In a country where almost every family keeps a gun at home, there is an absence of debate around gun ownership. Whether these families choose to own weapons as a result of the violent and long Civil War, or the presently deteriorating security situation, the fact remains.
There is always a revolver in the closet, whether it’s being used or not. Fadi Abi Allam, president of the Permanent Peace Movement, a local nonprofit organization and one of the few that are actively involved in the issue of small arms possession, says that although families feel safer with a pistol at home, keeping weapons in the house is also embedded in Lebanese culture to the degree that it is hard to imagine a home without one.
He added that according to PPM’s estimates, there are approximately 4 million weapons in the country, a number almost equal to the Lebanese population. With these numbers, it is safe to say that almost every family in Lebanon owns at least one handgun. The gun culture in Lebanon begins when a 5-year-old learns how to use a hunting rifle and ends when he becomes a pistol owner as an adult.
Authorities, including religious leaders, politicians, and even the Internal Security Forces, have been moved to act on the issue of nationwide weapons possession and use in the past, to no avail. Small arms are still being sold on the black market and the high numbers of handguns kept at home are often not licensed.
Carrying small arms has been deeply rooted in the country’s culture for decades. The belief that weapons can deter violent confrontation, however, is an illusion, Abi Allam cautions.
Many domestic deaths result from children accidently firing a weapon, a moment of blind rage during a domestic dispute or an act of suicide. A large number of injuries and deaths have also resulted after disputes with friends and neighbors, spurred by the easily accessible weapon.
Elie Najem, a businessman and father of two, says he has kept a revolver at home since he was a young adult still living with his parents.
“Everyone in Lebanon has a handgun at home,” he said. “It may not be the right thing to do, but it’s a safety measure we have to take.”
Recounting the story of how his home was burgled a few years ago while his family was asleep, Najem adds that had he been awake, he would have definitely gone for his gun, at least to scare the thief off.
“I would have shot him if he had tried to shoot first,” he said.
Abi Allam disagrees, saying that by simply owning a handgun one is always looking for a victim, which gives rise to the question: If the weapon isn’t being used, why keep it?
Businessman Fadi Abou Khalil says that he has never used his handgun, but he believes it necessary to keep one at home because he lives on the ground floor of his building.
“I know I never use it, but it’s a safety measure,” he said.
“If someone ever broke into my apartment, I need to know I can protect my wife and children.”
There are many studies, however, showing that a person who is attacked but is unarmed has a greater chance of surviving than if armed. Whoever is armed is ready to kill, Abi Allam says. He added that while a person may think that by keeping a weapon he is protecting himself, or protecting a loved one, the unfortunate fact remains that the more civilians are armed, the higher the crime rate will be.
Lack of control along the borders has led to a proliferation of weapons, and the activity has become no different than drug smuggling, Abi Allam adds. If a country is already on the brink of war, owning weapons that can be accessed at any time can be very dangerous.
A father of three, who chose to remain anonymous, says he has kept a gun in his bedroom closet for over 25 years and also keeps it in his car if he’s driving late at night or passing through neighborhoods deemed dangerous.
“You can’t keep your home weapon-free in this country, especially nowadays. It’s just not safe,” he said. The few times he’s had to pull out his handgun, it was with the intention of scaring off the attacker.
All the families The Daily Star spoke to have also said that the closet or safe where the revolver was typically kept was never locked, and their children knew where to find it. Many have also admitted that if it were up to them they would not want to keep the weapon at home, but their environment has obliged them to do so.
But Rashid, who requested his name be changed, lives in the town of Bakaata in the Chouf, a friendly place where break-ins rarely occur and families have lived side by side for generations. When asked why he keeps a revolver at home, if he believes his town is safer than most, he replies it’s better to be safe than sorry.
“Just because it is much safer up here doesn’t mean it is completely safe,” he added.
For these citizens, the issue is not whether civilians have the constitutional right to bear arms, but a question of how badly a weapon is needed at home. Choosing to keep a handgun is choosing violence, PPM emphasizes. They theorize that if fewer people kept guns at home, the state of national security would likely improve.
“Parents must teach their children to use dialogue to solve their issues at an early age,” Abi Allam explains.
“That way when that child is older and becomes involved in any kind of conflict, he can use dialogue rather than violence.”
Peace programs in schools are also need to create a culture of nonviolence, Abi Allam says, adding that laws need to be enforced. Lebanese should no longer let their guns do the talking.
source www.dailystar.com.lb By Rayane Abou Jaoude