?The complex economics behind gun ownership row

By X.N. Iraki | Published Tue, February 27th 2018 at 10:55, Updated February 27th 2018 at 10:59 GMT +3
A rusty Browning 303 machine gun found in the Aberdares at the wreckage of Blenheim Bomber that went down in the Aberdares in WW II. [XN Iraki]

The right to bear arms is enshrined in the American constitution.

It is amazing that it never made it to the Kenyan constitution despite our prolific copying of the US constitution, particularly in political positions from senators to governors.

Somehow, we conveniently failed to notice America has no posts for nominated MPs or senators. Gun ownership is an emotional issue in the US. 

It is one country where the government lost its monopoly of violence to even civilians.

As a Kenyan, I was fascinated to see guns on sale, displayed, not different from the way we display bananas in Kenya.

The shooting of innocent kids in US schools has rekindled a national debate on gun ownership, the right to bear arms.

One parent whose kid died in the Florida shooting asked why the right to own guns is protected more than the rights of those who were shot dead in schools.

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Most Kenyans see guns only in movies or with the police. 

But they seem to know one thing: It is the symbol of power.

Police or soldiers would have less power if they did not carry guns. Gangsters would be less dreaded if they did now bear guns. Among the civilians, owning a gun is still considered a badge of honour and club of few members.

Communist revolutionary and founding father of the People’s Republic of China, Chairman Mao Zedong, reminded us that ‘political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.’

That dictum has not changed.  Why else would the president be the commander in chief of the defence forces worldwide?

Many will contend that power comes from the consent of the voters, but what happens after voting day is more complex. Few Kenyans have had a close encounter with guns.

Those who have, remember for the rest of their lives.

That includes veterans of many wars from WWI and II, Mau Mau and now Somali. 

The failure to interact with guns, the way we interact with our smart or stupid phones has fired our fascination with guns.

My closest encounter was about 10 years ago when I was carjacked on my way home at around 10pm. After being driven around Nairobi, we ended up around Kibiku, near Wangige.

My shoes, my laptop with photos I had taken on a trip through Europe disappeared.

They also ate my chips!  After reporting to police, am still waiting. Guns are used to derive power, legitimate or otherwise.  

That power is not just for its own sake, it often leads to access to another power — the economic power and privileges and good life that goes with it.

Guns were handy in the colonisation and subjugation of many people around the world.

Lots of wealth on this planet was got through the barrel of the gun. The powerless use guns to show they have power…

Guns constitute an industry by itself. Lots of people earn their living manufacturing guns, bullets, magazines, silencers, bulletproof vests and other accessories.

Balance of power

Add the distributors and smugglers. We even have a bullet factory in Kenya.

You can even check the prices of guns online.

The invention of the gun and the gunpowder made war more lethal and shifted the balance of power among nations.

Mau Mau Freedom fighters also realised getting guns would tilt the war. They used ingenious methods to get guns.

One popular method was using girls to bait the police.

They also made use of “insiders,” the employees in settlers’ homes. Later they learned to make guns themselves.

One 93-year-old veteran of Mau Mau and British campaigns in Burma, Mburu Mwikonyi, told me he can make one in 15 minutes.  The gun was followed by more powerful weapons culminating in nuclear bombs.

Some of the best minds in the world showed their clout on the battlefront. In fact, the gun is the smallest and least powerful weapon among the many arsenals, but its frequent use and misuse make it so popular.

Availability is another reason for its fame.

How many of us can explain how a nuclear bomb works?

In absence of war, the gun still tilts the balance of power, it is owned by the wealthy that have something to protect.

It is owned by the poorest who use it to show they can have power over you even if it’s only for a few hours during carjackings. Does it bother you that men are more likely to misuse guns than women? Is that not a show of powerlessness? 

In Kenya, gun ownership is tightly controlled, but going by reports of banditry and other crimes, it seems that control is weak or has loopholes.

We all hope that guns will be used as originally intended, to protect and not destroy lives prematurely as has often been reported in US schools or nearer home in Garissa and Westgate.

Guns are a product of progress in science and technology, but as one Canadian philosopher Joseph Rotman put it: “Science empowers us; the humanities teach us to use that power wisely.” This is not about to change.

The gun culture in other parts of the world shows that despite all our problems, we are human, care for one another. We must not lose this virtue in the name of development.

-The writer teaches at the University of Nairobi

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