By Muyiwa Adetiba

I handled a gun last month. It was my first time. I had however been acquainted with different calibers of guns as a young man reading James Hadley Chase novels and other such detective works of fiction. I knew a .22 for example to be a lady’s gun.

Something slim and feminine that could fit into a handbag; a handgun that could immobilize but could hardly kill unless at a close range. I also knew to respect a .45 as the real McCoy; something the good guys used to fight the bad guys. These things had also played on my young, impressionable mind during the years of reading ‘spy’ books and watching ‘cowboy’ films.

But I never really felt any gun in my life let alone shoot with one until I went to a shooting range in the US last month. My nephew was going to a range with his niece, nephew and cousin. He asked if I would want to come along for the experience. I answered in the affirmative.

I had seen shooting ranges in different cities in the US in the past, usually on the outskirts, but never imagined I would enter one; never imagined I would load a gun; never imagined I would shoot at a target. I did all three that day. I was after all, a tourist looking for new experiences; a columnist looking for new materials; and you never know what new sights would be experienced or where fresh materials would come from.

Although you need just one gun if all you want is to protect yourself and family, very few gun owners in the US have only one. This is because guns can be addictive. My nephew is a good example. Three or four short years ago, he had asked his wife if he could buy a gun. She looked at their young sons and said no.

Then Covid19 happened and with it came an increase in violence. Some incidents were too close to home for comfort. He asked again. The wife relented this time. My nephew bought one, then two, then three guns. You see, the shooting range where you are meant to practice and hone shooting skills is also the place where passions are fueled. Shooting is seen as a sport by many and all sports can be addictive.

A range also has a gun supermarket where different ‘toys’ are on display – I was able to see some of the different calibers of guns I had read and fantasized about in my younger days. It is also replete with marketers and instructors to help you improve your knowledge of guns while improving their sales. So you get to be tempted with newer, more exciting and often more lethal alternatives. (A man in a gun shop is almost like a kid in a toy shop).

The gun business in America is a very lucrative business despite its darker side. But commerce is not the only reason the members of the Rifle Association are still firmly in business. The American Constitution also protects its continuing existence in spite of its various abuses.

But the difficulty in enacting commonsense laws to curb gun abuses goes beyond commerce and the Constitution. It goes into the politics of guns in America with its racial undertones. This can be described as the heart of the matter. The proliferation of guns started in the dark era of American history when there was a breakdown of law and order to put it mildly. The ‘bad guys’ had guns and the ‘good guys’ needed to defend themselves.

And owning a gun became a leveler of sorts. Now that it is relatively safe, the ‘good guys’ still feel safer and ‘more macho’ having a gun or guns to defend their ‘space’ and fight the ‘bad guys’. Only the definition of ‘bad’varies depending on who is on the ‘other side’. Now, a ‘bad guy’ could be a Jew, a Muslim, an Arab, an Asian, a Black or simply any person who blocks your vision – whatever that vision is. It also depends obviously, on the mental health of the person making the definition.

Nigeria today is facing its own dark era where the ‘bad guys’ have the guns and the ‘good guys’ need to defend their ‘space’. But rather than throw the proliferation of guns open like the Americans did, some Nigerian States chose a cautious, more commonsense approach which is to let State Militias be trained and armed to act as a counterforce on behalf of the ‘good guys’ in the absence of State and Community policing.

It seems a straightforward and sensible approach to the problem. At least on the surface. But voices within the Presidency and Police topmost hierarchy are opposed to it. Their reason? It is prone to abuse as if there is any system, including the one we are operating now, that is not prone to abuse.

It is interesting that while the Conservatives in America encourage the proliferation of guns – despite its being prone to abuse- as a leveler and counterforce, the Conservatives in Nigeria are opposed to the very idea. The reason might be that Nigerian Conservatives already control legitimate guns through the Police and the Intelligence Forces and are reluctant to let the control go. In making that choice, they are saying they prefer the wrath of bandits to the wrath of the ‘masses’.

American Conservatives on the other hand, want the freedom to arm themselves with superior, mass action guns possibly against changing demographics in the country. That is where racial and tribal undertones come in. The goal is the same; the preservation of class interests through gun control. Unfortunately, both of them are grasping at straws.

Unless and until sensible gun laws that recognise the larger interests and peculiarities of their people are enacted in both countries, innocent people (the good guys) are going to be dying needlessly on the streets and in their homes. In Nigeria, the time for State and Community policing has come. Period.

N.B Meanwhile, what looked like Animal Farm recently reared its head in Nigeria when a serving Governor from the South – where else? – accused the Police of allowing Militias in the State where the President comes from, to carry arms while denying other States the same right or is it privilege? Although this has been denied, the enemy fire that caused this gun smoke is yet to be fully cleared. George Orwell’s Animal Farm says ‘all animals are equal but some are more equal than the others’. This is at the core of the politics of gun control.

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