Concern over powerful guns in civilian hands hands
The country’s security agencies have raised alarm over the big number of high caliber firearms in the hands of influential individuals as the countdown to the August 2022 General Election begins.
The concern comes at a time the Director of Criminal Investigations George Kinoti is facing a four-month jail sentence for contempt of court over his refusal to return several high-caliber firearms impounded from billionaire businessman Jimi Wanjigi.
At the same time, a petitioner has moved to court seeking to block Wanjigi from receiving the firearms.
Security agencies are mulling how to deal with high-profile Kenyans stocking powerful sophisticated firearms, such as the Assault rifle Mini Archer, Assault rifle CQ AK-47, G3, AR15 , M4, M16, MP5, Gilboa, Galilee, Galilee Scar, SA80 and Uzi, that are normally used by the military and police in conventional battles.
Though the chairman of the Firearms Licensing Board Charles Mwongera Mukindia downplayed the matter, insisting that new laws had made it difficult for civilians to possess automatic weapons, sources within the National Police Service (NPS) and National Intelligence Service indicated that the government was considering another crackdown in the homes of high-profile individuals believed to own such firearms.
“The law is very clear that no civilian is allowed to own such powerful automatic weapons. People are only allowed to own smaller calibre guns as the automatic ones are a preserve of the police and military,” Mukindia told People Daily yesterday.
But when pressed to comment on incidents where senior personalities such as former Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko have previously been seen in public displaying sophisticated firearms, Mukindia referred us to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI).
“The problem with you people in the media is that you may not know the difference between an automatic gun and an ordinary one. But you can find out from the DCI the type of guns you are talking about,” he said.
Mukindia also disclosed that the number of firearms authorised for an individual to own depends on various factors, among them “the level of security threats” to that person.
However, Anthony Wahome of the National Gun Owners Association (NGAO), disputed Mukindia’s assertions, insisting that as long as an applicant gives genuine reasons, one can be licensed to have more than one firearm of any type.
“Different firearms may have different functions and the Board can license an applicant to possess them,” he said.
He, however, said the Board should come up with a policy on the number of guns one can own and an enforceable law to reduce cases of misuse of firearms.
Wahome said that in the recent past, cases of misuse of firearms by civilian holders had decreased.
“Ironically, it is members of the disciplined services who are now misusing their firearms,” he noted.
Sources told People Daily that hundreds of influential and high-profile Kenyans living in leafy suburbs literally own “armouries” in their homesteads, a matter that had raised concern to the security agencies, particularly at a time the country is set to go through one of the most competitive elections.
In 2018, Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i initiated an audit of all firearms in civilian hands in a bid to weed out individuals in possession of unlicensed guns.
Though the results of the audit were never made public, statistics from the Kenya National Focal Point on Small Arms and Light Weapons indicate that more than 600,000 civilians have been licensed to own firearms.
Out of that, it is believed that more than 3,000 high-profile Kenyans are in possession of automatic weapons that should only be used by the military and police.
The most puzzling question to security agencies is why a civilian would want to keep a high-calibre firearm and more than two of them.
According to the Firearms Act, State security agencies are generally capable of providing protection to the public in most circumstances and as a result, members of the public applying for civilian firearm licences for purposes of self protection must be carefully vetted.
The firearms regulations require that very few of such applications should be approved.
However, in extreme cases where circumstances of a person’s employment or duties expose them to the danger of criminal attack, they may be permitted to possess a weapon for personal protection.
The authorities should consider a number of factors including the applicant’s suitability to possess and use a firearm without endangering public safety. This includes assessment of the applicant’s character, habits and general behaviour.
However, there is no law regulating the number of firearms a person should own.
Kenya Focal Point on Small Arms official Charles Owino yesterday said though there was no law regulating the number of firearms a person should own, authorities normally consider the level of threat to the applicant.
“An applicant can be issued with a gun for his personal safety and even for sport. However, no one should be given more than is necessary for their safety,” Owino said.
In the case of Wanjigi, detectives from DCI confiscated seven firearms, some of them superior, including four Glock pistols, Assault rifle Mini-Archer, and Assault rifle CQ. The assault rifle Mini-Archer and Assault rifle CQ are automatic guns used by the United States Marines with a calibre of 5.5 mm.
They can hit a target of between 500 metres and 900 metres.
Detectives also confiscated a Smith and Wesson SW99 pistol, a total of 688 rounds of ammunition which included 237 rounds of 9mm and 451 rounds of 5.56mm.
However, after Wanjigi challenged the confiscation in court, the judge directed they be returned to him.
The DCI boss, however, declined, saying the firearms had been taken to the Firearms Licencing Board, and this prompted High Court judge Justice Anthony Mrima on November 18 to sentence him to a four-month jail term at Kamiti Maximum Prison.
Police had earlier maintained that two of the firearms – Assault rifle Mini-Archer and Assault rifle CQ – that the court ordered returned were classified as prohibited firearms and are not to be owned by civilians.
Experts say these are very powerful firearms to be in civilian hands.
Police have also maintained that Wanjigi is yet to undergo vetting as was earlier ordered by the Interior ministry, adding that holding a gun was not a constitutional right but a privilege and also cited Justice George Odunga’s ruling that “to compel the police to return a firearm without the applicant’s licence being renewed would amount to making the police commit an illegality”.
This week, another petitioner moved to the High Court saying there is no justification for Wanjigi to own such firearms, noting that some of them are too lethal.
During the 2019 terrorist attack on Dusit D2 Hotel, shadowy businessman Steve Mbogo and his friend Dafton Mutunga Mwatiki were seen at the scene displaying an Derya-Anakon 12 Gauge shotgun with a pump action magazine-fed. The two were arrested and later released without any word from the authorities.
Other civilians who have been holding sophisticated firearms in public include controversial businessman Paul Kobia and Jowie Irungu, who is battling a murder charge in connection with the killing of businesswoman Monicah Kimani.
The Firearm Licensing Board’s functions include certifying suitability of applicants for gun licence, periodical assessment of proficiency of firearms holders, and to issue, cancel, terminate or vary any licence, among other functions.
Under the FLB Act, AK47 rifles, G3 rifles, MP5 sub-machine guns and other similar firearms, as may be specified by the minister, are categorised as “specified firearms”.
The firearm certificate may, however, be revoked if the licensing officer is satisfied that the holder is of intemperate habits or unsound mind, is otherwise unfit to be entrusted with a firearm, or is believed to be a threat to public safety and peace.
Owing to the increase of illegal firearms, the Interior ministry in November 2018 constituted the FLB and former National Intelligence Service officer Mukindia appointed the chair.
Despite the tough conditions for acquiring civilian firearms in Kenya, some gun holders with questionable past have managed to secure licences.
In August last year, following increased cases of misuse of firearms and chaos witnessed at the County Assembly of Nairobi, Matiang’i directed that a probe be conducted with a view to revoking licences given to some of the MCAs.