Owning AK-47 soon to be a hanging offence

Tuesday October 6 2009

Police officers display a cache of arms recovered from criminals. PHOTO/ FILE

Police officers display a cache of arms recovered from criminals. PHOTO/ FILE 

By KENNETH OGOSIA

Owners of illegal guns and police officers who rent their firearms to criminals could soon face the death penalty.

Law enforcement agencies are pushing for tighter gun control and have proposed a raft of tough measures to be discussed by the Cabinet soon.

These include an amendment to the Firearms Act, the law governing the legal ownership of guns.

According to the latest proposals contained in the National Policy on Small Arms and Light Weapons, no one will be allowed to own an AK-47 rifle, a G3 or “any automatic or semi-automatic self-loading military assault rifle of any other calibre”.

Anyone found guilty of having one will be hanged. The policy is a follow-up of a letter to the Attorney General dated February 12, 2007. The letter from the then Police Commissioner, Maj-Gen Hussein Ali, had proposed that the death sentence be imposed on criminals with illegal firearms and civilians who misuse licensed guns.

The AG is yet to act on the recommendations. He instead proposed that the death sentence be reduced to life imprisonment.

Another memorandum from the Commissioner of Police to the Attorney General has now recommended that imposing the maximum penalty for gun crime is the only way to curb the misuse of weapons, which have been blamed for the high crime rate and banditry in parts of the country.

It also proposes that anyone who handles a gun while drunk be jailed for five years without the option of a fine. Under the current laws, such offenders are jailed for a year or fined Sh20,000.

The proposals were prepared by the National Steering Committee on Peace Building and Conflict Management in the Office of the President and a unit on the control of the proliferation of small and light weapons in the police force.

The memorandum has been submitted afresh to Internal Security minister George Saitoti in the hope that it will be discussed by the Cabinet.

Last week, Kenya’s top commanders from the military, the intelligence services and Police Force held an unprecedented meeting at the Kenya School of Monetary Studies to discuss the security problems facing the nation.

Among the issues discussed were disarmament and conflict resolution particularly in the North Rift and Upper Eastern regions, which have been rocked by perennial banditry and cattle rustling attacks. The latest such attack, in Laikipia North, led to the death of 32 people last month.

A senior security official, who declined to be named discussing pending Cabinet business, on Tuesday told the Nation: “What Kofi Annan is attempting to address is no small matter because we are sitting on a time bomb. The use of guns is no longer just for criminal purposes, but a political tool.”

Top on the minds of the authors of the memorandum was the concern that illegal weapons could be used in election-related violence in 2012.

In 2008, 1,133 people were killed in post-election chaos, sparking fears that the violence could be worse in 2012.

Both the memo and the National Policy on Small Arms and Light Weapons warn that Kenyans are increasingly exposed to the danger of weapons finding their way into the country illegally through its borders and also through Lake Victoria. Kenya’s border with war-ravaged Somalia is one of the major entry points of illegal firearms.

The idea behind the tough proposals is to enhance the punishment provided for in the Firearms Act section 4(3), which prohibits the purchase, acquisition and possession of firearms or ammunition without a certificate. The current sentence is a jail term of between seven and 15 years.

If the proposal is accepted and becomes law, offences under that section will be punishable by death. However, it is still not clear if this sentence will be enforced since Kenya has not hanged any death row convict since 1982.

In another recommendation, gun owners who fail to renew their licenses will be fined Sh1,000, up from the current Sh500, while licensed gun owners who fail to produce their permit will be fined Sh50,000, up from Sh10,000.

Serial number

Concealing the serial number of a weapon will attract 10 years in prison without the option of a fine, up from the current five years.

Unregistered gun dealers will be jailed for between 10 and 15 years, while those who give false information when registering as gun dealers will be jailed for five years without the option of a fine.

Selling guns or bullets in a place which is not authorised under the law will attract a jail term of not less than 15 years, according to the proposal.

Security personnel or top government officials who are found armed and drunk will be jailed for five years.

The national policy on small arms is intended to reduce the number of weapons in public hands, bring together all laws related to weapons, help cooperation with other countries and inform the public about the danger posed by guns.

The policy was drafted by the National Focal Point for Small Arms and Light Weapons, the department which deals with disarmament in the Office of the President.