BY SIMON NDON’GA
Recently, President Mwai Kibaki directed security agents to mop up all illegal firearms in the country stating that they posed a great challenge to the country’s safety. He also alluded to the fact that the Firearms Act would be amended to provide stiffer penalties for those found in possession of such weapons.
The question raised by this directive however is how effective it is going to be and if carried out, to what extent it will it change the mindset of Kenyans not to possess fire-arms.
I have pondered greatly over the issue and while I think it might have a great effect on the prevalence of illicit firearms, more needs to be done to help Kenyans grasp the gravity of the dangers posed by carrying around weapons designed to inflict injury. And the advertising industry is not helping one bit.
In the world of marketing, the masculine image of a rugged man posing with a rifle cradled in his arms has been used to sell many things. They run the gamut: tobacco, automobiles, clothes, firearms and a host of other things, limited only by the advertiser’s imagination.
In many countries including Kenya, men have been portrayed as being inseparable from their guns. In town squares, statues have been erected of conquering heroes with a gun either in their arms or by their side. Even without captions, pictures depicting the Wild West era are quickly identified by the low-slung six-shooter strapped to a man’s hip.
Scores of movies have been made with the word “gun” in the titles. Television shows and theater box-office attractions are alive with the sound of rapid gunfire, good guys and bad guys shooting it out in every conceivable situation and location. Puny men made macho with a handgun or rifle in their hand, with realistic scenes of the dead lying at their feet.
Women are also not being left behind as many are now getting involved with guns. In the last score of years, television sets have come alive with women detectives and undercover agents shooting it out with unsavory elements and winning with deadlier aim and superior firepower.
They are flocking onto pistol and rifle firing ranges, squeezing off round after round of ammunition into life-size target posters of men and putting bullet holes between their eyes.
So it should not shock you to learn that handguns specially designed for women are already on the market and selling well. “Ladies, you wouldn’t use a man’s deodorant,” wrote one lady in a women’s magazine. “So why use a man’s revolver? You want a revolver that’s lightweight, with no edges to catch your nails, a dainty revolver that still packs a punch. Maybe you want a .38-caliber Ladysmith in glossy blue, or frosted sterling, with your choice of barrel lengths.”
An expert voiced his opinion on what women want in guns: “A woman wants the gun to look pretty. She wants it to be a nice-looking object that she puts in her purse. She doesn’t want it to clash with her compact and her mirror. A lot of women like things to be color coordinated and match. They don’t want it to look evil or vicious. She’s buying it for protection but, at the same time, she doesn’t want it to be ugly.”
A gun gives the ordinary citizen courage. He thinks he is protected, but he is also really running great risk of becoming a criminal.
The vast majority are not fit at all to have a gun since they are people without any emotional control to deal with situations of high tension. Indeed it does not take much for one to lose self-control, a provocation, a controversy, an uncontrolled gesture, and anyone can go from being a victim to being a murderer.
We all know what happened when a Matatu driver swerved in front of a renowned researcher in our country. The learned professor whipped out a gun and shot him right through his mouth. And in the past we have even heard of police officers who have used their firearms inappropriately to settle scores and even to exact revenge on people who have wronged them.
All in all, what I am saying is other than just issuing a directive to round up illegal firearms and imposing fines, the government needs to embark on an intensive sensitisation exercise to educate people on the dangers posed by carrying firearms whether legal or illegal.
More needs to be done in the area of security so as to give Kenyans the confidence needed not to carry firearms. Advertisements need to be regulated so that young and old are not brainwashed that they are only safe when carrying guns.
And finally the security forces need to be trained more so as to protect Kenyans in a responsible manner and not misuse the weighty responsibility bestowed upon them.
If this is done, then definitely other that making our country a safer place to live in, we will reside peacefully with one another.
(SIMON NDONG’A IS A REPORTER WITH CAPITAL NEWS)