An open secret: Gun ownership in Turkey

Barack Obama recently made an emotional call for more gun control; Anadolu Agency probes Turkey's own issues with firearms

 The evening of July 7, 2003 has left a huge scar in the hearts of the Grimason and Essizhan families.

This was the day they lost their beloved two-and-a-half-year-old son Alistair. Their loss still resonates in their hearts and minds.

“I began to feel those days again,” says Tuncer Essizhan, Alistair’s grandfather, speaking to Anadolu Agency from the western Turkish city of Izmir.

After a brief walk that evening, British man David Grimason, his Turkish wife Ozlem, his young son Alistair and Ozlem’s mother stopped by a cafe in the seaside village of Foca.

Suddenly, an argument broke out at a nearby table and a man produced a gun and opened fire. A stray bullet struck and killed the toddler instantly.

Alistair was neither the first person nor the last to lose their life in such tragic incidents but this was a case which was widely covered by the Turkish and foreign press for years.

After a yearlong trial in Izmir, the gunman, Daimi Akyuz, received 36 years of prison time. Local press reported that it was a record punishment for such a case.

Outside the court, Alistair’s father David described the sentence as “punishment against personal armament.”

Heavy-hearted grandfather Essizhan also blamed the carrying of personal weapons for the toddler’s death.

Regardless of repeat tragedies in every part of Turkey, reckless gun use continues to darken many people’s lives.

In a year, more than 300 people have lost their lives in Turkey as a result of stray bullets, according to Ayhan Akcan, a psychologist and an expert on gun control.

However, stray gunfire is the tip of the iceberg regarding the controversies surrounding gun control.

Anti-gun groups demand tightened rules over ownership while pro-gun lobbyists want a relaxation of laws on the legal ownership of firearms.

Debate on gun control, however, has been on the backburner in recent years. However, the carrying of guns has continued as an open secret to which most people choose to turn a blind eye.

Occasional tragedies or legal debates spark periodic interest in the issue but only for a limited time.

The scale of the problem remains disputed but undoubtedly serious.

On the average, three-thousand people have been killed in gunfights in Turkey while more than 10,000 people have been injured annually, according to the Ankara-based Turkish Psychiatry Association.

Mehmet Yumru, a psychologist and the secretary-general of the Turkish Psychiatry Association, told Anadolu Agency that 60 percent of murders have been committed with firearms and 40 percent of women victims lost their lives due to guns.

“A gun in a house increases the likelihood of death 12 times,” Yumru says.

In 2015, there were 2,176 firearms incidents in Turkey, according to the Istanbul-based Umut Foundation, an anti-gun group which compiles its data through media coverage.

In these incidents, 1,951 people lost their lives and 1,286 people were injured.

Again, in 2015, the foundation claimed 74 percent of crimes in Turkey were committed with guns. Of these cases, 44 percent have been committed with handguns while 30 percent was with various types of rifle.

On violence against women, the Umut Foundation claimed that 314 females were murdered in 2014 with guns. In 2015, up until Sep. 20, 301 women were shot.

Official records also show that in recent years, the number of people who lost their lives as a result of gun incidents increased dramatically.

The number of people killed by gunfire in 2009 was 1,183; that number rose to 1,870 in 2013 according to the Turkish Statistical Institute. In 1999, 557 people were killed in provincial and district centers.

Strikingly, an increase of deaths due to firearms seems to run in parallel with a rise of gun sales.

The Machinery and Chemical Industry Institution, or MKEK, a public company responsible for producing firearms, said in 2008 that in the preceding year it sold 9,527 locally produced guns and 5,875 foreign-made pistols.

The company began to release its statics in 2008 online. Records on previous years were not available.

In 2014, the number of firearms sold by the company rose by nearly 50 percent compared to 2008. MKEK said it sold 15,088 guns and 11,459 foreign-made pistols in 2013.

These numbers do not include sales to private companies.

Mustafa Serenay, a gun seller for more than 10 years in Istanbul, confirmed that there has been an increase in demand for firearms.

“Due to safety concerns, many people have bought guns,” Serenay told Anadolu Agency.

Psychologist Ayhan Akcan claims cultural beliefs around guns play an important role in personal armament. A gun has long been considered as a hallmark of being a man in Turkic culture.

The Umut Foundation has revealed a more troubling picture. It claimed there are 20 million firearms owned by private citizens in Turkey in 2014.

“During the last five years, personal armament has increased 50 percent. The last year, that pace even surpassed 50 percent,” the foundation said in a written statement to Anadolu Agency.

Ownership often does not equate to openness. Eighty-five percent of guns are unregistered, according to a Turkish parliament Interior Commission document in 2012.

Out of 178 countries listed in terms of gun ownership, Turkey is at fourteenth place, according to the Umut Foundation.

But psychologist Akcan believes the reality is much more depressing: “I believe Turkey is at third or fourth place [in personal armament].”

Yumru claims that the pace of Turkish people arming themselves is among the top 10 in the world.

This alarming reality has emerged in a country where possessing a firearm is relatively easy but carrying them is very difficult.

Laws regarding firearms have been enacted since 1953. In 1981, the Turkish parliament enacted legislation on owning hunting guns.

There have been number of revisions to these two laws; however they have not been updated to meet new challenges.

A would-be gun-owner has to be at least 21-years-old and possess a medical report confirming his or her mental and psychical health. They would also need to pay $1,600 for two permits: one is for possession while the other is for carrying.

After meeting these requirements, a provincial governor has to approve these two licenses; their duration is for five years.

At the end of the five years

, if they do not want to own a gun, the permit is returned to the state or transferred to another person. The owner does not have right to dispose of the firearm themselves.

“The Turkish state has sought tough requirements to carry a gun,” Timur Demirtas, a law professor at Izmir Economy University, tells Anadolu Agency.

However, there have been concerns that psychological tests have not been applied appropriately.

“If a doctor considers that he has to apply these tests, he will,” Psychologist Akcan told Anadolu Agency.

Normally, such a test requires a person to answer at least 500 questions to determine his psychological situation.

Yet, Akcan proposes that it should not be psychologists’ job to apply this test; “there has to be another place for these tests,” he says.

He proposes that there should be a limit on how many guns a person can have, educational programs and monitoring by the state.

“There should be cancellation system in place. Family doctors had better watch those people,” he suggests.

Meanwhile, pro-gun lobbies urge a relaxation on gun rules.

The Ankara-based Rights for Individual Armament and Defense group, or BSSAH, says that a person has to protect himself from life-threatening danger.

“Thus, a gun plays an important role in protection. Nobody can touch or interfere with Turkish citizens’ right of safety and armament,” the group’s website says.

It claims that it is nearly impossible to commit a crime with registered weapons due to the government’s success in determining attackers.

“Statics show that most crimes are committed with unregistered guns,” the group says.

However, the BSSAH declined to be interviewed by Anadolu Agency.

A few years ago, the Turkish government moved to overhaul laws on firearms but the debate over a new legislation became bogged down.

Unnamed parliamentary sources talking to Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity said there were no plans to discuss a new law on the Interior Commission’s agenda.

Celalettin Guvenc, a ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party MP for Kahramanmaras – and the head of the Interior Commission – did not return calls for comments.

Local press report that Guvenc has long been against personal armament.

In Izmir, Grandfather Essizhan – himself a lawyer – urges the government to act against the carrying of guns but he fears that cultural codes will prevent MPs from tightening the law.

“Under these circumstances, we lost our grandson. And we realized personal armament is a bad idea,” the devastated grandfather says.

Times of Turkey

Times of Turkey

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