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to ask the cops questions about guns



The attractive police woman at the outer reception of Police Headquarters asked politely what it was I wanted to talk to the Inspector General of Police (IGP) about.


"I want to talk to him about guns," I told her. This was one policewoman who could have charmed the dark glasses and dagger off an armed robber. She could really put many corporate and public service office receptionists to great shame. Rather than blink, she flashed a row of ivory-white teeth and explained that the IGP was not available and would not be available for a couple of days.


She however directs me to the Central Arms Registry at C.I.D. Headquar­ters. A policeman directs me to an office where a fairly elderly, plainclothes policewoman directs me to an officer. I repeat my song about guns to this officer. He explains that he is unable to give me the informa­tion I want at his administrative level. He refers me to a higher officer.


Chief Superintendent J.W Quantson is a tall, dark, well built man in his fifties. He explains that he will need clearance from a higher authority to talk officially to a jour­nalist about guns. I resist the temptation to teal him that 1 anticipated this response and had in fact tried getting the IGP himself to give the necessary clearance.


Chief Superintendent Quantson asks to be excused. He opens and shuts a side door and is out of sight.


One of the things journalism has taught me is the patience to sit for hours in an office reception room staring alternatingly at my shoes, the ceiling and the receptionist’s hair-do and make-up.


On his return, the good police officer would most probably tell me the necessary clearance was not forthcoming and that I would have to go and come back another time. "You are lucky," says the police officer coming back through the same door. The necessary clearance has been given. You will have to wait for someone from the pubic relations outfit though".


The policewoman from the public rela­tions outfit really takes her time in coming across from the Police Headquarters building and arrives just when I am beginning to wonder if the whole thing is a hoax. A strategy that will end with a last minute "sorry, something has gone wrong. We shall have to defer the interview."


Chief Superintendent Quantson makes a phone call and two police detectives turn up to sit in and now I have a senior police officer, a policewoman and two detectives to brain-storm the gun business with. If I misquote anyone, there will be witnesses to the fact!


I launch into a catalogue of recent cases of people including students and juveniles who shot dead or pulled guns on law abiding citizens.


I ask the detectives if they agree with me that these and many other cases of people shooting or pulling guns on others in very recent times constitute evidence of a sudden, unexplained and dangerous proliferation of guns into the system.


Chief Superintendent Quantson replies that at no time in his career as a policeman, not even at the peak of armed robbery in this country, did he observe such widespread acquisition and frequent use of arms by the civilian population in Ghana.


Who qualifies to possess fire arms? "Anyone of 18 years and above who is of sound mind, no physical deformity and no serious criminal retard may legally possess a gun," says Quantson. Legal possession he adds, implies registering a firearm with the police and obtaining a police licence to keep a gun. The police investigate applicants discreetly before issuing licences.


I ask what category of firearms civilians are permitted to assess and what types of firearms are prohibited for civilians. The chief superintendent says a civilian may possess any type of shot gun provided it is registered and a license obtained for it.


Civilians may also possess pistols, revolv­ers and rifles but possession of these is permit­ted strictly on the basis of official and other privilege to be determined at the discretion of the Ministry of Interior. These weapons are not sold on the local market and an import permit covering any of them must have been obtained from the Minister of Interior before the weapons are registered and licences issued for them.


The AK 47 is strictly for the security agencies. There are firearms used strictly by the mili­tary. The Department of Game and Wildlife is empowered to keep special assault rifles. These weapons are prohibited for civilians, Chief Superintendant Quantson explains.


While we are discussing the epidemic of trigger happiness which has suddenly afflicted the nation, a small delegation from a suburb of Accra comes in with this story about a gun-merry fellow in the neighbourhood who loves firing his pistol at nothing in particular and giving residents quite a scare...


I ask what is to be done about the gun scare. One of the detectives asks if I have any ideas of my own. Embark upon a national operation and seize all unlicensed guns, I suggest.


Two of the policemen shake their heads vigorously. “Try doing that and you will worsen the situation," says Mr Quantson. "People in illegal possession of one would simply send the weapons underground. That would make it difficult to trace the sources of firearms used in crime."


The best option, the policemen explain, is to embark upon a national campaign to con­vince people in illegal possession of firearms to surrender them. They should be persuaded to disclose the sources  of the many firearms used in crime these days. The local manufac­ture of firearms is prohibited, but there are many locally manufactured firearms in the system.


A goad number of firearms used in crime are stolen or taken without permission from their owners. Mr Quantson said people who are privileged by virtue of office at other consideration to own firearms must keep them responsibly and out of reach of the family - children, spouse and relatives. Except where absolutely necessary the magazine of a firearm should always be kept separately from the weapon. Anyone finding the weapon unloaded cannot use it. Anyone tempted to use a firearm in a fit of anger will think twice about the decision during the time it takes to fetch the magazine.


"Firearms are not transferable. You cannot lend a gun to a friend to go antelope hunting the way you would lend a friend you car key,"  Quantson tells me.


The policemen were unanimous in the view that penalties for illegal firearm possession are not deterrent enough and need to be reviewed.


I bring up the question of locally manufac­tured pistols and shotguns. Quantson says Alavanyo in the Volta Region was once a popular centre for the local manufacture of arms. Police vigilance has since brought the illegal enterprise to an end but some local manufacturers are apparently still producing fire-arms secretly.


There are local manufacturers who seem unaware that the enterprise is illegal. One of the detectives recalls how local firearms manu­facturers openly displayed locally manufac­tured shot guns at the last Industrial and Technology Fair at La in Accra.


The shot guns were so well manufactured that you could not distinguish between them and imported shot guns. “We seized the whole lot from the Trade Fair Site. Local industrial­ists may obtain a police permit to manufacture firearms strictly for an industrial fair only. Thereafter the guns must be consigned to a museum" the detective said.