Guns are a great equalizer! Before the advent of firearms, in times when the sword and spear dominated, people with strong physiques were always at an advantage in hand-to-hand combat. In contrast, all that

a gun requires is a steady hand, a steady eye and a steady mind. In combat, guns place the weak and strong physiques on the same footing. A culture of possession of firearms by the general public does contribute in a small but significant way to the evolution of a more egalitarian society.  

Organised societies need a State System to manage their collective affairs in the spheres of security, administration and economy. In establishing a State System, the citizenry, firstly, voluntarily relinquish their natural right to the use of force for self-defence and maintaining order and justice and, secondly, empower the State machinery, via the instruments of constitution and law, to exercise legal coercive force to ensure security of citizens, enforce justice and maintain order, all in the interest of society. And therefore, only the State exercises the prerogative of maintaining military forces for ensuring defence of the nation and country and establishing judiciary and police forces to ensure justice, security and order in society. 

Since the State’s security and police forces cannot be everywhere all the time, therefore states feel the necessity of formulating rules and regulations to allow citizens to bear small arms for self-defence against armed criminals, violent enemies, psychopath killers, mad dogs, dangerous wild animals and other similar threats.      

Due to the coercive power they wield by law, States exhibit a tendency to become excessively harsh and oppressive. Many societies jealously protect the right of all citizens to bear sophisticated firearms on the grounds that it helps to check the State from becoming tyrannical and oppressive. As an example, in Pakistan, the fact that the KPK Police is generally reputed to be comparatively more polite and considerate towards citizens is attributed to culture of bearing firearms by the people in that province and their readiness to use them if provoked beyond a certain point! In contrast the Punjab Police has the unenviable reputation of being excessively oppressive and sadistically violent; some say because most of the citizenry is unarmed and easily intimidated. 

The correct policy for a society is to restrict the possession of lethal sophisticated weaponry only to the military and police forces and to regulate the type and quantity of small arms that individual citizens are allowed to possess in order to, firstly, protect the right of citizens to bear small arms for self-defence, secondly, impose a psychological restraint on state officials to discourage them from becoming tyrannical and oppressive and, thirdly, prevent the emergence of private gangs, mafias and militias equipped with lethal sophisticated weaponry enabling them to challenge the writ of the state and spread crime, chaos, conflict and terror in the country; as has, unfortunately, happened in Pakistan over the past two decades.

ARMS PROLIFERATION & VIOLENCE IN PAKISTAN

Over three decades of conflict and turmoil in the Pak-Afghan region, starting with the 1979-Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, followed by the decade-long Afghan Civil War, leading onto the US-NATO Invasion of Afghanistan, has led to the flooding of this region with lethal sophisticated weaponry. For example, the ubiquitous AK47-Assault Rifles, G3, MP5 and M4 Military Guns, high-powered Sniper Rifles, Hand Grenades, RPGs, Heavy Machine Guns, Mortars, Rocket Artillery and High Explosives. The proliferation of lethal firearms in the country has precipitously increased the level of violence in society and brought unprecedented levels of violent crime and gangster-ism to the country. In some instances, the Police and Para-Military forces are practically outgunned by criminal gangs, drug mafias, extremist sectarian outfits, private militias and jihadi militant tanzeems possessing these highly sophisticated firearms in large quantities and who are now posing a direct challenge to the State itself, as witnessed in the shape of terrorism and insurgencies and horrific blood-letting over recent years in Swat, Fata, Balochistan, Karachi and areas of Punjab and Sindh. 

Shockingly, even political governments have actively contributed to this state of affairs by blindly issuing licenses for assault rifles and powerful handguns by the hundreds of thousands.  The high demand for such licenses is also providing an opportunity for corrupt politicians and officials to rake in millions. No thought is given to the obvious fact that Assault Rifles are weapons of aggression meant for the military forces and not meant for private citizens for purpose of self-defence.

Even the blind can see that the proliferation of assault rifles and high-powered hand-guns are one of the major causes behind the runaway violence in Pakistani society. Obviously, this state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue if the State has to survive. A balanced Gun Control Policy needs to be formulated and enforced by the State to check the current violence racking the country and bring back sanity and order to society in Pakistan.

GUN CONTROL:  POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

Proposals for a Gun Control Policy and its implementation plan are outlined below. These recommendations are based on the following approach:

  1. Assault Rifles, Sniper Rifles, high-powered Handguns should be restricted, by law and constitution, for use by the Military and the Police forces.   
  2. Citizens shall, under law, have the right and shall be facilitated by the state to possess and carry small calibre firearms (handguns, shotguns and rifles) for their self-defence.
  3. A phased implementation of the policy should be adopted to enable citizens, small arms businesses and manufacturers to adjust to the new policy and afforded an opportunity to dispose of their existing weapons and stocks in foreign markets and also arrange purchase/manufacture of small arms allowed under the proposed policy.
  4. A separate incremental implementation policy needs to be worked out for special areas such as FATA, B-areas of Balochistan and peripheral areas in all provinces where law enforcement apparatus of the state is either non-existent or too weak to implement this policy. The phased implementation should be tagged to main-streaming of these special areas. 

I. Allowable Calibre of Guns

All citizens shall be entitled to possess and freely carry the following grade of firearms for the purpose of self-defence and shall be facilitated to obtain licenses at nominal charges:

  1. Hand Guns (Revolver, Derringer and Semi-automatic Pistol) = 0.220 calibre only. Larger and lethal calibres shall be reserved solely for the police and military forces. 
  2. Smooth Bore Shotguns (all types excluding fully automatic) = Maximum bore up to 12 gauge calibre. Allowable ammunition (a) Birdshot Nos: BBB, BB, B and Nos:1 to 9, (b) Buckshot Nos: 3 and 4 only and (c) Non-lethal Rubber and Plastic Shot.
  3. Rifles (bolt, lever and revolver -actions only) = 0.220 calibre only without telescopes.

II. Cancellation of License for all Sophisticated Weapons

All licenses issued for firearms prohibited under the new policy, including Assault Rifles, Fully-automatic and Semi-automatic Rifles of all calibres other than 0.220 calibre, all Handguns other than 0.220 calibre and all Shotguns of calibre higher than 12 Gauge, shall be cancelled without exception and a constitutional ban be imposed on the issue of licenses for such military-grade and lethal fully automatic and semi-automatic firearms including large calibre handguns. 

III. Ex-Servicemen and Policemen enrolled on Reservist List

Ex-servicemen and ex-policemen, who voluntarily enlist in Reserve Forces, may possess one semi-automatic rifle of appropriate calibre and a specified quantity of ammunition issued by notified military and police authority subject to the condition that these weapons are duly registered with the appropriate police station which shall issue a permit for carrying of the weapon when on Reservist duties only. All Reservists will be liable to be called up and attend yearly refresher training courses of two weeks duration on weapons and military duties.

VI. Implementation Plan

  1. Citizens in possession of sophisticated firearms prohibited under this Policy may relinquish such weapons in exchange for free licenses for non-prohibited weapons that they possess. 
  2. For the first year of the implementation of the Gun Control Policy, the carrying and display of prohibited firearms be totally banned. In case of violations, such firearms should be confiscated but, apart from issuing an appropriate receipt to the owners, no criminal action should be initiated against them. And, except in cases of crime, no search raids of private premises should be conducted to recover prohibited arms. The objective is to give citizens reasonable time to conform to the new policy.
  3. After the completion of the first year of the Policy, the possession of prohibited firearms shall be declared a crime inviting stiff penalties of fines amounting to ten times the value of the confiscated firearms. 
  4. After the completion of the third year of the Policy, in addition to fines, a term of imprisonment up to 12 months shall be imposed for possession of prohibited weapon. 
  5. Arms dealers and manufacturers shall be given free export licenses for a period of one year only to enable them to dispose of their existing stocks of weapons in foreign markets. They shall also be given free new licenses for import of non-prohibited calibre firearms and ammunition and for plant and machinery for manufacturing non-prohibited arms allowed under the new policy. Thereafter, arms dealers and manufacturers will face the same punishments for possession of illegal firearms and ammunition of prohibited bore calibres. 
  6. In order to protect law-abiding citizen, any crime against a citizen committed with firearms whether prohibited or legal (injury, robbery, rape, dacoity, hijacking, kidnapping etc.) should be punishable by death. Additionally, a citizen using his legal firearms in self-defence against criminals/trespassers within his private residence or work premises shall be protected by law against harassment by police authorities.

VII. Implementation Plan for FATA and other Special Areas

A separate approach for FATA and other Special Areas shall have the following features: 

  1. Residents of FATA and other Special Areas shall have the same legal rights as residents of normal districts as regards the possession of non-prohibited firearms.
  2. The possession and carrying of heavy weaponry and explosives such as Heavy Machineguns, RPGs, Rockets, Mortars, Recoilless Rifles, Grenades, Plastic Explosives, Grenade Launchers and similar weaponry shall be forthwith banned. For the first year of this policy, in case of open carrying and display, such weapons shall be confiscated by the state but no criminal proceedings will be initiated. Thereafter, the carrying and display of such weapons will invite punitive action.
  3. A grace period of two years shall be granted allowing the possession and carrying of sophisticated firearms, such as Assault Rifles and other semi-automatic and bolt-action Rifles of prohibited calibre for self-defence purposes. Thereafter, these weapons shall be confined to homes but the carrying and display of such weapons shall be banned and shall be liable to be confiscated by the state in case of violations. However, there will be no restrictions on the possession and carrying of non-prohibited calibre firearms.
  4. No resident of FATA and other Special Areas will be allowed to bring in prohibited calibre firearms into settled districts and/or designated Illaqa Sarkar, urban areas, commercial areas and roads within FATA and Special Areas. These restrictions will not apply to carrying non-prohibited calibre firearms. 
  5. All residents of FATA will obtain permits for the weapons they possess which will be issued by the Political Agent. The Permit will enable FATA residents to keep prohibited calibre firearms inside their homes located in the Protected Areas for their self-defence and to carry their firearms in the designated Illaqa Ghair within FATA boundaries. These restrictions will not apply to non-prohibited calibre firearms.
  6. All residents of Special Areas will obtain licenses and permits for their weapons from the Deputy Commissioner of the area which shall enable them to keep prohibited calibre firearms inside their homes for their self-defence but will not allow them to carry or display these firearms outside their homes. These restrictions will not apply in case of non-prohibited calibre firearms.
  7. Gun Control Policy in its totality will be progressively enforced in FATA and designated Special Areas in proportion to the progression of mainstreaming and establishment of effective law enforcement and justice systems in FATA and Special Areas of standards similar to the rest of the country.

VIII. Illustrations of Legal Firearms and Ammunition