Worst of all, Kelgren and his company Keltek have decided to use the 400 stranded guns to send them to a new resistance movement in Ukraine to help civilians fight the Russian military, which has repeatedly fired shots at their apartment buildings, schools, hospitals and hiding places. Running. .
“The American people want to do something,” said Kelgren, a former U.S. Navy pilot. “We enjoy our freedom, we cherish those things. And when we see a group of people being hit like that, it’s heartbreaking. “
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s donation of Cocoa-based Keltech in response to his promise to arm its citizens is a high-profile example of Americans collecting guns, ammunition, body armor, helmets and other strategic gear. But many similar grassroots efforts have stalled due to inexperience with the complex web of rules governing international shipments of such equipment.
Kelgren, who has dealt with such national red tape for years, was able to connect with a Ukrainian embassy diplomat through a Ukrainian neighbor who helped him secure a federal arms export license in just four days. This process can often take months.
This week, during a debate over whether Congress would send more advanced weapons and defense equipment to Ukraine, Keltek warehouse workers forklifted four plastic-wrapped pallets containing their 9mm foldable rifles for distribution at an undisclosed NATO-powered facility. From there, the new recipient of the shipment, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, will be responsible for arms smuggling into the war zone.
“That’s when the real daring-do and heroism begins,” Kelgren said.
From California to New York, elected officials, the sheriff’s department, and nonprofits say they have collected thousands of sets of body armor and millions of rounds of ammunition for Ukraine.
Colorado Gov. Jared Paulis launched a campaign last week to donate surplus ballistic helmets and other equipment to police and sheriff’s departments. “We know it could be used urgently to stop Putin and save Ukraine,” he said.
But the pitfalls abound: 400 bulletproof vests from a nonprofit organization in New York City, led by an effort to collect strategic gear, were stolen before they could be sent.
Many organizers have no idea how to navigate international arms export regulations, which sometimes require approval from the State, Commerce and Defense Departments to send non-lethal strategic gear. Organizers of such a drive in New York are pegging back at Keltech licenses for the export of 60 long-haul guns recently collected.
Bruce Blackman, executive of Nassau County, told a news conference Friday that he hopes the movement will spread across the United States and that every gun shop and gun manufacturer in the United States will accept the grant.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade group for firearms manufacturers, this week distributed step-by-step instructions to its more than 8,000 members on how to quickly apply for an export license. They also provided a list of specific sniper rifles, pistols and ammunition requested by the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington.
Keltech hopes to arrange more shipments in the future. Its license allows the export of up to 10,000 weapons, and the company offers Ukrainians their own production lines and weekly shipments.
Details of Keltech’s efforts were released this week in a lawsuit filed by Maryland-based real estate lawyer Lucas Jan Kakzmarek, who said that as a volunteer with the Ukrainian-American Bar Association, he was helping Ukraine with Volodymyr Muzilov, the first to help Ukraine. .
“I hope to work in this capacity for the duration of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and I have not received, do not receive and will not receive any financial compensation for my assistance,” Kazmarek wrote in his registration as Zelensky’s foreign agent.
Keltech is not the only arms manufacturer that has answered the call.
Another Florida company, Adams Arms, posted a video on its Facebook account stating that it was a shipment of carbine rifles destined for Ukraine. The company also began selling embellished T-shirts with the iconic final broadcast of the bombed Ukrainian Border Guard unit that told a Russian warship to “go (itself)”. Proceeds from the sale of the shirts will go to the war fund of the Ukrainian National Bank.
Although the rifles are not similar to Putin’s Sukhoi fighter jets and cluster bomb firepower, they could play a significant role if the Russians get involved in street-to-street warfare, says retired U.S. Army Major John Spencer.
The semi-automatic rifles that Keltech is shipping are probably more valuable than high-tech, anti-aircraft missiles that require extensive training beyond the reach of most civilians, many of whom have never held a gun before, he said.
“Every shipment of firearms is important,” said Spencer, an urban war analyst at the Madison Policy Forum, a New York-based think tank. “You’re giving one more fighter, among thousands, a chance to resist with an easy-to-use weapon.”
Kelgren says he is inspired by the wealth and perseverance of Ukrainian citizens and he is confident that the rifles he sends will make a difference.
“Most of the people in Ukraine have only civilian firearms and they are holding a superpower,” he said. “So the X-factor here is not necessarily what equipment you are carrying. … It comes down to the desire to fight. “
Los Angeles AP writer Christopher Weber contributed to this report.
Follow Goodman on Twitter: @APJoshGoodman