SHOW OF CLASS, WEALTH

Have guns become a status symbol in Kenya?

Despite being meant for protection, they have a history of being used as 'an extension of one's manhood' by rogue civilians

In Summary

• More and more civilian gun owners are causing disturbances with their firearms

• The law says anyone who behaves in a disorderly manner while carrying a firearm is liable to one year in jail or a Sh10,000 fine or both

Babu Owino holds a firearm
Babu Owino holds a firearm
Image: Courtesy

Guns have become a hot topic of discussion this year following Babu Owino's alleged shooting of a DJ at B-Club last month.

Previously, in May 2014, Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko and Rachel Shebesh were involved in a shooting incident at Caribea Club on Wood Avenue, Nairobi.

 

It is unclear what triggered the shooting, reportedly by one of Shebesh’s bodyguards, at the club, where the two were accompanied by supporters.

 

Then in February 2017, nominated Senator Paul Njoroge was disarmed and arrested for allegedly misusing his firearm at a petrol station in Naivasha.

National Police Service spokesman at the time George Kinoti said the senator shot twice in the air after rival gangs clashed at a petrol station he operates on the outskirts of Naivasha town. However, Vivo Energy-Kenya MD Polycarp Igathe claimed the senator had tried to shoot him.

Additionally, in January last year during the dusitD2 terror attack, former Starehe constituency aspirant Steve Mbogo was photographed in a bulletproof vest and armed with an automatic rifle, a move that surprised many, given the cost of his arsenal.

Steve Mbogo carrying a firearm
Steve Mbogo carrying a firearm Steve Mbogo carrying a firearm
Image: Courtesy

When contacted, Mbogo, however, said he was a licensed gun holder and had to help in the resulting rescue mission before police officers intervened.

These incidents are just a few of the many where gun owners have been accused of mishandling or misusing their weapons.

They convey the impression that guns are given out to anyone who has the money and cachet to get one. But is that the case? The process for one to get a gun is much more complex than that.  

 
Guns shouldn't be used to settle domestic disputes or bar brawls. In short, they shouldn't be an extension of your manhood
NGOAK chair Anthony Wahome

GETTING A GUN

First off, one has to meet four crucial requirements: Be 21 years old and above, be trained in handling firearms, have a clear criminal record, and should be mentally stable and of sane mind.

Thereafter, one has to first express interest in owning a gun by making an application to the officer in charge of licensing firearms. Then you fill in application forms from the Chief Licensing Officer at the firearms office, Nairobi.

One has to get a certificate of good conduct from the DCI and submit the application form at a nearby police station at a fee of Sh2,000.

One will then undergo vetting by the NIS and be vetted again by the Firearms Licensing Board. FLB will either reject or approve your application.

If it approves, your name will be sent to the Inspector General of Police, who will again approve or reject the application.

If the IG approves it, FLB will issue the applicant with a licence, which is renewable annually. Moreover, the civilian's choice of guns is also limited. 

 

With all these incidents involving politicians and even famous celebrities or personalities, one wonders whether having a gun has now become a show of status and wealth and not the security gadget it is supposed to be.

Legally, handguns retail at between Sh100,000 and Sh300,000, while shotguns cost between Sh160,000 and Sh350,000 and are available from any of the 14 licensed gun shops in the country after one acquires a licence from the Central Firearms Registration Bureau.

A recent study by Small Arms Survey, titled 'Availability of Small Arms and Perceptions of Security in Kenya', established that between 530,000 and 680,000 firearms may be in civilian hands in Kenya.

Anthony Wahome, chairman of the National Gun Owners Association (NGOAK), distanced members of his group from misuse of firearms.

"Our members buy our guns for protection. When you are doing your application, there is a part where one is asked why they want a gun. You cannot put status as a reason," he told the Star.

The chairman said none of the members has ever had an incident where they had pulled out a gun in public in the manner Babu Owino did.

"Our association promotes legal ownership and personal responsibility with firearms. We also conduct seminars for our members with the DPP. Our members are well-informed. Since our association's promulgation in 2013, none of our members has had such an incident, he said.

Anthony also said the only two incidents that a member could justifiably have a right to use his gun are if there is an imminent danger and as a last resort.

Asked about people like Babu getting a gun, Anthony defended the vetting done by the government, saying it was normally thorough. But even with such vetting, he said, sometimes people just do things that were unforeseen.

All the members of Anthony's association have undergone this stringent vetting, with the chair welcoming the government's move last year to tighten the firearm market. The NGOAK chair said it had been a successful exercise but had an issue with the Firearms Act, which he felt was too vague.

"To prevent other incidents like Babu's, education of all licensed firearm holders should be done. The Police Act states what are the justifiable incidents for a policeman to use a firearm, but the Firearms Act has no law that categorically states what is a justifiable use of a firearm by a civilian," Anthony said.

"That is a huge loophole that should be amended in the Firearms Act to deal with such issues. As of now, it is left to the interpretation of the OCS, OCPD or the DCIO."

Illegal guns used by rustlers burnt at GSU Training Grounds, Magadi, on November 19, 2019
Illegal guns used by rustlers burnt at GSU Training Grounds, Magadi, on November 19, 2019
Image: ANDREW KASUKU

The chair finished by saying that guns are supposed to be for protection alone, and that a licensed firearm holder should be discreet about their possession of the firearm.

"Guns shouldn't be used to settle domestic disputes or bar brawls. In short, they shouldn't be an extension of your manhood," he added.

Anyone who wants to show people they have a firearm is not only a risk to themselves but also to the people around him
NGOAK member

SELF RESPONSIBILITY

Another member of NGOAK, who wished to remain anonymous as he is a well-known public figure, said he got a gun because the nature of his work involved him handling large sums of money while out in public.

"I needed to protect myself wherever I went and I used to have a lot of money on my person. This was before the issue of gun-owning as a status symbol came about," the NGOAK member said.

The public figure said people who own guns for status sake shouldn't be allowed to legally own those guns.

"Owning, handling and storing a firearm is a great responsibility. Before one owns a firearm, they should be a responsible citizen. There are laws and regulations for having a firearm. Anyone who wants to show people they have it is not only a risk to themselves but also to the people around him," he said.

Article 88 of the Penal Code prohibits the brandishing of weapons in public, warning that “any person who goes armed in public without lawful occasion in such a manner as to cause terror to any person is guilty of a misdemeanour, and his arms may be forfeited”.

The celebrity, who has owned his gun for more than eight years, said above all, a person who has owns a firearm shouldn't use it when intoxicated. "The threat of hurting those around you when you are drunk is very high. One should be of a sober mind when using a firearm," he said.

Section 33 of the Firearms Act states that “any person who is drunk, or who behaves in a disorderly manner, while carrying a firearm, shall be guilty of an offence and liable to imprisonment for up to one year or up to Sh10,000 fine, or both”.

Most licensed firearm holders insist they own guns purely for the security aspect it provides them and as such, keep them well-hidden. So does that mean the public figures who show off their guns and brandish them in public are in it for the status? 

Despite the different motivations of various gun-handlers, the law does have some controls for errant firearm holders. A firearm handling licence can be revoked if the gun-handler misused the gun while drunk, stored it carelessly, endangering others, exuded misconduct or was believed to be a threat to public safety and peace.

Edited by T Jalio