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Bill to curb gun violence, seize firearms 'not enough' — experts

Proposed law aims to combat celebratory firing by confiscating automatic weapons, shotguns

By Rana Husseini - Jul 04,2019 - Last updated at Jul 04,2019

A sign hangs at a wedding asking guests not to ‘embarrass themselves’ by ‘firing guns’. Experts on Wednesday weighed in on a draft law that would strip people automatic weapons and shotguns (JT file photo)

AMMAN — Former officials and security experts on Wednesday said a recent announcement by top government officials to introduce laws that would strip people of their weapons and ammunition in an attempt to curb festive firings are “important but not enough”.

 The government recently sent the 2019 weapons and ammunition draft law to the Lower House’s Legal Committee for review in an anticipated step to replace the current 1952 law.

 Some of the draft articles stipulate stripping people of certain weapons — mainly automatic and pump action guns — and introducing stiff punishments against individuals who fire live ammunition, specifically at celebrations and fights.

 Interior Minister Salameh Hammad said on Tuesday that the process to endorse the draft bill “should be fast”, noting that 92 per cent of crimes are perpetrated with unlicensed weapons.   

The Public Security Department (PSD) also recently announced stiff measures in an attempt to curb incidents of celebratory shooting in the Kingdom, while at the same time ensuring that the rule of law is applied equally to all citizens.

 As part of its campaigns to curb festive firing, (the indiscriminate firing of guns into the air to celebrate various festivities), the PSD stressed that it would adopt the "most severe legal and administrative measures, possible" against perpetrators of festive firing.

 The PSD also pledged to conduct campaigns throughout the governorates and arrest any person in possession of a firearm without a licence, as well as those selling weapons and ammunition specifically for celebratory firing.  

Criminologist Sabri Rbaihat said the recent measures are “good but are not enough and will not deter people from abandoning this practice”.

 “We need to isolate the motive for why people fire since this practice is deeply rooted in the culture,” Rbaihat told The Jordan Times.

 Rbaihat, who is also a former police officer and minister, warned that if the government seizes weapons from people then “they will seek other ways to obtain them illegally”. 

“There are an 4 million estimated weapons with people, and even if people are forced to hand over their firearms, they will find other ways to buy new ones,” added Rbaihat. 

During a meeting with dignitaries representing Amman communities in 2015, His Majesty King Abdullah stressed that no one is above the law. “Even if it were my son who is shooting... I would ask security bodies to take the same measures against him.” 

A former police official agreed with Rbaihat, stressing the need to imprison individuals who resort to firearms to express their joy or anger.

 “I would urge the government to imprison just one important person who uses a firearm during an occasion and you will see how this will work to deter others,” the former police official, who did not wish to be identified, told The Jordan Times.

 The former police official said laws related to firearms should be clear and restrict the use of firearms to certain people, mainly law enforcement officials. 

“Automatic weapons should not be licensed and should be taken from ordinary people because there is no need for them to own them,” the former police official stressed.

 In 2015, a total of 35 people were arrested and 33 weapons seized in cases of festive firing, according to official figures. 

Individuals convicted of causing death through celebratory firing can receive up to 20 years in prison, and in cases of multiple fatalities, the shooter can be sentenced to life in prison.

 Those convicted of causing an injury may also face up to 10 years in prison. 

Jihad Shaikh, who is part of a youth initiative that is also working to end the phenomenon and started the “Do Not Kill My Happiness” initiative in 2015, said the government’s step to collect automatic weapons from citizens is extremely important.

“Many innocent lives were lost and other people were harmed physically because of the unlawful use of weapons in festivities and from individuals shooting randomly,” Shaikh told The Jordan Times.

The law is 100 per cent correct and we are hopeful that Parliament will endorse it, Shaikh stressed.

“There were a lot of automatic firearms that were smuggled [in] from neighbouring countries because of the conflicts, and these weapons should not be in people’s hands because they do not know how to use them,” Shaikh stated.

 Shaikh added: “Our state is capable of protecting its Jordanian citizens and there is no need for people to own weapons since it is the duty of our government to protect us”. 

Former officials and academics have constantly stressed that enforcing the law without favouritism would provide the proper environment to reduce festive firing in the Kingdom. 

The experts also called for an awareness campaign using the media, school curricula and other clubs and local communities’ activities to explore the dangers of drug abuse and “unnecessary” use of weapons.

Rbaihat said one of the most efficient measures to curb this phenomenon is to “gradually introduce stiffer laws and to encourage people who are hosting celebrations to announce their boycott of any person who uses live ammunition during their occasion”.

 The former police official added that stepping up security at the borders is another important component to prevent people from smuggling weapons into the Kingdom.

 “We appreciate the armed forces' constant protection of our borders, but we are hopeful that they will increase their monitoring to prevent citizens from obtaining illegal weapons,” the former police official stressed.    

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