x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Unsafe Emirati gun traditions endanger lives

Gun use among Emiratis dates as far back as the 19th century but an Emirati tradition that puts lives in danger has no place in our society.

Guns and I have never really got along. The first time we made each other’s acquaintance was after I blindly followed my friends at the influential age of 13 into signing up for the Army Cadet Force, a British youth organisation providing military training.

After a few lessons on how to dress, march, talk and fight like good little soldiers came our most eagerly anticipated lesson of all: how to shoot like one.

Our superiors barked out a few instructions and inadequate safety tips on the use of our Lee-Enfield bolt-action rifles and then let us loose on the shooting range.

My initial excitement soon gave way to disappointment, as my paper target remained as pristine as it had been before I unleashed my entire magazine in what I thought was the target’s general direction.

Quickly singled out as a special needs case in the art of shooting, I was given individual attention in the firing field. Upon closer observation, my commanding officer soon realised my problem.

“You just don’t like shooting,” he said, simply.

Evidently I was so uncomfortable with the action of shooting I flinched and closed my eyes every time I squeezed the trigger.

Needless to say, I did not last long in the ranks of the cadets.

This dislike of firearms continued into my adulthood as I came across them a number of times living in the US – a country in which they are everywhere.

Some of the shock encounters included seeing a friend carrying a loaded handgun in the trunk of his car and another owning not one or two but three rifles, which he enjoyed showing off every time he had had a few stiff drinks. “Just for self defence,” they both explained, a reasoning that did not help my uneasiness.

Gun crime, assaults, accidents and suicides were all too common in a nation inundated with easily acquirable firearms.

In this aspect I was relieved to return to the safer UAE, where stricter gun control ensured injuries and deaths from firearms remained non-existent. Well, almost.

I was shocked, once again, this time in my own country, to hear of accidental deaths and injuries occurring during celebratory gunfire.

The most recent incident is particularly distressing: a 5-year-old Emirati boy was left paralysed by a stray bullet which seems to have originated from a neighbouring family celebrating the return of Haj pilgrims last week.

Gun use among Emiratis dates as far back as the 19th century when my Bedouin ancestors used rifles as a survival tool in the form of hunting and self defence, resulting in firearms becoming part and parcel of the Emirati culture.

This heritage is now continued and preserved with the use of arms during celebratory occasions through customs such Al Yola, a traditional dance involving rifles, and firing in the air.

Although we should be proud of certain customs, even those involving firearms, any traditions that put lives in danger and risk turning festivities into tragedies should be stamped out for our collective safety.

Thamer Al Subaihi is a reporter at The National and a returning Emirati who grew up largely in the US