Analysis: GODFREY CHITALU
AS FAR as I’m concerned, the last time our country had a gun amnesty appeal was four years ago when our current President was at the helm of the Home Affairs Ministry.
Officiating at the opening of Kanele Mall in Chawama Constituency, Mr Edgar Lungu prodded the police to seriously look at gun amnesty and buy back schemes to reduce the number of illicit firearms. A lot has happened ever since, with a number of people killed from self-inflicted gunshots, others killed accidentally but worrying so are deliberate murders of innocent people. Should we allow this trend to continue with impunity?
Now that Mr Lungu is holding the highest position in our land, with empirical evidence of gun misuse and a populace crying for strict gun controls, there is no better time to elevate the gun amnesty cry. This is an appeal that should speak to our Home affairs Minister; diplomatically retrieve firearms from wrong hands. Based on a tally of gun incidents involving private citizens, it seems evident that majority of them have capacity to handle firearms.
Without naming names, we’ve had unnecessary jilted lovers turning guns on their bedfellows, seemingly normal parents committing gun homicide, armed robbers shooting wild and teenagers stealing arms for that dangerous kill. To add salt to injury, even well-trained members of the security wing sometimes become trigger happy. In a small way a well-publicised gun amnesty and buy back scheme would reduce the number of firearms in wrong hands.
There are no better arguments for a gun amnesty and buy back scheme but anything done to rid our communities of guns would be welcome. A gun amnesty allows members of the public to wilfully hand over guns they should not have without being prosecuted for having them. Designated points, police stations and posts during an amnesty receive illegally held firearms and ammunitions without asking questions. Our country badly needs this intervention.
Sometimes to add a new dimension to the gun amnesty, a buy back scheme is mooted. In a buy back scheme, guns are bought off from the public for the same reason of reducing their numbers in private hands. Such schemes are instituted to allow both privately owned firearm owners and those in wrong hands to sell to government without fear of persecution and prosecution. Although this scheme helps to increase the numbers of surrendered guns, it is subject to misuse.
We know that a number of community members have inherited guns and have failed to regularise their usage. In like manner there are soft hearted armed robbers who can be cajoled to hand in their arms. Even hard-core armed criminals became wary of the law if an amnesty is in place, as ignoring its humane purpose might spell doom. It is this category of people that a gun amnesty and buy back scheme should target.
Although not much has been publicised about our gun laws, it looks evident that some of our people caught on the wrong side have used illegal arms. Apart from trigger-happy security officers who have used arms on themselves and sometimes on their jilted lovers, armed robberies in our countries are on the upswing. Many a time, we hear of police exchanging fire and sometimes gunning down dangerous criminals that terrorise our people.
In certain border areas of our countries there has been a flood of illegal arms, heightening security concerns. Kalavinas and other illegal immigrants’ affinity for guns should be cut in the bud by our law and security agencies but also using a gun amnesty. One might argue that these sporadic incidents are not spread out but clearly a deteriorating security situation need reactions. Gun amnesty is one such good reaction and allows seamless change of ownership of guns to safe havens.
Like most amnesties, it would help if we gave an opportunity to the people to hand in guns under a number of rules. One globally accepted rule allows for no persecution, no prosecution and no repercussions. There are well founded fears from those with illegal arms not to comply with the law for obvious reasons. Most fear persecution, prosecution and the after effects of their misdeeds. If there is a reasonable chance that those who hand in guns will be persecuted people would not react positively to the amnesty.
Enough publicity to ward off subjective fear of prosecution, persecution and repercussions could lay a good foundation to harvest illegal guns. When it comes to prosecution, many community members are wary of the trial process and need assurances if they traded their guns.
Amnesties are good because they take guns out of the hands of the community who don’t really need them and place them in safe custody of law enforcers.
The author is a social and political commentator.