By Sisay Sahlu
ADDIS ABABA – Regional Police Commissions have asked lawmakers not to rush ratification of firearm control and administration bill.
Members of parliament held their first discussion on the bill with senior police officials of the regional states on Monday morning. The majority of them asked for the MPs to delay the ratification of the bill named Firearm administration and control draft Law.
The bill, among other things, incorporates the conditions under which a firearms license should be given. It also outlines requirements for firearm licensing for both traditionally armed communities as well as foreign nations representatives residing in Ethiopia.
Monday’s public hearing called by the Foreign Relations and Peace Affairs Standing Committee of the parliament was attended by police commissioners and other officials from regions. Most of the participants advised the legislators not to rush the bill.
Amhara region’s police commission commissioner, Abere Adamu said most residents in the rural part of the region see firearms as valuable material. It is part of a family in inheritance for many, Abere added.
“It is very difficult to ask them to register it within a short period of time without creating the necessary awareness,” he said.
Abere stressed on the need to delay ratifying it until enough awareness creation work is done at the grassroots level. “That way… it will become efficient when it becomes effective,” he said
Gambela region’s police commission too expressed similar concern and asked the house not to rush with the draft proclamation. Without sufficient public discussions at the grassroots level, the bill might not bring its intended outcome, he said.
Deputy police commissioner Tut Kir said, even though having such a law is important, lawmakers need to recognize the people’s attachment with their weapon.
“In parts of Gambella, a weapon could be used as a wedding gift when the fiancé doesn’t have enough cows to offer for the family if his bride,” he said. “The bill should look into such attachment before passing this bill for the sake of having one”.
A similar idea has been expressed by the Afar regional state police commissioner, Ali Aliso.
He said having a weapon symbolizes wealth in the region. “People could sell five or ten camels to buy weapons to indicate that they are wealthy,” said Ali, while indicating the customary practice in his region.
Advocating and teaching the importance of the proclamation to people and create awareness should be given prior attention, said Ali.
An official from the General Attorney Office said they understand the concerns raised by the police commissioners but said having the bill now is paramount.
With the bill, they said the government targets to control illicit firearm traffic in the country, which has become a source of immediate security concern for the federal government.
Legalizing weapons in the hands of the public would keep the safety and security of people, said Belayhun Yirga of the General Attorney office, adding the bill gives a grace period of two-year.
“During that time, regions can work on creating the necessary public awareness and convince residents to legalize their weapons,” he added.
“Besides, there is no provision in the proposed law that talks about the confiscation of weapon,” Belayhun stressed.
The justification of the bill also includes the need for Ethiopia to have proper laws that can help the country to collaborate with the rest of the world in the fight against illicit arms traffic.
Following the launching of political reform in Ethiopia and the coming of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to power last year, the police have been reporting the capture of thousands of pistols and bullets as well as other guns and explosives. Most of these weapons were captured while smuggled into the capital, Addis Abeba.
Ethiopia’s border with the Sudan is often mentioned as one of the major routes for the people engaged in the illegal arms trade.