Gun violence migrates from rural areas to cities: NGO head
The killing of a young academic in an Ankara university by a student who she caught while cheating in an exam has sent shock waves across Turkey.
The exponential rise in gun violence in big cities shows that gun ownership is not a phenomenon limited to rural parts of the country as politicians continue to argue, according to an expert. As Turkey has been witnessing a high level of migration from the rural to the urban, violence is on the rise in big cities, said Ayhan Akcan* from Umut Foundation, a prominent NGO dedicated to reducing personal gun ownership. Easy access to guns remains the key reason behind the rising violence, Akcan said.
Q: Based on the report you have just released, tell us about the situation of gun violence in Turkey.
A: Ten people die every day, of those eight by firearm. One fifth of the victims are women as a result of domestic violence. Unfortunately, we see an exponential rise in gun violence. The use of arms in murders 15 years ago was 50 percent. This figure has reached 71 percent in 2015 and 80 percent in 2018. There is also a rise in the number of people wounded by firearms.
What is also important is that violence is taking place in big cities. Starting from Istanbul we can see it in Ankara, İzmir, Bursa, Konya, Samsun, etc.
In the past there was a rhetoric based on the argument that violence was rather observed in rural parts. But now there is violence in urban parts of the country, too.
We had a similar study in 1996 and the use of arms ranked fifth in suicides, now it is around second or third. Some 60 percent of the violence takes place at homes and 40 percent outside. Eighty percent of the violence is committed by an acquaintance.
The gist of the problem is that access to guns is very easy.
Q: As Turkey has seen high migration from rural to urban, you seem to argue that violence has migrated from villages to cities. But violence is not necessarily a rural phenomenon.
A: It is not. But let’s face it, there has been an extraordinary rise in the population of cities.
And we need to underline the fact that there is a rise in gun violence in the metropoles because politicians think: “If we make it difficult to get a gun license, how would the village people protect their properties from wild animals.”
There is also the cultural dimension as guns are part of the rural life. It is important especially in the Black Sea region for instance. Against this argument, we are saying that arms have become a part of life in urban areas. In 2015, 40 percent of murders were committed by shotguns and 25 to 30 percent by guns. Now it is 50-50.
Q: You’re saying that it is easy to have access to firearms. Can you elaborate?
A: There are certain procedures: You have to be 21 to have a gun and 18 to have a shotgun. You have to provide a justification and the police have to check your identity. It is usually enough to say it is to protect your life and property as a justification. After also providing a health report it is then forgotten for five years, which is the time period for renewing the license. It’s that easy.
First of all we argue that we need a much more serious screening period based on questions like “is there a trend of domestic violence, a show of aggression, a bankruptcy situation, suicidal tendencies, personality disorders or use of drugs?”
Second, there is no education. Even before getting a driver’s license you’re provided training. And gun training should not be limited to technical issues.
Purchasing guns from the internet is very easy. And then there are also issues about how to keep the firearms as well. Having a strongbox to keep the gun must be a requirement. In some houses riffles hang on the wall. In a poll we found that a lot of people sleep at home with a gun under their pillows.
In the latest incident, the son of a police officer got hold of his father’s gun and killed an academic in Ankara early January.
We tell authorities that the age limit could be increased to 25. Ever since the law enacted in 1954, there is no limit to the number of firearms you could possess. You can have as many as you want. This number should be limited. Five years for the renewal period should be decreased to two years.
In addition, there has to be a forced cancellation system. The license should be cancelled in cases of bankruptcy and, for instance, during divorce processes. If you ask me, it should even be cancelled when traffic rules are violated. Also the consent of the spouse should be taken while giving the license.
Q: Hasn’t there been any changes to the law since 1954?
A: There have been many amendments, but the same mentality has been kept and no restriction has been brought.
They (politicians) think providing licensed weapons will solve the issue. But while 2.5 million people have licensed personal weapons, we estimate 80 percent of weapons are not licensed. Which means 25 million and that means one of two adults hold a firearm.
The solution here is to discourage and make access difficult. There is a tremendous rise in online sales. We also have, for instance, many TV series in which firearms are being used and people are being killed. Just as is the case with alcohol and cigarettes, the guns on the screen should be blurred.
And the sentences on crimes committed by unlicensed weapons are not deterrent enough. If you are caught carrying an unlicensed gun the sentence goes from three to 18 months, but depending or your record this is turned into a fine.
Q: Why is there such a willingness to have a gun in Turkey?
A. It is a cultural matter. Especially men, in terms of the way they are raised, they end up being fond of guns. It is also a sign of status in society, especially among small shopkeepers for instance. And also with the rise of terrorism, there is a security dimension as well. In the hierarchy of needs, after food and shelter, comes security and the need to feel secure. That obviously also depends on whether there is the rule of law in that country or not. Trust in security officials is very important. Trust in security officials in the recent years has been in decline lately.
Q: You can purchase a gun, but how come this is being used so easily? Don’t people think that they will end up in prison? Don’t they have an issue with ending the life of another person?
A: I think one third of people have an anger problem. In Turkey one out of two people purchases a gun just to show off. Many are not aware of the consequences of having and carrying a gun.
Q: The leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) suggested enacting a law on mental health? Are we mentally ill as a society?
A: It’s also related to the economy as well. Unfortunately in Turkey we are not that happy. Another issue is that there is a conviction about impunity. In the past, if you killed someone by firing into the air in open-air meetings (a frequent practice in Turkey especially in weddings) you used to get two years in jail and that would turn into a monetary fine. The fines have been increased but they are usually not applied.
* Who is Ayhan Akcan?
Ayhan Akcan is the chair of the board of directors of Umut Foundation, established in 1993 to promote gun control.
Akcan is a psychiatrist by profession and is currently working at Haseki Education and Research Hospital in Istanbul. He also continues his works at the Bakırköy Psychiatric Therapy and Research Center, which he founded in 2000.
He is specialized in criminal psychiatry and has done scientific works on police workforce, concerning anger control, burnout syndrome, suicidal trends and depression.
He has also worked on gun addiction and tests to be applied on the elderly willing to carry a firearm.
Between 1998-2001, he produced programs on several radios and televisions, while also serving as an expert advisor to several programs on Turkey’s main TV channels.