x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

No gun control plus idle youth equals recipe for trouble

Guns are not only an issue within countries at war. They also cause problems in places where young men have too much time on their hands.

'The weapon first, fighting second," goes an Arabic proverb, which pretty much explains why there is so much conflict in the world today. But it also describes perfectly what I have had the misfortune of seeing as I've travelled and worked in war zones across the region.

I remember the time I was in Iraq, and the family I was staying with insisted that I carry some form of weapon as "defence" and protection. Even their grandmother carried a small hand gun in her purse whenever she went out.

I vehemently refused. I hate the feel and the smell, indeed everything, about objects that kill and cause harm. I hate weapons when used to kill animals for sport, and I hate that people use them to kill one another over the simplest of things, often revenge and anger.

But guns are not only problems within countries at war. They are also problems in places where young men have too much time on their hands.

During a recent trip to visit relatives in Tripoli, Lebanon, I ended up spending plenty of time wandering around, talking to young people who whiled away the days smoking shisha and lazying around their neighbourhoods.

"There are no jobs for us," they would complain as they passed the day playing video games, board games or simply sitting and gossiping about politics and social affairs.

On the sidelines, one of these young men showed me just how well he and his friends were prepared for "terrorist attacks" on Lebanon.

In the boot of an old BMW he had a stock of weapons of all sizes and types. I am no weapons expert, but there were some heavy duty rifles that looked a lot like sniper rifles, guns, knives, grenades, ropes and even a net. What was most disturbing was that a lot of them looked used.

When I asked what the net was for, they just laughed, missing the anger in my voice. I noticed the youngest brother of the owner of the car, touching and picking up the weapons to show off. He was about 11, but looked much younger. Small with curly brown hair, this angelic looking child made me cringe when he picked up a hand gun and pretended to shoot it. "Boom," he giggled.

Personally, I will never understand why countries allow the ownership of weapons and call it "a right". And some states agree with me. Just this month, Venezuela brought a new gun law into effect banning the commercial sale of firearms and ammunition. Only the army, police and certain groups like security companies can own these weapons now.

The UAE has taken a measured stance on gun control. I did a story about guns in the UAE not long ago, and government officials told me UAE and Gulf nationals are allowed to own them, but only after thorough background checks.

There is also an age limit, where no one under 25 is allowed to own firearms. Licences are not given to anyone with a criminal record, and weapons are not allowed to be carried around in public.

But some countries are going the other way. As a Canadian I was appalled when lawmakers last year removed a requirement that small arms be registered in most provinces.

Yet no matter what a government does to keep weapons off the streets, young people will always find a way. If it's not guns it's other types of weapons, like knives and clubs. Tribes here traditionally kept weapons for protection. Some habits die hard.

Which takes me back to Lebanon.

All it takes there to obtain a gun is to walk into a weapons store and buy one. And this is just the tip of the iceberg: judging from recent news stories, there are many more dangerous weapons being bought and sold on the black market, with many being smuggled into Syria.

There is a saying that guns don't kill people, people do. But an Arabic proverb might be more apt: "He who swings an aggressive sword," it says, "will be killed by it."

 

Rghazal@thenational.ae

On Twitter @arabianmau