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Death row beckons for illegal gun owners

Tuesday March 17 2009

A police officer watches as some of the 2,490 illegal firearms go up in flames at Uhuru Gardens, Nairobi on Tuesday, March 17 2009. The firearms, recovered from illegal owners and robbers, were destroyed by the police. Photo/HEZRON NJOROGE

A police officer watches as some of the 2,490 illegal firearms go up in flames at Uhuru Gardens, Nairobi on Tuesday, March 17 2009. The firearms, recovered from illegal owners and robbers, were destroyed by the police. Photo/HEZRON NJOROGE 

By FRED MUKINDA

Possessing an unlicensed gun could soon earn you the death sentence as the Kenyan government steps up the war on crime.

And police officers who hired out their guns to criminals could also join armed robbers on death row.

Those who sold illicit firearms will not be spared either, if Parliament adopts proposed amendments to the Firearms Act.

Innocent person

At present, a person found in possession of a firearm without a licence faces up to 15 years in prison.

Assistant Internal Security (Provincial Administration) minister Simeon Lesrima on Tuesday spelt out the proposed changes when he oversaw the burning of 2,426 illegal firearms.

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The weapons were burnt at Uhuru Gardens in accordance with the Nairobi Protocol signed by 11 countries in the region in 2000. The protocol requires that illegal weapons be burnt to ashes and metal parts smelted.

“The law, if enacted, will provide for capital punishment for those in possession, trading, conveying and dealing in illegal weapons.

“An illegal weapon in the hands of a criminal has no other purpose than to kill an innocent person. It is, therefore, justifiable for law enforcers to take equal measures against such a person,” he said.

Mr Lesrima said a draft Bill with the amendments would be tabled in Parliament soon. “We are confident that Parliament will respond positively,” he said.

A similar warning was issued in 2007 by then Internal Security minister John Michuki, but MPs are yet to debate the matter. Police have been pushing for the stiffer penalties since 2007 when Police Commissioner Hussein Ali proposed 12 amendments to the present Act. “We’ve paid dearly from the influx of firearms from Somalia,” Maj-Gen Ali said on Tuesday.

The government has destroyed more than 22,000 firearms since 2003.

“More than 111,000 arms and over 400 tonnes of ammunition and other ordinances have been destroyed since 2003.

“This has contributed to proper stockpile security and prevented the arms from finding their way back into the wrong hands,” said Regional Centre on Small Arms executive secretary Francis Sang.

Scrap metal

He said that burning the weapons was symbolic in fighting insecurity.

Some 700 AK-47 rifles, 65 pistols and 112 home-made guns were destroyed on Tuesday. Also set ablaze were 175 revolvers, 19 shotguns and 13 hunting guns. G3 rifles, machine and sub-machine guns also went up in smoke as armed General Service Unit officers kept guard.

Other procedures require that the residue be ferried to scrap metal dealers and smelted under the watch of a senior police officer.