UPDATE: Maria Butina was convicted of conspiracy by the Department of Justice on April 26, 2019. From DOJ:
Mariia Butina, a Russian national, was sentenced today to 18 months in prison after earlier pleading guilty to a federal charge of conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government.
The announcement was made by Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Jessie K. Liu, and Assistant Director in Charge Nancy McNamara of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.
Butina, 30, a Russian citizen who had been residing in Washington D.C., pled guilty on Dec. 13, 2018, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. She was sentenced by Judge Tanya S. Chutkan. Following her incarceration, she is to be deported to Russia.
According to the government’s evidence, from approximately 2015 to 2017, Butina acted as an agent of a Russian government official. Under his direction, she provided key information about Americans who were in a position to influence United States politics and took steps to establish an unofficial line of communication between Russia and these Americans. As described in the plea documents, Butina sought to do so for the benefit of the Russian Federation. She took these actions without providing the required notifications to the Attorney General that she was in fact acting as an agent of the Russian Federation.
Butina was arrested on July 15, 2018, in Washington, D.C., and has been in custody ever since. Butina will get credit for the time she already has served. The court also granted a government motion that led to a reduced sentence in the case.
Editors note: This is part two of a two part series. You can read part one here.
During the NRA Annual Meetings in Indianapolis two weekends ago, I met the founder and president of The Right to Bear Arms, a pro-gun rights organization in Russia. After being approved for a visa just days before the meetings started, Maria Butina attended the annual NRA Women's Leadership Luncheon as a guest of former NRA President Sandy Froman and participated in general meetings over the weekend as a guest of former NRA President David Keene. I had to opportunity to sit down with Maria to talk about why she was there and to discuss her goals for the gun rights movement in Russia. She's working on everything from castle doctrine, gun safety programs for kids and shifting public opinion in a pro-gun direction.
KP: How does the government feel about your organization?
MB: It depends on the person. Russian government is very big and there are different points of view. For example, in our organization we have couple of guys who are deputies; it is the lower chamber of our parliament of the state Duma. And they could pass some laws, their programs, and some are anti-guns. And we would like to work with every guy in our parliament, and with every woman in our parliament. It’s very important. We think that we will not have enemies of gun rights; we only have people who are not sure. And we try to change, to explain that everything is ok, and people with legal gun, they never do crime.
KP: Right exactly. So how did you get up into this? I mean, you're very young.
MB: My study is usual. My father is a hunter and I have a sister, and so we both started to shoot with our father. I was ten, not more than ten years old. And then I was interested in pistols, especially. So (you’re) allowed to shoot pistol in Russia, but only shoot in clubs. I started with pistol Makarov. Maybe you’ve heard about it. It’s very world famous. So in Russia there are three world famous guns, it’s Makarov, Kalashnikov, and Nagant. It's revolver. The most famous. So I started to shoot Russian guns, and then I knew there is practical shooting association in Russia. And I started to do it more and more and I became an officer of international practical shooting association. So first it became a hobby and a sport, and then I had a lot of people who shooted with me. And we decided to make an organization, I’m a political scientist, it's my education, so I know how to do it. And we start with a small club, but we saw that people liked it, and we started to know world experience, we knew about the NRA, different organizations and how they work. And grow up every year, we saw support from our senate, it's the upper chamber of our parliament, and from different people from Russia. People who give us money for work, they are usual gun owners because to have a gun in Russia is very expensive. So these people, they have money and they give us money. We have no money from government, not one coin from government. Yes it’s a non-profit organization.
KP: So, when I talked to David Keene about you, he brought you up and he mentioned that you’re an entrepreneur. So is this what you put your spare time into?
MB: Yeah, of course to be a volunteer, to work with gun-rights, it's not a way to earn money for me. I have my not-too-large, but maybe small, business in advertising in Moscow. First, I started when I was 21 years old; I started in my own city in Siberia. My first business was, I sold furniture, so I have seven stores and sell furniture. Now I only have one store because to make business when you live in Moscow and have business in Siberia, it’s very difficult.
KP: It’s pretty far.
MB: Yeah, so I closed it and now I have business in advertising. Not guns but everything. So I have my team and I think it's great that I have good people. And they help me to do this business. And I work with gun rights, so I think both are very important.
KP: How is it being a young woman in the gun industry, or the gun-rights movement in Russia?
MB: Good question. Firstly, it was difficult. You need to prove that woman could have a gun. She’s not stupid with a gun. And first you need to prove it. And, my first steps were difficult, but then I found the people who saw that I am a leader, that I could do it, and that it doesn’t matter if I’m a woman or if I’m a man. It was very important for me and now mostly in my organization there are men. But they always help me, and I have never heard from them some discrimination words. Never. Moreover, they always help me if I have some special questions for example, and I shoot with them and it's ok. I think our organization is the largest in Russia, and maybe we have only one organization because other organizations they are like shooting (clubs). So people they shoot together and that's all. But only one organization has political aims.
KP: So do you believe that fighting for gun rights gives men and women an equal playing field?
KP: Do you think that advocating for gun rights gives women the ability to be equal with men?
MB: Yeah, I think -- I am sure that, for women, gun rights are maybe more important than for men. I try to tell about it to Russian women. It’s not too popular for women to have a gun in Russia. Moreover, women in Russia, they are afraid of guns. Unfortunately. But we try to change their point of view because when you have a family, when you are with children, you must have a gun. You are responsible to your life and the life of your children. I am sure that women should have a gun. In Russia and in every country in the world. They should have a chance to protect because when some criminals would like to attack some men he usually would like to have money. Usually would like to kill somebody. But women, it’s a risk of sexual harassment. Three risks at least. So women usually they are weak, really, physically, and it's difficult for us to go to the gym or do special sports because we usually need to be with our children. It means that yes, it makes women equal with men and gives us a chance, a chance to survive.