Adrian Kelgren’s family gun company in Florida remained holding a batch of semi-automatic rifles worth $ 200,000 after a longtime customer from Ukraine suddenly fell silent during Vladimir Putin’s invasion of the country.

Fearing the worst, Kelgren and his company KelTec decided to use these 400 remaining guns, sending them into the nascent Ukrainian resistance movement to help civilians fight off the Russian military, which has repeatedly shelled their homes, schools, hospitals and hideouts. . .

“The American people want to do something,” said Kelgren, a former U.S. Navy pilot. “We enjoy our freedom, we value these things. And when we see a group of people being killed like that, it’s heartbreaking. “

The KelTec cocoa-based donation is a high-profile example of how Americans collect weapons, ammunition, body armor, helmets and other tactical equipment in response to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s promise to arm his citizens. But many similar grassroots efforts have been thwarted by inexperience with a complex network of rules governing the international supply of such equipment.

Kelgren, who has been dealing with such red tape for years, managed to contact a Ukrainian embassy diplomat through a Ukrainian neighbor, who helped him obtain a federal license to export weapons in just four days. This process can often take months.

This week, as Congress debated whether to send more modern weapons and defense systems to Ukraine, KelTec workers lifted four plastic pallets with their 9mm folding rifles to deliver to undiscovered NATO facilities. From there, the new consignee, the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, will be responsible for smuggling weapons into the war zone.

“That’s when the real cunning and heroism begins,” Kelgren said.

From California to New York, elected officials, sheriff’s departments and nonprofits say they have also collected thousands of sets of body armor and millions of rounds of ammunition for Ukraine.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis launched a campaign last week to ask police and sheriff’s departments to donate surplus ballistic helmets and other equipment. “We know this can be used urgently to help stop Putin and save Ukraine,” he said.

But there are many dangers, in one non-profit organization in New York, which collects tactical equipment, 400 bulletproof vests were stolen before they could be sent.

Many organizers have no idea how to navigate the International Arms Trade Act or ITAR, which sometimes requires permission from the State Department, Trade and Defense to send even immortal tactical equipment.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade group of firearms manufacturers, distributed this week’s step-by-step instructions to its more than 8,000 members on how to apply for an accelerated export license. They also presented a list of specific sniper rifles, pistols and ammunition requested by the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington.

KelTec hopes to organize more deliveries in the future. Its license allows it to export up to 10,000 weapons, and the company offered Ukrainians its own production line and weekly deliveries.

Details of KelTec’s efforts came in a statement this week from Justice Department real estate attorney Lucas Jan Kaczmarek, who said that as a volunteer for the Ukrainian-American Bar Association he was helping Ukraine acquire weapons along with Vladimir Muzylov, Ukraine’s first secretary.

“I expect to work in this capacity during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and I do not receive, do not receive and will not receive any monetary compensation for their assistance,” – wrote Kachmarek in his registration as a foreign agent Zelensky. government.

KelTec is not the only weapons manufacturer to have answered the call.

Another company from Florida, Adams Arms, posted a video on its Facebook account, which, according to her, shows a batch of carbines destined for Ukraine. The company also began selling T-shirts decorated with the iconic final broadcast of a bombing unit of the Ukrainian Border Guard, which told a Russian warship: “Go (bark) yourself!” Proceeds from the sale of the shirt will go to the military funds of the National Bank of Ukraine.

While rifles do not match Putin’s firepower, such as Sukhoi fighters and cluster bombs, they could play an important role if Russians get involved in street fighting, retired U.S. Army Major John Spencer said.

KelTec employee Bobby Cormier looks at a number of rifles similar to those shipped to Ukraine. (AP Photo / Phelan M. Ebenhack)
The semi-automatic rifles supplied by KelTec are perhaps even more valuable than the high-tech anti-aircraft missiles, which require extensive training unattainable for most civilians, many of whom have never even held a pistol before.

“Every supply of firearms is crucial,” said Spencer, a city war analyst at the Madison Policy Forum, a New York think tank. “You’re giving another tens of thousands of fighters the opportunity to confront with an easy-to-use weapon.”

Kelgren said he was inspired by the resourcefulness and perseverance of Ukrainian citizens, and he is confident that the rifles he sends will make sense.

“The people of Ukraine mostly had only civilian firearms, and they are holding back the superpower,” he said. “So the X-factor here isn’t necessarily what equipment you hold in your hands. … It all comes down to the will to fight. “

A gunman from Florida is helping Ukrainians fight Putin

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