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Opinions of Thursday, 16 May 2019

Columnist: Cameron Duodu

What are these guns for, anyway?

On 11-05-2019, the Ghana News Agency published a story that needs serious scrutiny.

According to the Agency, “the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) has refuted claims that a container-load of sophisticated guns, including AK 47 assault rifles,” had arrived at the Tema Port.

Together with other security agencies, the Customs Division were “assuring the public that no such weapons” had been imported into the country. This assurance was given at the Old State Warehouse, Tema Main Harbour, after Customs and other security agencies and the media had inspected the container to determine whether it indeed contained weapons, as speculated.

After the inspection, the Head of [the] Preventive [Service] of the Customs Division of the GRA, Joseph Oppong Aboagye, stated that examinations had been carried out by the entire security operatives at the port and that “the items found in the container were identified and were as presented in the documents” accompanying the shipment.

“They were shot-guns, pump-action with magazine, pump-action without magazine, automatic pistol grip and pact (? sic) pump action. They all use the same [12-gauge] ammunition. The total number of items was about 1,575 shotguns and pump-action” [guns].

He added that based on this finding, the consignment was “legally imported” and that the news circulating about the guns on social media “was false”.

He explained that “sophisticated weapons were permitted in the country only through [importation by official channels, such as] the military and other security services”. But when “we went through them, none of the alleged [sophisticated] weapons were found among them. The “importer of the said goods was licensed” and possessed “the requisite permit and documents needed to operate as an arms dealer.” Furthermore, “all the relevant taxes had been paid.”

Now, this report begs quite a few questions.

(1) Are AK-47s the only "sophisticated weapons" in the world, the importation of which should lead to raises eyebrows?
(2) Even if the consignment comprised only ordinary "shotguns", is the number not excessive, in a country which has regulations for wild-life conservation? (assuming the guns were only imported for hunting?)
(3) Are "pump-action" guns “sophisticated” or not? I am by no means an expert on weapons, so I consulted Wikipedia.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pump_action

It appears that there is little difference between a pump-action shotgun and a pump-action rifle.

QUOTE: Modern pump-action designs are a little slower than a semi-automatic shotgun, but the pump-action offers greater flexibility in selection of shot-shells, allowing the shooter to mix different types of loads and for using low-power or specialty loads. .. Like all manual-action guns, pump-action guns are inherently more reliable than semi-automatic guns under adverse conditions, such as exposure to dirt, sand, or climatic extremes. Thus, until recently, military combat shotguns were almost exclusively pump-action designs.

“The cycling time of a pump-action is quite short. The manual operation gives a pump-action the ability to cycle rounds of widely varying power that a gas or recoil-operated firearm would fail to cycle, such as most less-than-lethal rounds. The simplicity of the pump-action, relative to a semi-automatic design, also leads to improved durability and lower cost. ...

“An advantage of the pump-action over the bolt-action is its ease of use by both left- and right-handed users: like lever-actions, pump-actions are frequently recommended as ambidextrous in sporting guidebooks. ...Like most lever-action rifles, most pump-action shotguns and rifles use a fixed tubular magazine. This makes for slow reloading, as the cartridges have to be inserted individually into the firearm. However, some pump-action shotguns and rifles, such as the Russian Zlatoust RB-12, Italian Valtro PM5 and the American Remington 7600 series, use detachable box magazines”. UNQUOTE

In my layman's opinion, the term “pump-action” is capable of causing confusion, for it relates to both rifles and shotguns. But whereas a rifle is generally accepted as a "military" weapon, a shotgun, on the other hand, is generally accorded what might be called “general-use status.” What cannot be in dispute is that both types of gun are quite “sophisticated.” The question is, who buys these guns?

Fortunately for us in Ghana, we do not hear too much about the use of guns on people, except in the rare case of an armed robbery or an attack on the police. So who wants so many pump-action guns and for what purpose are they going to be used?

The public are entitled to know which official(s) issued licences for as many as 1,500 pieces of pump-action weapons.

Did they realise that 1,500 pieces are enough to arm (if I am not wrong!) at least two battalions of [military] personnel? Were they satisfied that the “licensed arms dealer” who imported the weapons “legally” would be able to control their distribution? What would happen to them once they left his warehouse, even if the warehouse itself was well-guarded?
These are important questions because most of the mass murders and other homicides that are committed in the gun capital of the world, the USA, are also sold by licensed shops, who are willing to take the money and let society worry about the rest. Ghana is not a notoriously gun-crazy country, but every vice can have a small beginning.

Besides, arms circulation -- especially those described as "small-arms" which may not need "end-user certificates to signify that they were ordered for "official" use -- Africa has become a hot topic in West Africa. Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger are neighbours of ours where religious fanatics of the Al Qaeda variety have been resorting to arms to carry out their heinous purpose of trying, with terror, to suppress religions and cultures they disapprove of. And not-too-far-away Nigeria has become synonymous with murderous "Boko Haram."

Additionally, so many Chinese galamseyers have been caught, who were armed with "pump-action" shotguns. In one instance, nearly twenty pump-action guns were brought to the offices of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Illegal Mining! Can anyone guarantee that not even one of the 1,500 pieces of pump-action guns these weapons will not end up in the hands of galamseyers? Both Ghanaian and Chinese galamseyers?

Can we also guarantee that guns will not slip through our notoriously porous borders to these neighbouring countries for use by terrorists? And if they can easily pass through Ghana, can't they be brought back to Ghana equally easily?

No, the importation of so many guns is a cause for worry. Have we not seen an attack on a police station in which arms were used? Have we not heard harrowing stories of armed robbery? Have we not seen vicious attacks on motor vehicles and their passengers?

Finally, are the authorities aware of who the customer(s) of the "licensed" armed dealer are? Do they approve of the use to which the customer(s) will put the arms? Are they not aware that some armed dealers tend to be dodgy characters who usually play two sides against each other and collect their money in the middle?

Besides, a licence is issued by institutions. Institutions are manned by people. And people can be corrupted to ignore regulations and use "technicalities" to do things that can harm, society. I was shocked at the emphasis that the Customs people put on the fact that the arms consignment was covered by the requisite paperwork. Is paperwork not obtainable through corruption? If there were no corruption in Ghana, there would not be any necessity for setting up an Office of a Special Prosecutor to try and curb corruption, would there be?!

Enough said.