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Violence: persons should first pass mental test to hold a firearm

The recent spate of gun violence in the country has made the public anxious.

In the course of just a fortnight, the country has witnessed several murders, with the most high-profile one being that of former state minister for labour, Col. Charles Engola, who was killed by his bodyguard, Pte. Wilson Sabiiti.

Even President Museveni, always dismissive and tough-talking, resorted to social media to ask the public a barrage of questions in the aftermath of Ivan Wabwire’s murder of Indian businessman Uttam Bhandari.

“How are guns stored in the police department? Did he [Wabwire] walk away from his guard post without permission with a gun to commit a crime? Is there no security at the site where the victim [Bhandari] was? Why did the local security allow an armed person who had no guard business into the building?” he wondered.

This is a clear indication that, apart from ensuring his security is tight, everyone is on their own in Uganda. In fact, it should be up to the public to ask him and the IGP, Martins Okoth-Ochola, these questions.

What I noticed about these two murders is that the killers just snapped after months of accumulated anger. However, the same cannot be said of the murder of Isma Olaxess, popularly known as Jajja Iculi. It was a well-orchestrated project to finish him.

I am sure there are many more murders that don’t make it to the mainstream media but, regardless, all this points to the mental state of the firearm holder.

Media reports indicate there are about 250,000 people, mostly from the army and police, who hold guns, but of these, there are more than 100,000 guns that are not registered and, therefore, cannot be traced to the holder.

Which begs the question: to what extent were the Engola and Bhandari murders available? How many Wabwires and Sabiitis are out there waiting to snap and murder someone? Should we just move on with life as though these were isolated incidents?

My quick remedy is that it would be prudent to subject every gun holder or applicant to hold a gun to a mental checkup every year to ascertain their competence and capacity to act with restraint when challenged.

The army officers who mercilessly killed people during the November 2020 riots could have been so frustrated that they didn’t see the value of human life. Gun holders with mental health problems or who may be prone to violence can pose a serious risk to themselves and others around them.

By checking the mental state of those assigned a gun, it can help identify individuals who may pose a risk and prevent them from being given access to a firearm.

Checking the mental state of individuals assigned a gun can also promote responsible gun ownership. It ensures that individuals who are responsible and mentally stable are given access to firearms, which can reduce the risk of accidental shootings, gun theft and other forms of gun misuse.

Law enforcement officers and other public officials who are assigned guns have a duty to protect the public. Checking their mental state helps to ensure that they are mentally fit to carry out this responsibility, reducing the risk of incidents in which an officer may use excessive force or make poor judgements in high-pressure situations.

In many jurisdictions, checking the mental state of individuals assigned a gun is a legal requirement. Failure to comply with these regulations can result in legal consequences for both the individual and the organisation responsible for assigning the gun.

The author is a human rights activist

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