meet a number of requirements, including a justified need to carry a firearm.” EU policies are similarly restrictive, with gun ownership being treated as a state-granted privilege and not the preexisting natural right that it is.
All of this suggests Ukraine’s government does not fully grasp the lesson its armed citizens have taught the world: that gun rights are human rights, while gun control offers only an illusion of safety.
As with so much else in this conflict, however, the future for civilian armament and gun rights is unclear. On May 13, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov announced the country intends to arm a million people for “a new, long phase of the war.”
Reznikov says Ukraine “must plan resources carefully, avoid mistakes and project our strength in such a way that the enemy ultimately breaks.”
It’s already clear that Ukrainians could have been much more effective in their defense if they had been able to train with these tools their entire lives instead of quickly learning to handle them during an invasion.
Ukraine has the opportunity to empower its citizens to exercise their right to self- and national-defense and to continue to defend the country against Russian aggression in one fell swoop. But one of the worst mistakes Ukraine could make would be a schizophrenic gun policy that alternates between mass armament and mass disarmament. If this is where the country is headed, it’s imperative to change course.
The key to avoiding this mistake is recognizing the truth about our rights.
Individual self-defense, and national self-defense, are simply two different forms of the same natural right. Both must be fully embraced for Ukraine to survive in freedom.
Cody J. Wisniewski (@TheWizardofLawz) is the director of Mountain States Legal Foundation’s Center to Keep and Bear Arms. He primarily focuses on Second Amendment issues but is happy so long as he is reminding the government of its enumerated powers and constitutional restrictions.
To learn more about the Center to Keep and Bear Arms’ work and support their fight for your natural right to self-defense—from both man and tyranny—visit www.mslegal.org/2A and donate today!