Easy access to unlicensed personal weapons in Turkey raising concerns
Cansu Şimşek – ISTANBUL
The proliferation of personal arms amid easy online access is a growing concern in Turkey, where 1,722 people have been killed so far this year in incidents involving individual arms, according to data compiled by the anti-weapon group the Umut Foundation.
Many customers are turning to the Internet to purchase unlicensed guns, as the fine for getting caught with an unlicensed weapon is only around 6,000 Turkish Liras, which is around the same amount as the price of a weapons’ license, one Istanbul-based gunsmith told daily Hürriyet.
“Many people prefer to pay the fine rather than deal with the necessary paper work,” the gunsmith said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“We ask those who bring their weapons for repair or maintenance the origin [of the weapons]. We often hear of the answer of ‘I bought it from the internet,’” he said.
“It is not easy to buy a licensed gun from Machinery and Chemical Industry Corporation [MKE] sales-offices. It is seen as being easier to get a license for rifles, but we have turned down many people who pretended that they were going to go hunting. We have been doing this business for 60 years so we can now read the intentions of someone who wants to buy a gun like a book,” he added.
Over 1,700 people were killed and 2,874 injured up to Oct. 18 this year in a total of 2,765 armed incidents in Turkey, according to data compiled by the Umut Foundation, based on events reported in the media.
The foundation estimates that there are 25 million individually owned weapons at present in Turkey, some 85 percent of which are unlicensed.
Lawyer Halil İbrahim Çelik said a particular problem is that the penalty for getting caught with an unlicensed gun is left to the discretion of the judge in the case.
“It is easy for people with a clean criminal record to convert jail sentences to cash fines. A jail sentence can be turned into a fine of between 20 and 100 liras per day of the sentence duration,” Çelik said, adding that many people who want to purchase weapons opt to take the hit of the fine rather than go through the process of acquiring a license.
Umut Foundation board member Ayhan Akcan stressed the “cultural element” of the problem, warning that the sale of pump-action rifles on the Internet is “almost out of control.”
“You cannot solve this situation through only education. You cannot destroy a cultural element so easily,” he said.
“But making arming more difficult could provide a solution. The fact that there is no advertising ban [for gun sales] online also makes these items more attractive to people,” Akcan added.
He also stressed that the system of firearms licensing, valid for a five-year period in Turkey, needs to be changed.
“For example, if a person is going through a divorce then their weapons should be seized. Another issue is that people who want to buy weapons should be obliged to keep them in a locked vault inside their property, to ensure that children or others do not use the weapon as they wish,” Akcan said, also warning that the system of hunting certificates is being “abused” in the sales of rifles.
After a 17-year-old high school student was killed last month in Istanbul by an unlicensed rifle said to have been bought online, the head of the Committee on Petitions in the Turkish Parliament, Belma Satır, demanded that the current fine of 500 liras given for “having a shotgun, mediating its sale, or carrying a shotgun” be turned into a prison sentence.
“The fact that pump-action hunting rifles – which are often used in killings, terrorism and theft – are so easily sold is a significant problem. Licenses should always be obtained before rifles are bought, but it is possible to buy these rifles online without the necessary legal documents. Despite all measures taken, it is seen that every year there is an increasing interest in hunting rifles,” Satır told state-run Anadolu Agency at the time.
According to the Umut Foundation, of the individual crimes committed this year up to Sept. 22, 79.76 percent involved the use of firearms. The use of weapons in individual violence cases increased by 3.08 percent from the same period of last year and 5.76 percent from the same period of 2015, according to the foundation.