THE TWO murders committed in Strovolos last Wednesday by a man using his army rifle, sparked a debate about the wisdom of National Guard reservists keeping their guns at home.
This arrangement was introduced 20 years ago on the grounds that it would speed up the mobilisation of reservists in the event of an attack by the Turkish troops. The thinking was that in an emergency mobilisation, reservists would be able to take battle positions much faster if they already had their guns and ammunition, instead of queuing up at call-up centres to collect these. It seemed a sensible idea, as the National Guard, made up of a few thousands of conscripts, depends to a large extent on reservists to make up the numbers.
Having some 70,000 men keeping army-issue rifles and ammunition at their home might not have seemed the most sensible idea, but it did not cause a surge in gun crime. After all, Cyprus has some 40,000 registered hunters, all of whom have a shotgun licence. When we consider the phenomenally big amount of guns in private hands and the extremely low level of gun crime, it is obvious that the situation is under control, at least for now.
According to information given to the House defence committee by the National Guard General Staff on Thursday, in the last couple of years, more murders were committed with shotguns and knives than with army rifles. In 2012 no murders were committed with an army rifle, while in 2013 there was just one, whereas in these two years shotguns were used for seven murders. It might be irrelevant but the army rifle was again used in a family murder, the reservist shooting his wife.
Given this data, there should also be calls for banning shotguns, but no politicians would dare raise such an issue because hunters represent tens of thousands of votes. Nor does there seem any chance of the National Guard reservists being asked to return their guns. Only one deputy on the House defence committee supported such action, the rest being satisfied that army rifles kept at home, posed no threat to people. And they were not willing to ask whether this arrangement served any useful purpose today, in case this was interpreted as lack of commitment to the National Guard’s battle readiness.
Yet the reality is that there is no good reason for keeping army rifles in homes in today’s conditions, when there does not seem to be any danger of hostilities. It may be true that the return of the army rifles would not eliminate or restrict gun crime, given the availability of shotguns, but it could reduce the probability for a killing spree like Wednesday’s, which would be a good thing.