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More Ugandans acquire personal guns as police opens up applications

Individuals seeking to purchase or hire personal firearms are free to do so provided their meet the set criteria, the commissioner in charge of private security organisations (PSOs) and firearms, Charles Ssebambulidde has said.

Shortly after taking over from Gen Kale Kayihura in March 2018, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Martins Okoth Ochola banned the issuance of rifles to civilians and directed OC stations and district police commanders (DPC) to arrest all those in illegal possession of firearms. 

However, Ssebambulidde says that civilians are now free to apply for private firearms provided they are prepared to go through the tedious process. He explains that the onus is on the applicant to prove the security threats against them or the need for the enhancement of personal protection to an extent of possessing a lethal weapon.

"If your reasons are not convincing enough, or if the team clandestinely tasked to probe your conduct unearth a hidden side, police would immediately cancel the application or withdraw the weapon even after it has just been issued," he said.

According to Ssebambulidde, for one to acquire a rifle, the process starts with buying a police form (PF) 98 at a fee of Shs 50,000. The form captures the details of the applicant, which are submitted to the IGP through the commissioner of police in charge of private security and firearms.

“PF 98 can only be accessed from the police revenue office. It must be filled in triplicate. You must be trained by the directorate of human resource development and you must have a proforma invoice from a registered [gun] dealer,” Ssebambulidde explains. 

He however didn't explain the period one would wait to possess a personal gun even after meeting all the necessary requirements. Ssebambulidde didn't also explain why many applicants for the last four to five years were denied licenses after fulfilling all the requirements. 

Before URN sought an audience with Ssebambulidde, there was information indicating that over 17,000 applications have been pending since 2018. There was also information indicating that the number of guns in the hands of civilians has increased from over 3,000 in 2016 to nearly 5,000 as of today.

“There was an audit done last year on guns in the hands of private security companies and civilians. I want to tell you we had records showing over 4,900 people had already acquired guns and private security companies had over 23,000 guns,” a police source who preferred anonymity said.

Ssebambulidde said statistics of civilians owning weapons, pending applications as well as districts with the highest number of people owning guns or seeking to acquire guns are regarded as classified information. Police and its line ministry of Internal Affairs last gave updates on guns in the hands of civilians and private security organizations over five years ago. At the time, 19,000 guns were legally being held by private security guards and civilians. The private security companies had 16,000 - 9,000 of which had been hired by the police while civilians had more than 3,000. 

The regulation of small and light weapons is superintended by the National Focal Point (NFP) under the ministry of Internal Affairs. Our efforts to speak to the ministry of Internal Affairs spokesperson, Simon Peter Mundeyi, were futile as he did not pick up nor return calls from our reporter. 

“The national focal point also is mandated to cover awareness programs, gun marking activities, destruction of guns, and capacity building of officers and stakeholders. NFP also disseminates national policy on firearms and incidental matters,” the statement on the ministry of Internal Affairs website reads in part. 

Other requirements individuals must meet in order to acquire guns include presenting recommendations from local councils one and two as well as the district security committee. You must also have a valid certificate of good conduct from Interpol and forensics. 

In December 2019, Police spokesperson, Fred Enanga, who was quoting a report by the committee that was set up to electronically register all guns in the hands of government security agencies, private organizations, and civilians  said 57,171 guns had been registered.

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd