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City police alarmed over civilian misuse of legal firearms

Mid-morning on Tuesday, May 2, at Mugumo Terrace in Muthangari. A single gunshot is heard from the house of a telecommunication company’s security manager.

An 18-year-old Form Four student at Aga Khan High School has shot himself in the head using his father’s firearm.

The boy, Josiah Mwangi Kariuki, had entered his father’s room, took the weapon his father had procured to secure his family, and ended his life.

His parents were outside the country. Josiah was taken to hospital by family driver Simon Ihanji and brother Joshua Mwangi. He was admitted to the intensive care unit but he breathed his last two days later. He was buried on Wednesday at their home in Thunguri, Othaya.

Police took the Ceska pistol, serial number N808072 with 11 rounds of ammunition, from the house and also collected the cartridge emptied by Josiah’s bullet. The case is still under investigation.

MOTHER WATCHED

Two months before, another student, Brian Kagwe, 22, shot himself dead using his father’s firearm, as his mother watched and begged him not to. Brian was remorseful for having caused an accident a few minutes earlier on Slip Road, Nairobi. He thought the accident had taken the life of his friend.

Immediately after the accident, the former student at United States International University drove home on Kabarage Drive, Nairobi, took his father’s gun and shot himself in the chest twice.

Both the boys’ fathers are licensed firearm holders, certified by the Central Firearms Bureau of the National Police Service, which is now worried about the handling of firearms by licensed civilians. The gun that took the boy’s life was confiscated by police. Investigations are going on.

Cases of licensed civilians taking their own lives, or those of their family members, or failing to secure the firearms, have been on the rise in the past few months.

Several such firearms have been lost to watchmen, househelp and robbers, resulting in misuse and even death. Every week, the media reports at least one or two cases of loss or misuse of civilian firearms.

SURRENDER FIREARMS

The Firearms Licensing Board, beginning this year, effected a rule requiring all licensed civilians, despite having safes at home, to surrender their firearms to the board or to the nearest police station when travelling outside the country and when not using the firearm.

The National Police Service says there are over 8,000 civilians in possession of firearm certificates in Kenya. But since January this year, 32 certificates have been revoked for misuse and unsafe keeping, resulting in theft and accessibility to other hands.

Hundreds others are under investigations, including the cases of the two boys’ fathers.

Among those who have had their licences revoked include businessmen Paul Kobia and Chris Obure, who were accused of misusing their weapons.

Mr Kobia’s licence was revoked after he was allegedly involved in a violent fight with a Congolese in Nairobi. Mr Obure, on the other hand, had been arrested and charged after he allegedly attacked a reveller, Ben Alila, at B-Lounge in Kilimani, Nairobi, on New Year’s eve.

GOVERNOR MUNYA

Several others are under investigation, among them Meru Governor Peter Munya whose firearm and several rounds of ammunition were stolen from his home in Garden Estate, Nairobi, on March 2 this year.

The governor reported the disappearance of his Ceska pistol, which was loaded with 14 bullets, at Kasarani Police Station. He said he discovered that the safe containing the pistol, extra rounds of ammunition, his personal documents and other belongings, had disappeared from his house.

On Thursday this week, a househelp stole her employer’s firearm loaded with 15 rounds of ammunition in Muthaiga’s Ridgeway’s Spring Estate at noon.

The woman, identified only as Nancy, entered her employer’s bedroom, opened the safe and stole the Beretta pistol, Sh350,000 and three mobile phones. She then switched off her phone and ran away.

The employer, a licensed firearm holder whom we cannot name because his security would be compromised, told the police that he discovered that his keys were missing.

“He left the house at noon to look for a lawn mower. When he came back, he realised that the househelp was absent. In the bedroom, he found the safe open and the belongings missing,” said Nairobi County Police Commander Japhet Koome. He added that a manhunt for the househelp was underway.

A few weeks earlier, another househelp identified as Florence Nabwire stole her employer’s pistol loaded with nine rounds of ammunition in Lavington after breaking the safe. She then escaped accompanied by unknown people in a yellow car, registration number KAC 262H.

Police that evening recovered the pistol and arrested three people suspected of dumping the firearm by the roadside in Dagoretti.

REVOKE LICENCE

The laws of Kenya, under the Firearms Act (Cap114), give powers to the State to revoke a licence if the holder fails to comply with safety precautions such as ensuring the firearm is not lost or stolen, and is not at any time available to any person not lawfully entitled to possess it.

National Police Service Spokesperson George Kinoti said most people who possess licensed firearms have been issued with a certificate by the Firearms Licensing Board, but some of them fail to comply with safety measures stipulated by the Firearms Act.

The Firearms Licensing Board was formed in March last year after the Security Laws Amendment Act 2014, which deleted sections of the Firearms Act, including the one creating the position of Chief Licensing Officer, CLO.

The board is made up of Chairman Maj Gen (Rtd) Enoch Sasia, Lilian Kiamba (DCI), Stanley Omucheyi (Police), Barnice Gachegu (Attorney General’s office), Anthony Wahome (National Gun Owners Association), William Sing’oei (KWS), George Waiguru (NIS), James Ngului (Police) and Samuel Kimaru (Police) as the secretary.

“Usually, before the board issues a certificate, the most immediate OCPD has to visit your house to ascertain that there exists a mounted safe where you will keep the firearm any time you are not carrying it, which again means you have to have a holster.

‘PROOF’

“There has to be proof that you are fit to hold a firearm and this has to be done through several tests and vetting by the board,” Mr Kinoti said.

He said a new rule calling for surrender of firearms to the nearest police station or the board during one’s absence was imposed and communicated to all holders as they renewed their licences at the beginning of the year.

He said the board has a criteria to be followed and certifies the suitability of applicants. Periodically, it assesses the proficiency of firearm holders and issues, cancels, terminates or varies the licences or permits issued.

“One of the greatest problems we experience is that some people with these certificates gave fake reasons to justify their need for firearms,” Mr Kinoti said. The offence is punishable under Section 5 of the Firearms Act.

He said some people seek firearm licences for prestige, adding that these are the people who threaten others in pubs and in traffic.

“When such a thing happens, the firearms are usually seized by police and, in some cases, the licences are revoked,” he said. But the police have on several occasions been ordered by the courts to return firearms to their owners after confiscation, posing a challenge to the police.