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Impractical steps against gun culture

Updated November 13, 2017


DEWEAPONISATION is a laudable goal, a necessary step towards a more peaceful and secure society. But effective policies are debated thoroughly and implemented methodically.

A newly sworn in Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had pledged in parliament in August to address the issue of deadly arms in the hands of the citizenry and it appeared to be a sincere desire to help put the country on the path towards less violence and intimidation.

Now, the federal government has issued a notification suspending the licences for all prohibited bore weapons with immediate effect and giving all licence holders the option of either receiving a small payment in return for handing in their weapons to the state or converting the licence for automatic weapons into semi-automatic weapons by Jan 15, 2018.

There are a number of problems, however, with the government’s approach.

First, as the gun debate in the US had demonstrated, a broad-brush approach based on prohibited bores or automatic weapons does not necessarily address all the dangers that modern firearms can pose.

There appears to have been no study conducted on the impact of the government’s newly announced measure or, indeed, any consultation held with security experts on what is the most effective way to approach deweaponisation in the country.

For all of Mr Abbasi’s undoubtedly good intentions, there does not appear to be any true seriousness of purpose in the matter.

Second, the focus on licensed weapons, while inevitable and necessary, does nothing to address the issue of illegal and unlicensed weapons that proliferate across the country.

Indeed, licensed weapons holders could argue that they are being penalised for remaining on the right side of the law, while illegal weapons are amassed by unscrupulous elements who do not necessarily fear the law acting against them.

Third, what will happen after Jan 15, 2018?

If, as is likely, only some licence holders act on the notification, what penalties does the government envisage for the weapons that will become illegal to be held by the public after January?

Indeed, can the government even guarantee that it will not reverse its step under political pressure in the run-up to the elections next year?

Finally, there is the issue of militant groups and militant wings of political parties.

Does the government really expect such elements to simply hand over their weapons to the state or replace them with supposedly less deadly weapons?

Ultimately, the problem with ill-considered and half-baked policies is that it increases the distortions in the system, hurts law-abiding citizens and creates more uncertainty rather than less.

Published in Dawn, November 13th, 2017