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400,000 illegal guns in circulation

By Vision Reporter

Added 19th December 2008 03:00 AM

THE Police are investigating the murder of Rehema Nasur a.k.a Caesar, wife of Arua Municipality MP Hussein Akbar Godi. The first suspect was Godi himself.

THE Police are investigating the murder of Rehema Nasur a.k.a Caesar, wife of Arua Municipality MP Hussein Akbar Godi. The first suspect was Godi himself.

By Conan Businge
THE Police are investigating the murder of Rehema Nasur a.k.a Caesar, wife of Arua Municipality MP Hussein Akbar Godi. The first suspect was Godi himself.

He had just accessed a licensed gun from Police. Thousands of people like Rehema lose their lives in this country annually.

Owning a gun –licensed or illegal- nowadays raises questions on the public.

The commissioner of police in charge of private security and fire arms control, Ahmed Wafuba, says a July 2004 announcement by the ministry of Internal Affairs, gave individuals intending to acquire firearms guidelines to undergo scrutiny and training before they could possess arms.

This was intended to check illegal arms distribution among the populace. According to the current police records, only 2,629 individuals are licensed to own firearms.

However, according to the global arms acquisition report of 2007, there are more illegal small arms in Uganda – from pistols to rifles and semi-automatic rifles - estimated at between 630,000 to 950,000.

If this is true, it is an arsenal that far exceeds that held by the police forces and the military.

The report by the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International Studies, explains that Uganda is along the gun trafficking corridor from Somalia, Ethiopia, Southern Sudan, Northern Kenya, DR Congo and Chad. Weak systems of control, tribal demand and armed insurgence mean that many civilians who need guns can access them easily but clandestinely.

The Small Arms Survey is the principal source of public information on all aspects of small arms.

A senior army officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the trafficking of illegal guns across Uganda’s borders has increased to the point that an AK-47 rifle will go for sh100,000, a pistol at sh50,000 and a bullet for sh2,000.

According to traders who venture into Sudan, an AK-47 or a handful of bullets can go for as cheaply as a few chickens.

Wafuba agrees that there are many illegal guns in the country. “I cannot commit myself to the exact number of illegal guns. There are even several heavy machine guns and not necessarily only small arms, in the hands of criminals. But we are working hard to arrest and prosecute all people with illegal guns.”

According to the 2002 Anti-Terrorism Act, “Unlawful possession of explosives, ammunition, bombs or any materials for making of any of the foregoing,” is an act that constitutes terrorism. Terrorism, according to the Act, means causing death or injury to civilians in order to intimidate a population or to compel a government to act in a particular way.

Last year, Richard Nabudere, the coordinator of Uganda’s National Focal Point, a lead agency in the proliferation of small arms, put the number of illegal guns at about 400,000, including 150,000 believed to be with the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels.

Another report on the 2007 statistics from the Nairobi-based Regional Centre on Small Arms, shows that about three million guns exist in sub-Saharan Africa. The most common weapons are the G-3 and AK47 rifles, as well as pistols like the US Colt, Browning, Beretta and revolvers.

In Uganda, low access to licensed guns may be tempting people to get guns clandestinely. Low access to guns also implies that a number of people are still prone to thugs, thieves and assassins who attack without fear of the victims’ defence.

With 2,629 licensed guns, this means that with the current 29.6 million people, there is a licensed gun for every 11,259 Ugandans.

The number of police constables per population is low and does not match the fast-growing population. Every constable is tasked to protect 637 people, far below the required United Nations standard of one constable per 450 people.

In Kampala alone, people are robbed almost everyday on highways and in city suburbs. Last year, the Police recorded 1,927 deaths by shooting using illegal guns. This implies that five to six people would be killed daily by goons, using guns.

This number was much higher a year before; with seven to eight people being gunned down daily, bringing the total to 2,696 deaths. It is believed that the number could have been higher than what police recorded.

Efforts by the government and non-governmental organisations to stem the flow of illegal firearms are slowly bearing fruit.

According to the National Focal Point’s information officer, Joe Burua, in the last two years about 70,000 guns have been confiscated by government agencies, and destroyed.

“No matter who owns the illegal gun, civilian or security operative, we have the mandate and potential to recover the gun,” Wafuba says. “That is why we always involve the public in providing us with information on people with illegal guns.”

East African states have also acknowledged the proliferation of illegal small arms by signing the Nairobi Protocol on small arms (2001) and the UN Programme of Action on small arms (2001).

A primary goal of these protocols was to harmonise legislation between member nations to control the illicit manufacturing, trafficking and use of small arms.

Burua says the National Focal Point has created district task forces in Karamoja region constituting government agencies, NGOs and the local people, to sensitise the public on dangers of possessing fire arms.

They will also promote voluntary hand-over of guns. “We shall cover the whole of northern Uganda beginning January.”

The government has also acquired machines to mark all legal guns. Guns to be marked are the ones licensed and owned by civilians and those owned by security agencies. Burua says this will “help security agencies to quickly identify illegal guns.”

Each gun will have a country code, the initials of the force using it, a bar code and a serial number.

The machines will also electronically identify all small arms, light weapons and ammunition given to the armed forces and civilians.

The rising crime rate especially of shootings, is, according to some of law enforcers, attributed to the unlicensed guns in circulation. Accessing a license for a firearm is very taxing, since one has to go through several steps.

But if the ability to properly defend themselves is removed from citizens, then criminals will be allowed the freedom to perpetrate their crimes virtually without risk to themselves. Could it be time to intensify the arming of our citizens?

The 2007 SAS report disputed international activists pushing for abolition of civilian guns, saying there is no clear relationship between more guns and higher levels of violence. It showed that the 30 countries with the largest number of civilian-owned firearms were the world’s safest and these include the most stable democracies such as Finland, Switzerland, Sweden and Germany.

The SAS program’s director, Keith Krause, noted that low gun ownership goes along with high crime rates in Latin America. Among the countries with the lowest rates of ownership, were some recently ranked with rising urban violence (such as England and Brazil) and others that have been scenes of bloody drug crime and guerrilla warfare (Colombia).

In Africa, Nigeria has one gun per 100 people and South Africa has 10.45 to 100 persons. While South Africa has been used by the anti-gun lobbyists to outlaw civilian gun ownership, it is not listed among the ‘gun-loving’ societies of the world. Most of South Africa’s guns used for violence are illegal.

The study’s figures also give a powerful hint about the relationship between the right to arms and other freedoms. Iran, China and Russia - all known for long and violent hostility to political dissent - easily rank in the study’s bottom 10 for rates of civilian gun ownership.

The fact of increased crime by weapon-wielding thugs is evidenced in every country which has adopted overly-strict gun ownership laws.

It is time the Government opened its eyes to save its people from trigger-happy individuals.

400,000 illegal guns in circulation

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