How much evidence does one need to prove that guns are best kept out of civilian life?
In the last few months alone: an attack in Paris in which a hundred and twenty persons died, a shooting in a school in the US in which ten persons died, another shooting in California in which fourteen persons and the killers themselves were killed.
In Canada, a national registry of firearms had only recently been started when following a protest the preceding government, the one before Trudeau’s, closed the registry down. Now, only a few months after the closure four persons have been shot dead in the sort of small rural community where people own guns and hunt, the sort of community that dominated the protest against the firearm registry.
Although firearms are banned in public in Pakistan many persons carry them openly in the tribal areas prompting Michael Palin of Monty Python fame to observe that ‘Pathans carry guns the way Londoners carry umbrellas’. In the tribal areas of the KP which bear a startling resemblance to the American wild west, the law permits private ownership of even heavy weapons such as rocket propelled grenades and rockets, and guns such as AK-47s virtually constitute part of a man’s attire. No surprise then that in KP twenty one persons were recently tragically shot dead in a school in Charsadda, and in nearby Peshawar just a year ago a hundred and forty seven persons were shot dead in the Army Public School, most of them innocent children.
Generally, in Pakistan, there is no shortage of firearms. The results are for everyone to see in Karachi, for example, in the armed conflicts in Landhi, and elsewhere in the city.
If the evidence against guns is strong enough then why are there so many guns, and why are they so easily available?
Good question (which is what you say when you don’t know).
According to the Chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance factory more than a year ago, Pakistan is selling guns to over forty countries, bringing in over $20 million in annual revenue. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Pakistan is the third largest importer of arms, behind the USA which ranks sixth as an importer… but first as an exporter.
In addition, Pakistan possesses a huge cottage industry in weapons which makes it possible for individuals to obtain guns even more easily. Any attempt to take away from this industry is unlikely to be viewed favourably, and understandably so, it is a livelihood for many families. But this, combined with almost no monitoring of gun ownership means that people in Pakistan are extremely well armed. When buying firearms there is no need to provide a reason for possessing them, no references are sought, no history of violence belonging to the individual buying the arms is searched for. With so many firearms readily available, the public almost looks for novel ways of using them. The tradition of firing in the air in celebration at important occasions, once restricted to tribal areas, has caught on to become a common practice at weddings in cities where it has caused many accidents and deaths.
If you apply his quote to physical security, it is as Joseph Krutch said, ‘Security is not a question of how much you have but how much you can do without.’ Perhaps because like money there is so little security available that it is now a status symbol in Pakistan. There is no indication that armed guards help. Remember the case of Salmaan Taseer shot dead by his own armed guard Mumtaz Qadri. Qadri became a national hero for shooting his employer following his (Taseer’s) courageous condemnation of the infamous blasphemy law. Meantime, the public does without any security at all. Our school children lose their lives when they try to get an education and as a result of VIP’s quest for safety. You wonder how things fit together.
What can be done to remove guns?
Regulation does help. Compared to the US where firearm regulation is much more lax, Canada, with its greater regulation, has substantially fewer shooting incidents.
Australia has a homicide rate around one-eighth of Pakistan’s. There gun ownership laws were considerably tightened by John Howard’s government in the 1990s following the massacre at Port Arthur.
Pakistan has among the most liberal firearm laws in the world. Anyone with a license can buy a gun. Only a fraction of the firearms present in Pakistan are registered. There is no assessment of suitability for gun ownership, no training regarding its use and no restriction on the number of guns owned by an individual. The incidence of gun violence in Pakistan is even greater than in the US.
Weapons have their place in every country and that place is with the military, not with individuals. Pakistan’s weapons cottage industry must be diverted into proper channels, which isn’t easy. Arms industries everywhere pose a threat for the entire international community. A study conducted by SIPRI finds that more than half of all world weapons exported are from the US and Russia, followed… by quite a large gap, by China, Germany and France. “The flow of arms to Africa, the Americas, Asia and Oceania, and the Middle East increased significantly between 2005-09 and 2010-14, while there was a notable decrease in the flow to Europe,” the study says. This closely corresponds to the prevalence of conflict vs peace around the world. Which came first, the chicken or the egg, is a relevant question here, an interesting one.
If it is difficult for Pakistan to divert the arms it produces into other channels, combating those other huge interests is almost an insurmountable task.
Some countries have managed to keep violence down. Hong Kong is among those with an extremely low incidence of gun violence. It is the job of civilian governments to keep peace within the country and one of the ways of doing this is to study models around the world in an effort to learn from them. Farming this job out to the army within the civilian arena is a short sighted, short term measure.
Debate on this issue as in others should be initiated and tighter regulations on who buys guns and why put in place. And as in most other spheres, the problem should also be handled at the school level where children must be taught the value of peace, in an attempt to remove the glamour surrounding guns and violence, placing it around peace instead, where it belongs.