Complacency Can Be Dangerous!

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The shooting to death of innocent little 15-yr. old Precious Ireland by a fellow student in their school classroom is a classic but tragic reminder of how complacent about security we have become over the years since the end of hostilities between the various armed factions in 2003.

It can be recalled that following the restoration of calm and normalcy to Monrovia by troops of the West African Peace Keeping Force, ECOMOG, school activities, stalled for over a year, recommenced gradually.

During that period, schools, entertainment centers as well as football stadiums put into place some measures to ensure security at the minimum.

Students were searched as well as their school bags were searched for dangerous weapons.

This was a period when Monrovia was awash with arms and other dangerous weapons.

To a large extent the imposition and enforcement of such strict measures succeeded to a large extent in preventing dangerous weapons from entering schools.

Although the nation has enjoyed 19 years of peace since the country’s civil war ended in 2003, this peace rests on shaky foundations.

This is due largely to the fact that accountability for perpetrators who committed war and other egregious crimes against the Liberian people has been lacking.

And despite the fact that individual possession of light weapons is prohibited under the Small Arms and Ammunition Control Act, there is rising public concern about the growing proliferation of small arms, mainly single-barreled pistols, which are being used in the commission of armed robbery and other violent crimes.

The single-barreled pistols, according to reports, are manufactured in neighboring Guinea and smuggled into Liberia where its market value stands around US$75.

Also, there are reports that small and light arms including pistols, rifles and machine guns are being brought into the country by some individuals allegedly with connections to top officials of this government.

Further, the public has not lost sight of the fact that ex-warlords are in positions of power and authority and are in virtual effect lording over the people. They are issuing threats against those calling for accountability.

During the recent senatorial election in Nimba, a former warlord was reported to have stormed a voting precinct fully clad in military uniform.

And such was a clear message meant to intimidate and convey the impression that he can do anything, kill anyone and get away with it.

Coming back to this most recent development, the details and circumstances surrounding the school shooting incident remain unclear at this point.

But questions are being asked about how and from where or from whom the shooter acquired the killer weapon, a 9-millimeter pistol by Police accounts.

Further, questions are also being asked about the father of the shooter who, according to reports is currently living in the US far away from his 16 year-old son.

Why is he in Liberia and not with them? Further, was he a child with aberrant behavior that prompted the parents to send him back to Liberia for rehabilitation?

Moreover, who are his guardians and what kind of character do they possess? Do they own the weapon used in the shooting?

Are they aware that it is illegal under the law to be in possession of such weapons?

Further, how come they were so careless, apparently, to have let the 16 year old come into possession of the weapon? 

This shooting has once again raised to the fore the issue of private ownership of such individual weapons.

The complaint often heard is that criminals are in possession of weapons/guns which they use to terrorize the people. But yet the people are not allowed to acquire weapons for self-defense in the face of the virtual inability of the Police to adequately protect them.

Prior to the civil war, private ownership of pistols were allowed if the weapon was duly registered and the owner issued a licence.

But the proliferation of small arms and light weapons during and after the civil war demanded an appropriate response beyond mere registration and licensing.

And those measures came in the form of an Act of Legislature creating a National Small Arms Commission for the purpose of monitoring and controlling the spread of small arms and light weapons in Liberia.

Under the Act, single-barreled hunting guns are the only weapons permitted for individual use and strictly for hunting purposes only. But despite the existence of the Act, small arms continue to proliferate.

And the dangers of such proliferation and illegal possession of small arms was tragically illustrated in the case of the shooting to death of a 15 year-old female student by her male counterpart.

At this point, it is perhaps too early to determine whether the shooting was premeditated or accidental. The uncle of the deceased, according to media reports is demanding justice for his niece.

But given the pattern of bungled Police homicide investigations the public has come to see lately, it will require herculean effort on the part of the Police to erase this self-created negative public impression of its performance.

Quite clearly, something has to be done urgently to strengthen national gun control laws.

Perhaps the best place to begin is with state security forces, especially members of the Liberia National Police (LNP).

In the case of the Police, clear and strict chain of custody procedures in the handling of Police weapons will definitely be required along with clear and precise “use of force” policies.

By the way, the Act requires that all Police and military weapons be appropriately marked by the Small Arms Commission before placement in the armory.

But because this is not the case in reality, the public should begin taking measures to ensure some minimum level of security.

Accordingly, school administrators as well as proprietors of shopping and entertainment centers should begin implementing some basic security measures.

This means searching bags and frisking individuals with metal detectors before permitting entry into a school, hospital, shopping place, entertainment center and place of worship. Remember, complacency can be dangerous!

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