Are there too many guns in civilian hands?
A worrying trend is developing in Nairobi. The number of licensed gun holders has soared and with it the number of shots being fired – sometimes recklessly.
The latest exampled involves former Lugari MP Cyrus Jirongo, who recorded a statement on Saturday over an incident in which he is reported to have shot at a motorist who tried to help him after his car stalled on Arboretum Drive in Nairobi.
On New Year’s day, an enraged motorist shot and wounded another on Moi Avenue. According to Central OCPD Paul Wanjama, the motorist fired the shot in an altercation over a minor accident.
Less than 48 hours earlier, a man who had rammed into eight vehicles at Hazina Estate in Nairobi South B threatened to shoot his neighbours who had come to rescue him after his vehicle overturned in the process.
POLICE OFFICER THREATENED
A police officer who responded to the incident had to seek help from the neighbours in order to handcuff the man before taking him to hospital as he was also threatened.
And, on Christmas Eve, Mr Antony Kimeu was arrested at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport with a loaded pistol and a rifle. He had a firearm certificate for the pistol but did not have one authorising him to own the rifle.
The same day, an Eritrean and a Kenyan were arrested after a gun scuffle in Kileleshwa.
On Jamhuri day, Erastus Odhiambo, who is now in remand, shot and killed his wife, lawyer Linda Wanjiku, in Buru Buru.
The incidents recorded are not just in Nairobi.
Although the police insist that these are isolated incidents and gun control among licensed individuals is working, experts say Kenya is witnessing its biggest arms race as guns increasingly turn into status symbols and the effects being witnessed are just a tip of the iceberg.
Mr James Ndung’u, the project manager at Arms Control and Policing for Safer World – a non-profit organisation that works to prevent violent conflict worldwide – says the problem lies with lack of efficient regulations in the current laws and the perception that guns provide power.
“Most people issued with firearms unfortunately don’t get adequate training, which should not just be training on firing but safety of the user and discipline associated with handling firearms. Because of this, civilian gun holders have openly displayed weapons in public with the aim of intimidating others,” he says.
“And despite the Firearms Act being clear on how civilian firearms should be managed, even with the new amendments it fails to incorporate international best practice in arms management and control,” he says.
Because of this, civilian gun holders who are mostly rich individuals are able to circumnavigate the existing laws with ease and sometimes largely due to corruption,” he says.
In December, police in Westlands confiscated two pistols – a Barreta and Ceska – from businessman Raj Devani after he allegedly threatened a neighbour with it along Brookside Drive.
Although no shots were fired in the incident, it was not the first time the controversial businessman was involved in gun drama.
In January last year, he was charged with five counts of terrorising and intimidating the public while armed. He was also charged with maliciously damaging a glass door worth Sh200,000 at the Shimmers Plaza in Westlands the same month after he shot at the padlock to enable him access the building.
In September, he was also charged in a Narok court with causing extensive damage to a a helicopter and threatening to shoot the pilot.
It is unclear how he got his firearms back after the two first incidents, with police unable to explain because, according to the law, a person who misuses his firearm gets his weapon confiscated.
Section 33 of the Firearms Act states that “any person who is drunk, or who behaves in a disorderly manner while carrying a firearm shall be guilty of an offence and liable to imprisonment for up to one year or Sh10,000 fine or both.”
Additionally, Article 88 of the Penal Code says “any person who goes armed in public without lawful occasion in such a manner as to cause terror to any person is guilty of a misdemeanor, and his arms may be forfeited”.
“Once a case is in court it is beyond our control but there is no doubt that we thoroughly vet all the people who apply seeking firearm licences,” says Police Spokesperson Zipporah Mboroki.
“In addition we cross-check your background and whether you are of sound mind and ascertain whether the reasons for which you are seeking a firearm are really valid,” she says.