Importance of gun control | Daily News


Importance of gun control

If you read the front page of any national newspaper or tune into the news broadcast of any TV channel, you will not miss a news item about a shooting somewhere in the island. It appears that gun crime is more rampant than previously thought. Guns can only be legitimately used by the Security Forces and Police/STF. True, civilians can keep some categories of firearms in accordance with a very strict licensing process, but in general, they are not expected to use them at will. And unlike in certain countries, Sri Lanka does not have gun stores which one can walk into and buy a gun.

In other words, we are talking about illicit weapons here. The seemingly widespread availability and circulation of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) in Sri Lanka despite strict gun ownership laws is a matter of serious concern to all law-abiding citizens. These firearms and other weapons such as grenades are used mainly by the underworld and organised crime groups for contract killings, robberies and even random murders. According to local police records, gun crime had a significant presence in the nearly 36,000 grave crimes committed in 2017.

Sri Lanka does not produce any weapons – so every gun, legal or illegal, has to be imported or smuggled. There are several theories as to why so many firearms are in circulation in the country. Many Security Forces deserters went AWOL with their service weapons; many former Tamil militants belonging to groups other than the LTTE also decamped with their weapons; there is also the possibility that some of the weapons used by the LTTE may have since ended up in wrong hands.

Sri Lanka’s underworld too seems to be having access to a variety of weapons for their crime sprees. Foreign registered weapons may have been brought here illegally, perhaps via the same methods used for drug smuggling. Drugs and gun running are anyway closely linked. In fact, so-called ‘legal’ weapons can become illegal at any stage of a weapon’s life cycle - manufacture, first delivery, domestic or international transfer, possession, storage or final disposal. Irresponsible export practices of some source countries are only one of the many ways small arms get into the black market.

The trade in illicit small arms is one of the biggest problems in the modern world. And people are turning to a modern phenomenon for their illicit arms – the so-called Dark Web, where shady dealers offer the entire gamut of weapons for the right price. This is a no-questions asked way of buying high-powered weapons. According to UN statistics, there are an estimated 875 million of small arms in circulation worldwide (among civilians), produced by more than 1,000 companies from nearly 100 countries.

Since the establishment of the UN Programme of Action (PoA) on SALW in 2003 Sri Lanka has actively engaged with the PoA. In 2004, Sri Lanka established the National Commission Against the Proliferation of Illicit Small Arms (NCAPISA). This Commission monitored the proliferation of such arms in Sri Lanka and related matters. The Commission has taken steps to make a comprehensive assessment of the problem in the country, and to establish a national database on the civilian use of small arms and light weapons. It collected over 35,000 illicit small arms and destroyed them at the Independence Square on the International Gun Destruction Day on July 7, 2005, a feat which has not been repeated.

A historic milestone was also reached in April 2013 when, after almost a decade of negotiations, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), a legally binding agreement that regulates the international trade in conventional arms of all types. Sri Lanka should re-activate the NCAPISA and also become a state party to the ATT.

While Sri Lanka does not have gun stores and legal gun ownership is very tightly regulated, the lacunae in enforcement must be identified to prevent the spread of small arms among various groups including the underworld. There must essentially be a bigger crackdown on underworld groups and their weapons procurement networks. While the recent Easter incidents did prompt the authorities to urge the public to hand over any unauthorized weapons to the nearest police station, it is time to have a proper census on the light weapons in circulation, both licensed and unlicensed. Society will be much safer without illegally acquired guns.

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