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Friday, May 24, 2024

Pakistan better than US at gun control

News Analysis |

The president of the United States has vowed to arm teachers and refused to raise the age limit for purchasing guns. The White House announced on Sunday that the Trump administration will increase existing funds for the justice department to arm and train teachers and other staff at schools in using firearms. This is intended to ‘harden’ schools as targets against mass shootings.

Recently, 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida when a 19-year old former student opened fire. It was the deadliest shooting since 2012, when 26 people were killed at Sandy Hook, Connecticut. Mass shootings in the US are not new. On average, one mass shooting is recorded per day in the US. One commentator writing in the New York Times wrote that ‘Americans have accepted these common atrocities as part of life’ and that there is no ‘political will to do anything about it.’

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The US is the only developed country where mass shootings occur at such an alarming frequency. There are nearly 265 million privately owned firearms in the US. 42% of Americans live in home where someone owns a gun. Liberals and conservatives give different explanations and diagnoses for the problem and the country remains divided over it. Gun control is one of the most polarizing issues in the US. This polarization is, at least, part of the reason why nothing really gets done about it.

Southern states in the US have much more relaxed gun laws in the US as compared with Northern States. It’s not a surprising correlation that Southern States tend to vote conservative and Northern States tend to vote liberal. Liberals argue that more and better gun control is the solution to mass shootings. The state of Vermont allows people as young as 16 to buy handguns without parental consent. One can also easily buy guns online at stores such as Guns America and Cabelas. There are states where the legal age for buying guns is lower than the legal age for driving or drinking. The liberal argument, fundamentally, is that being able to buy guns so easily inevitably leads to mass shootings.

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Conservatives firmly believe that “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The right to bear arms is guaranteed in the second amendment of the US constitution. Conservatives argue that liberal demands for gun control are an attempt to take away American citizens’ last defense against the forces of totalitarianism. They argue that in the event of a martial law, the citizens should be able to organize and arm themselves against a tyrannical government. In the 18th century, arms would refer to weapons with little more firepower than muskets. Technically, the second amendment allows citizens to possess nuclear weapons as well. That is, of course, a ridiculous assertion.

The debate in the US continues and mass shootings show no sign of stopping.

Pakistan, on the other hand, despite the challenges it has faced in terms of security especially since 9/11, has done a better job at gun control than the US. Even though there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of minor and major terrorist attacks in Pakistan since September of 2001, Pakistan has managed to bring these attacks under control significantly. A look at Pakistan’s gun control regime shows why Pakistan is not suffering from the problem of regular mass shootings as the US.

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The total number of privately owned firearms in Pakistan is estimated to be around 18,000,000, according to a report by small arms survey. It must be noted that the proliferation of these firearms in Pakistan occurred during and after the Afghan Jihad. Thus, Pakistan is ranked 6th in terms of civilian owned firearms. The US is at number one. As of 2014, the total number of licensed gun owners in Pakistan was 352, 843 i.e. the total number of licenses granted under the Ministry of Interior. 0.18% of Pakistani citizens have a license for firearms as compared to 37% of US citizens.

 Pakistan’s National Report (2016) under the UN Program of Action (PoA) on Small and Light Weapons (SLAW) shows that Pakistan has been a vocal proponent of arms control at the national level, sub-regional and regional as well as the global level. An elaborate legal, administrative and regulatory regime exists in Pakistan to check the flow of weapons. The Arms Ordinance 1965 and the Illicit Arms Act 1991 provide the legal basis for exercising controls over the sale and purchase of firearms in Pakistan, as per the UN Programme of Action. A very strict criterion for issuance of arms licenses has been established by the Arms Control Policy 2012. The authority for approval for possessing automatic weapons exists solely with the Prime Minister.

According to import policy of the government of Pakistan, only authorized arms dealers or the Pakistan Ordnance Factory are allowed to deal in imports of Non-Prohibited Bore Weapons. The annual Import and Export Policy Order issued by the ministry of Commerce covers all restrictions and controls of firearms. All arms licenses at the federal and provincial levels are being computerized through the National Data Base and Registration Authority (NADRA) to develop a central computerized record of all authorized firearms in the country. Stockpiles are securely maintained by the Armed Forces of Pakistan as per standard operating procedures.

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Marking is made on the weapon that includes details such as the year of manufacture, serial number etc. The manufacturers are also required to maintain an updated record of all weapons at all times. Procedures are also in place for tracing of firearms, in case there is some error or discrepancy in record keeping.

This is a summary of the methods used by the Pakistan government to maintain gun control in the country. Perhaps, the US could learn a thing or two from Pakistan in this endeavor.