IN a BBC interview last July, US President Barack Obama admitted that failure to pass “common sense gun safety laws” in the US has been the greatest frustration of his presidency.
Since he took office in 2008, there have been repeated mass shootings including the 2011 Tucson Arizona shooting in which Gabrielle Giffords, then a member of Congress and 18 others were shot in a supermarket parking lot. Six people died that day.
Another shooting was at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, 2015. Nine people attending Bible Study were killed by a 21-year-old who reportedly got the gun as a birthday gift. Senior Pastor and State Senator, Clementa C. Pinckney was among the victims and President Obama delivered ta eulogy at his memorial.
And on December 2, 2015, 14 people were killed and 22 seriously injured in a terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, which might not have occurred had the perpetrators, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, a married couple had not had such easy access to arms, including two assault rifles they got from a friend who had purchased the weapons despite having mental issues.
Record 30,000 gun deaths a year
The couple had also been able to buy 1,600 rounds of ammunition, which is fairly common in the US as gun ownership is protected by the Second Amendment. Americans can also buy guns online and at gun fairs by simply filling out a form!
The price of this right to keep and bear arms has been at least 30,000 deaths a year, the highest in the developed world, to accidental shootings, suicides and mass shootings. After years of persuading, pleading and trying to reason with obstinate law makers and gun enthusiasts who believe any measures to curb gun violence are equivalent to taking their guns away, President Obama took executive action last week, outlining steps his administration will undertake to try and reduce gun deaths. All firearms dealers must now get a license and conduct background checks or risk criminal prosecution.
The Algerian way
They are also required to report lost or stolen guns on a timely basis, measures several African countries already exercise.
In Algeria, it is required by law that a record of acquisition, possession and transfer of each privately owned firearm is retained in an official register.
Licensed firearm dealers are also required to keep records of each firearm or ammunition purchase, sale or transfer. Licensed gun makers are required to keep a record of each firearm produced, for inspection purposes by a regulating authority.
In chaotic Libya
In neigbouring and troubled Libya, the estimated number of guns held by civilians, both legally and illegally is estimated at 900,000, about 15.51 firearms per 100 people, according to gunpolicy.org findings. As of 2013, the percentage of households with one or more guns was reported to be 21%.
Libya’s data is distorted by the chaos that followed the ouster and killing of the country’s long-term dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
Otherwise, the right to private gun ownership is not guaranteed by law and private sale and transfer of firearms is prohibited. Dealing in firearms without a valid gun dealer’s license is unlawful and unlawful possession of a firearm carries a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment. Following the fall of Gaddafi, authorities implemented voluntary firearm surrender schemes, in addition to weapon seizures to reduce the number of illicit firearms in circulation.
South African law – and its breach
Partial implementation of the 2000 Firearms Control Act led to a marked reduction in firearm homicides in South Africa, where gun violence is rampant, from 66.9 per 100,000 in 1994 to 30.9 in 2011-12.
The hope is that better implementation of the law will further reduce those numbers. There are reportedly 453,4866 registered shotguns, 1,286,628 rifles and 2,784,4206 handguns in civilian possession in South Africa. As of 2011, there were 2,900,000 registered guns and 1,500,000 licensed gun owners. Unlawfully owned guns are estimated to be between 500,000 and 4,000,000.
Applicants for a gun owner’s license are required to establish a genuine reason to possess a firearm, for example hunting, target shooting or collection, must pass a background check which considers criminal, mental, medical, domestic violence record, addiction, employment, and previous firearm license records.
Third party character references for each gun license applicant are required and where a past history or likelihood of family violence exists, the law stipulates that a gun license should be denied or revoked.
An understanding of firearm safety and the law, tested in a theoretical and/or practical training course is required before issuance of a firearm license. Gun owners must re-apply and re-qualify for their firearm licenses every two to ten years. Authorities maintain records of individual civilians licensed to acquire, possess, sell or transfer a firearm or ammunition.
Licensed firearm owners are permitted to possess only one firearm per permit.
Very strict Botswana
In Botswana, civilians are not allowed to possess automatic weapons and handguns according to the country’s Arms and Ammunition Act of 1979.
Handguns (pistols and revolvers) are also prohibited while civilian possession of rifles and shotguns is regulated. With limited civilian access, mandatory background checks and programmes to reduce civilian firearm possession and use, no wonder the country’s annual rate of firearm homicide is just 2.987 per 100,000.
Kenya and Rwanda
Civilian possession of automatic and semi-automatic self-loading military assault rifles is prohibited in Kenya, as is carrying a firearm in plain view in a public place. Concealed firearms are also prohibited in public places.
In Rwanda, civilians are not allowed to possess “weapons of war” including rifle-sticks, folding rifles, rifles with a barrel or a butt that can be dismantled into several parts, firearms with silencers, firearms with toxic effects and any offensive or secretive firearms.
As with nearly all African countries, private possession of fully automatic weapons is prohibited but semi-automatic assault weapons are permitted if one has a license, as are handguns and shotguns.
The law requires that a record of the acquisition, possession and transfer of each privately held firearm is retained in an official register, and licensed firearm dealers are required to keep a record of each firearm or ammunition purchase, sale or transfer.
In line with the United Nations Programme of Action to prevent, combat and eradicate the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all its aspects, whoever imports, transports, possesses and trades in firearms and ammunition in violation of the provisions of the law or participates in the illegal manufacturing of firearms can be subjected to penalties that include 5 years’ imprisonment, fines of up to Rwf 2,000,000 (about $2,600) or confiscation of their arms or ammunition. In addition, their licenses are revoked. The same penalties also apply to anyone who participates in or facilitates the commission of such acts.
Djibouti’s unique identifier
Up north in Djibouti, a unique identifying mark on each firearm is required by law for tracking purposes and only licensed gun owners can lawfully acquire, possess or transfer a firearm or ammunition.
Most African countries exercise similar gun control measures.