Saturday, October 24, 2009

Opening gunshops in Saudi Arabia is not the answer to curbing illegal weapons

The Saudi Ministry of Interior’s decision to issue licenses to entrepreneurs to open private gun shops is full of good intentions, but until more information is disclosed I must wonder: Do we really need easy access to guns?

The ministry announced recently that any person 25 years or older with no criminal record and a bank guarantee of SR500,000 can open a gun shop. The best part of these requirements is the bank guarantee, which pares down the pool of potential applications to open businesses.

The idea behind this is to curb illegal ownership of firearms and have a better tracking system of where guns originate. About five years ago, the Saudi government asked gun owners to register their weapons at the regional Emir office's security department. The response from Saudi citizens was overwhelmingly positive. Many -- if not the majority -- Saudis participated in the registration drive.

Gun ownership is long ingrained in Saudi society. Boys are taught to hunt and as men usually keep firearms in the house. Truck drivers, and even some women drivers in rural areas, as I mentioned last week, carry handguns for protection.

As a society we have demonstrated responsible gun ownership. Our crime rate is extremely low. About half of the crimes committed in Saudi Arabia are non-violent thefts, and the murder rate is barely 1 person per 100,000 population. The U.S. State Department, however, has issued a warning to its citizens that the instances of carjackings in Riyadh have risen. Yet violence involving firearms is low.

Although I have no doubt that illegal gun ownership remains a problem in Saudi Arabia, the logic of opening gun shops eludes me. This move by the Ministry of Interior reminds me of the occasional news article I read from the United States in which a municipal police chief decides to issue concealed weapons permits to all gun owners who ask for one to ensure they can legally carry a weapon. The thinking is that the permit will reduce the number of people walking around with illegal
guns in their pockets or purses. But all it does is simply put more weapons on the street and increase the chances that someone will get hurt.

The ministry’s logic is similar to the U.S. police chief. The ministry’s ruling will put more legal guns on the street, but it’s still more guns.

It’s likely that the ministry has thought of such things, but has not released the requirements that will be imposed to buy and sell guns. Issues to be addressed are whether a waiting period between purchase and actually receiving the weapon will be imposed and if criminal background checks will be conducted. Presumably the ministry will establish checks and balances to maximize the safety of people.

We only have to look at the U.S. as an object lesson. According to a 2009 Centers for Disease Control report, 30,896 U.S. gun deaths were reported in 2006. Forty-one percent were the result of homicides and 55 percent were suicides. The remaining fatalities were unintentional or undetermined intent deaths.

In addition, a gun in the house increases the risk of a homicide by three times and the risk of suicide five times compared to no gun present. People are more likely to be shot by their own gun than shooting a robber or attacker.

We shouldn’t believe for a second that more legal guns in Saudi Arabia are going to protect us from criminals. Rather, think about the next Saudi National Day. We already have a problem with people who don’t understand that shooting a gun into the air means a bullet must come down somewhere. If more guns are available the odds of more bullets falling on someone’s head on National Day increases. The same goes for
tribal weddings and celebrations in which guns are shot in the air.

Perhaps the most obvious argument is that we still have extremists operating in Saudi Arabia, as was the case with the recent attack on security officers near the Yemen border. Although the Ministry of Interior has done an incredible job of curbing attacks and our country is stabilized, the threat remains. During the height of the 2003-2006 militant attacks in Saudi Arabia there were Al Qaeda supporters,
perhaps better described as wannabes, trolling Riyadh and Jeddah streets using handguns to shoot Westerners.

Presumably Saudis with no criminal record can walk into a gun shop and purchase any weapon he desires. Militants with a phony identity or a well concealed background should have no problem purchasing over-the-counter weapons. Do we really need to make it easier for them?


Anonymous said...

This is a fair look at the decision. You just covered it from all possible angles. I share most of your concerns; however, I would rather wait and see how things will turn out.

Mohamed said...

These terrorist wannabes already have guns and illegal gun running from Yemen is rampant.

Besides, I don't think it will be as available it is in America where you can buy high powered .50 caliber sniper rifles capable of piercing armored vehicles from any gun shop!