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Turkish gun shops go from back alley to mall

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 4/11/2010 12:00:00 AM | ÖZGÜR ÖĞRET

The vast Silah Dünyası (Gun World) stores, the first chain in Turkey to specialize in guns, security devices and hunting equipment, are designed to attract attention.

A glitzy gun shop visible from the mall food court would have been a rare sight in Turkey until recently, as guns were mostly sold at small establishments tucked away in back alleys or industrial neighborhoods.

The vast Silah Dünyası (Gun World) stores, however, are designed to attract attention.

The first chain store in Turkey to specialize in guns, security devices and hunting and hobby equipment, Gun World was founded in 2003. It currently has two locations in Istanbul, but also plans to expand into Ankara, Bursa and İzmir.

“It takes two years for us to open a new store,” said Ebru R. Tekin, the company’s executive director, adding that the time is needed to find a location, establish the concept and train the personnel.

According to Tekin, company founder Okan Arsan saw a gap in the sector that was forcing higher-class shoppers to go abroad in order to buy guns. Gun World sees it as its mission to better the image of gun use in Turkey, the firm’s executive director said.

“Instead of shooting outdoors irresponsibly, our customers can use our shooting range and benefit from the training we offer in a secure environment without hurting anybody,” Tekin added.

[HH] Wide range of products

Gun World has 14 different departments and 200 employees; its centers are five-story buildings selling 17,000 different products. In addition to guns, rifles and ammunition, the stores sell vests and trekking clothing the company produces itself, as well as gun sleeves, security systems, personal defense products, fishing equipment, air guns and computerized shooting games. The company’s branch in Altunizade, on Istanbul’s Asian side, even features a cafeteria that serves meat from game animals.

The firm’s customer base covers a variety of age ranges and includes musicians, actors, football players, businesspeople and politicians, according to Tekin. “Unfortunately, the hobby products are expensive,” she said, but added that Gun World has three classes of products for customers with different budgets.

[HH] Gun laws in Turkey

In general, Turkish law divides firearms into two categories. Rifles and handguns have spiral grooves in their barrels, which imparts a spin to a projectile around its long axis. This spin serves to stabilize the projectile gyroscopically, improving its aerodynamic stability and accuracy. Shotguns, however, are simpler; they are generally smoothbore firearms, meaning that the inside of the barrels are not rifled, so there is a shorter range and less accuracy.

Because of all the complexities of gun ownership, Gun World employs two lawyers on staff simply to offer advice to customers, the company said.

All Turkish citizens over the age of 25 have the right to buy and possess firearms, though criteria vary; regulations are different, for example, depending on whether the prospective buyer is working, retired or an active civil servant and what he or she intends to do with the weapon.

Foreigners with residence or work permits in Turkey also have the right to buy rifles and handguns if they fit certain criteria.

A shotgun is the easiest type of gun to obtain; Turkish citizens must be over 18 and have no criminal record, while foreigners simply need a valid passport.

According to Tekin, 80 percent to 90 percent of gun crimes in Turkey are committed with unregistered firearms. She criticized the bureaucratic process required to legally acquire a gun license, saying that the red tape encourages people to obtain unlicensed guns that are cheaper and faster to purchase.

“If they would loosen the gun regulations a little bit, they would have people under record and a serious amount of tax income would be earned by the government,” she said, adding that the penalties in Turkey for owning unlicensed guns are also insufficient.

Weapons such as pepper sprays, tasers or crossbows do not require licenses to purchase, and the legal regulations on such products are unclear and require adjustments, Tekin said.

The purchase of hunting knives does not require a license, although records are kept about the buyers. Blank firing guns, which only make noise and do not shoot a bullet, fall under the toy category. Crossbows and huge hunting knives notwithstanding, all of the above can be carried on one’s person as long as they are not displayed in public.

When asked if her company cooperates with security forces in the event that a product purchased from Gun World is employed in a criminal act, Tekin said that situation has not yet arisen, but that the firm would provide the needed information to authorities.

[HH] It is a man’s world, but...

On the subject of women and guns, Tekin said Gun World also has female customers, but “women like to arm themselves more for the aim of defense.”

Women generally come to the store and the shooting range with their husbands; few visit on their own, she added, noting that she herself had little involvement with weaponry before she was hired for the job, although she occasionally hunted with her father.

“[Women] come alone when they are buying a Valentine’s Day or birthday gift for their husbands or boyfriends, but we are a bit of a men’s store; to tell you the truth,” she said. “Eighty percent of the customer profile consists of men.”

The sector as a whole is dominated by men, she added. “I attended a dealers’ meeting recently and was the only woman among 15 men,” Tekin said, noting that people are sometimes surprised to see a woman in her position.

“Actually, I can feel that they perceive me in a ‘what is a woman doing here?’ kind of way; I can feel that,” she said. “However, Turkey is changing, one must get used to that. Women are everywhere now.”

Personally, Tekin added, she occasionally visits the shooting range but prefers computerized simulations.

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