The scourge of gun culture

The scourge of gun culture

MASERU – “Owning a gun is as common as owning a blanket,” once said former army commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli.
Kamoli’s words still ring true, three years after he said them while testifying before a commission of inquiry in 2015.
The seizure of guns from schoolchildren using the weapons to threaten teachers could be a symptom of a much bigger problem: a gun culture that the police have struggled to eradicate.
Weekly police reports about robberies at gunpoint, attacks at homes by gun waving hooligans, terror in the streets and at bus stops.
According to OSAC, a US information web that warns American tourists on crime and safety abroad, even though Lesotho has very strict gun-control laws, criminal elements smuggle firearms in from South Africa through the porous border.

“Criminals desiring a firearm have little trouble getting one, and their use in conducting criminal acts is on the rise. As such, increases in the violence and crimes associated with firearms are on the rise in Lesotho,” it reads.

“Crimes committed at knifepoint have increased and are the most common force used; however, crimes committed at gunpoint are becoming more common.”
Just last Wednesday, four gunmen sprayed bullets on people consulting a traditional doctor in Lithoteng Ha-Joele. Three family members died on the spot while two others are fighting for their lives at Queen ’Mamohato Memorial Hospital, said Superintendent Mopeli. Two more escaped with minor injuries.
The gunmen were allowed into the consulting room after disguising themselves as clients. Once inside, they opened fire.

“There were many people in the house who had come to get services from the traditional doctor,” Mopeli said. No arrests have been made.
Two days later, still within Maseru city, four gunmen attacked U-Save Supermarket and escaped with an undisclosed amount of money after killing a policeman who had tried to intervene.
Police say they are boosting efforts to fight the problem through routine raids in villages and impromptu searches at roadblocks.-
Hundreds of illegal firearms have been impounded during the campaigns but the problem remains.

According to an audit of firearms control legislation in the SADC region by SAFERAFRICA AND SAFERWORLD, published a decade ago, most illegal guns are bought from South Africa.
The audit says the number of registered firearms in Lesotho is unknown as the records are kept manually and these have not been audited recently.
It says the police recognize that they have a serious firearm-related crime problem.

“Firearms in Lesotho originate from a number of sources. Most of the illegal firearms in Lesotho are believed to have originated from the 1998/1999 military mutiny in the country,” the audit revealed.

“A significant number of firearms are brought into Lesotho from South Africa. Citizens of Lesotho obtain firearms in South Africa, either legally or illegally, and bring these back into Lesotho,” it reads.

It says firearms are used in some illegal drug and stolen vehicle transactions as payment.
“There is a strong spill-over effect between crime and crime prevention in South Africa and in Lesotho. Any South African action on crime and crime prevention has a direct impact on Lesotho. This suggests that the wide availability of illicit firearms in South Africa will translate into the wide availability of illicit firearms in Lesotho.”

The audit says the trend whereby people acquire firearms for self-defence in South Africa has quickly spilt over into Lesotho.
The porous borders make the trade in firearms lucrative.

Guns are exchanged with marijuana, cattle and diamonds.
Others simply inherit guns from relatives. So, guns may fall in the wrong hands through inheritance.
This causes serious problems because according to the gun control laws, only people with clean criminal records can own a gun.
The estimated total number of guns (both licit and illicit) held by civilians in Lesotho is more than doubled from 47 000 in 2007 to 105 000 2017.
Most homicides involve the use of a firearm.

Staff Reporter

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