To start with, the widely abused and largely outdated gun licensing system has to go
Karachi’s Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture (IVS) has become the first major educational institution to declare itself a weapon-free zone.
The IVS deserves praise and appreciation for its bold public stand against weaponisation. Our indefatigable crusader for causes that matter the most, Naeem Sadiq, has lobbied for a system under which random purchase and display of weapons is restricted. So far there has been little success.
Who can forget the recent case where two children in Karachi committed suicide with a gun that belonged to one of the parents? Had the access to a gun not been so easy, maybe those two would be alive today.
To adopt the government’s stance at present which is to say that nothing can be done is to admit defeat without making an effort. It can be done. And what better time than the present, when the current operation being conducted in Karachi can help put a system in place.
To start with, the widely abused and largely outdated gun licensing system has to go. Our national database authority NADRA needs to be given the charge of managing the country’s gun register. There can be only wild guesses as to how many licenced guns are being bandied around in Karachi, let alone guns with no licences whatsoever.
The other step is a massive crackdown on the public display of weapons by those who do not belong to law enforcement agencies. Many rich and powerful persons have hired guards who accompany their masters all over town and threaten anyone who comes in their way with their weapons. Such practices cannot be allowed to happen.
This menace can easily be contained with road checks by law enforcement agencies. Even if private guards are allowed to carry weapons, these should not be on public display. This is the least we can expect.
In fact, private guards should not be allowed to carry weapons beyond a certain category at all. Personal guards do not need machine guns. Nor should any private citizen be allowed to possess guns that could better be used on a warfront and not in a bustling city.
On the issue of illegal weapons, the drive to detect these and seize them is a much larger task. And as we have seen with the Rangers operation in Karachi, where there is a will, there is a way. Many households in Karachi have illegal weapons in their possession. Other than that, even guards of many security agencies and in some instances government departments have weapons for which they have no licence. There can be a public initiative to unearth such weapons that can be seized. A name and shame campaign can be started.
The business of possessing guns without a licence will become less attractive if and when the licensing system is made more efficient and taken out of the hands of the bureaucracy and politicians. This is where NADRA can come in. A drive can be started to get people to get licences for their guns.
The proliferation of guns in Karachi as in the rest of Pakistan has led to violence and unnecessary deaths. Who can forget the string of young men who were killed by over-zealous guards who fired first and asked questions later? Such incidents continue to take place.
The problem, of course, is not restricted to Karachi. One of our correspondents, who travelled to the rural parts of Sindh, told of how boys as young as 11 were carrying automatic weapons and were becoming increasingly involved in feuds.
Parts of Sindh have become lawless because the police has stepped aside and people have taken up arms in a bid to get justice or from protection from criminal elements. This is also true of other parts of the country.
Some defend the culture of gun carrying as part of a culture. This is like saying that the reprehensible practice of Karo-Kari should be allowed to continue as it is part of our culture. In the past, we have seen that when a government had the resolve, outdated practices could be done away with.
In a country like Afghanistan, for example, some years back de-weaponisation was done within weeks. It’s time we took the bull by the horns and gradually worked towards a safer Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 26th, 2015.
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