In a country without a presence of a well-organised and recognised association representing all legal gun owners, concerns are being raised over how the amendments to the Arms and Ammunition Act would impact individual gun owners in Namibia.
Namibian legal drafters are done with the amendments to the Arms and Ammunition Act, and the draft bill has reportedly been sent to various stakeholders in the industry for input. And already Namibia’s armed civilians are raising concerns. The country only has two fully-fledged stakeholders in the arms and ammunition sector, the Namibia Arms and Ammunition Dealers’ Association – which reportedly is not keen on sharing the draft with non-arms dealers – and the Namibia Professional Hunters’ Association.
“How are we to know that one [clause in the Bill] would not spoil it for us individuals who legally own one or multiple guns for self-defence, occasional hunting, [partaking in] non-professional sports or who just collect guns,” a female gun owner moaned.
Inspector-General of the Namibian Police Lieutenant-General Sebastian Ndeitunga has confirmed to New Era Weekend that the Bill is back from the legal drafters and the process to bring it before Parliament is at an advanced stage.
“We have made proposals to the current Arms and Ammunition Act. We are busy with it before it is tabled in Parliament. This month, we will have a final cross-check because it is back from the legal drafters. We want our honourable members [in Parliament] to critically look at these amendments. We will be happy, if they see that there is a loophole, to have it closed,” Ndeitunga said in a wide-ranging interview a fortnight ago.
But the question is how would these amendments – such as background checks that Ndeitunga said would allow police to determine whether or not a person is suitable to possess a gun – be carried out?
It is a point on which gun owners have a strong opinion. Not that they are in disagreement, but they are cautiously looking out for, and would be against, the law stipulating that a person be psychologically or mentally fit to own a firearm.
“It would be very difficult to examine someone, looking in from outside, and say I vouch for this person as someone who is psychologically and mentally fit to own a firearm,” said Jorn Schmidt-Dumont, one of the very few certified firearms instructors in Namibia.
There is also a question of whether a psychologist would be willing to certify someone as ‘sound of mind to own a gun.’ What if the person – three months down the line – shoots someone and says he was temporarily insane, or should be declared mentally unstable for other reasons that could not have been foreseen?
“We would not want authorities to do psychological tests, because it is very hard to examine someone in advance on how would their mental state be in future,” said Schmidt-Dumont.
There is consent however that there is a greater need to have legislation that assesses individuals whether or not they are fit to be issued with a firearm. One option being advocated is a firearm licence that is almost similar to a driving licence – where a gun licence owner is assessed every five years. There are also requests by gun owners for gun dealers to be compelled by the Act to give some sort of training and not simply just accept cash and hand over the gun, “as though it was a bicycle”.
A northern businessman narrated to New Era Weekend how his friend bought a pistol and immediately took it for random shooting in an open space. The friend injured his hand from slide action during gun recoil in not knowing how to properly hold and handle the firearm. The friend then drove for hundreds of kilometres with an unsecured loaded and half-chambered gun that had jammed, safety pin off, in the boot of the car, where road vibration could have trigged the gun to go off by itself.
However, professional trainers such as Schmidt-Dumont point out that training a person on how to use a firearm safely might not be sufficient. This is because the training on how to use a firearm for self-defence is much more complicated. There are issues of a mind-set to consider – a person who is prompted to discharge a firearm for self-defence is bound to experience an adrenaline rush, the severity of which can vary from person to person. It would not be the same adrenaline rush that would be experienced by a person at a shooting range, shooting for fun or as part of a sports activity.
Schmidt-Dumont gives the example of a car accident: surviving passengers and drivers alike would have visible signs of being in a state of confusion – for them one minute would feel like an hour. Some would be shaking so much that they would not even be able to dial the emergency number on their cellphones.
“For those who have ever been in a car accident, that feeling is the feeling one would experience when and after discharging a firearm for self-defence in a real life-threatening situation,” he says.
Hence the self-defence training simulates real-life scenarios of self-defence to induce real adrenaline in a participant. Participants are trained on how a person would handle him or herself and the gun in such a situation.
Given that the majority of gun owners have licences to possess firearms for self-defence, perhaps that is one training component that is most required.
Another point on which gun owners have a strong opinion is the changes on the issuance of firearms. The fear is rooted in the remarks by Ndeitunga that the issuing of firearms is too much, that people are “given firearms while sometimes [they] are not having good behaviour in the community”.
There are also concerns the amendment would bring too much control on when and where they cannot be in possession of their firearms. Some gun owners are even against ‘gun-free zones’ altogether.
It is not uncommon to spot a member of the public armed with a sidearm at a wedding, funeral, in public transport, or in a drinking place. Proponents of non-gun free zones say as long as they are legally licensed to possess a side arm they are not keen on being restricted to where or when they can carry their guns.
But how is Namibia to handle the reckless handling of firearms? Pundits point to an array of reasons for gun accidents and shooting in public places. One is the exorbitant price of guns, which prompt many new gun buyers to buy second-hand guns that have not been properly maintained. It also forces people to buy cheap side firearms, which are not the best for carrying around, and are prone to fire when not handled with care.
Whatever the causes, incidents of gun accidents and cases of purposely shooting at people are just too many. According to the International Firearm Injury Prevention Policy, Namibia has a rate of 17.44 people out of 100 000 dying from gunshots compared to Botswana’s rate of 2.89 out of 100 000.
In the last ten months up to July this year Namibia has recorded cases in which minor children – aged not more than 10 years, with youngest aged 4 years – accidentally having shot and killed their family members. Two killed their fathers and one a cousin. In all incidents a family member had either asked the minor to handle the gun to shoot or adjust the gun’s position. Not to forget the inexplicable case in 2013 in which a father accidentally shot dead his eight-year-old son, who was asleep, during a party at home.
Then there is the proportionately high deaths by gun shooting stemming from those shot dead in shebeens during a quarrel over an amount of less than N$20 during a game of pool, or over a juke box or gambling machine. Oddly the lowest reported amount for which someone was shot in a shebeen was N$1 for a coin operated pool table. – Additional reporting by Albertina Nakale.