What are the rules around private firearms in Uganda?

What you need to know:

  • The Uganda Police Force has in the last six months revoked the firearms’ certificates and withdrawn private firearms from at least five individuals. This comes amid reports of an increase in cases of gun misuse. In this explainer, Isaac Mufumba reveals the rules of engagement around gun ownership in Uganda.

Shootings, some of which are fatal, have in the recent past mushroomed. The latest crime report, for one, spotlighted 300 cases of murder by shooting registered last year. The figure represents an increase of 21 cases from the 279 cases registered in 2022.

How many of the aforesaid deaths were associated with private firearms?
The crime report is ambiguous on that detail. What is clear is that the Force is in the process of withdrawing a sixth firearm within six months per Mr Fred Enanga, the spokesperson of the Force. The latest firearm subject to investigation belongs to Mr Sam Ahamya, the city lawyer who fatally shot a private security guard—Nekeon Buruga—at the Kings Park Arena in Bweyogerere in January.

What are the other five cases?
They involve individuals in Lira, Luweero, Mubende and Kampala. In one of the cases, an individual drew a gun at someone he suspected to be making overtures to his wife, while another drew a gun at someone with whom he was involved in a land dispute. Elsewhere, another individual was found to be masquerading as a security operative. The individual was charged with impersonation.

The Firearms Act of 1970 does not bar a licensee from carrying it in a public place. This has resulted in cases of people moving with their guns into bars and other public spaces. The police can, however, where it deems the situation potentially dangerous, invoke its powers and withdraw the firearm.

“In one of those five cases where the arm was withdrawn, the individual who was putting on tight-fitting clothes, tucked the gun in the waist and went to play pool in a crowded place. He exposed the weapon and himself to danger. We withdrew the weapon as a safety precaution,” a police source said.

What processes are involved in acquiring a private firearm?
They are spelt out in the Firearms Act of 1970, which stipulates that private individuals desirous of acquiring or purchasing a gun have to fill an application form known as Police Form 98 at a cost of Shs50,000.
Attached to the form are passport photographs and an attested birth certificate. The form is then taken to Local Council I and Local Council III officials, the district police commander and Resident District or Resident City Commissioners for approval. The application is also the subject of vetting by the district security committee.

The applicant then has to obtain a certificate of good conduct from the local Interpol office. Next is to obtain a clearance certificate from the police’s forensics department to prove that he has not been involved in any previous criminal activity.

The certificates along with the applicant’s choice of weapon and the preferred source of firearm are then attached to the application form which is then sent back to the police’s department of private security and firearms for onward transmission to the office of the Inspector General of Police (IGP).
Once the application is approved by the IGP, it is then sent to the Internal Affairs minister for approval. Ministerial approval means that the applicant is issued with a certificate to carry a firearm.

The Act also gives the minister the power to direct the Chief licensing officer of the Firearms’ Licensing Board to issue a firearm certificate without the applicant going through the ordinary channels
Once the certificate is issued, the applicant then undergoes training at the CID training school at Kibuli. Acquisition of a firearm is subject to provision of a medical report showing that the applicant is mentally fit to possess a firearm, proof that one has undergone firearms training and an invoice from the gun suppliers.

What training hurdles does one have to jump before acquiring a firearm?
While the process of applying for a firearm is elaborate, even rigorous, the training and general preparation of individuals to operate and manage firearms has since come under the microscope.
Mr Grace Matsiko, the chairperson of the Uganda Private Security Association, described the training period as “not adequate enough for safety of both the operator and the public” as weapons require meticulous handling.
“We are aware of the vigorous vetting process of one to acquire a private firearm, but there is still   need for stringent measures in the area of training and intentions of those seeking to acquire a private firearm,” Mr Matsiko said.

There are conflicting reports about the duration of the training that one goes through before being allowed to carry his gun home. Last April, as the police announced a raft of services that the Force is set to offer to the public in the financial year 2022/2023 as part of an effort to meet a Shs30b non-tax revenue target, Mr Enanga indicated that the training period is a maximum of two months. He added: “The police usually recommends you to go to Kibuli to a firearms trainer who takes you through gun handling, aiming, shooting, safe procedures and all those other processes.”

However, an officer who talked to this publication revealed that the duration of training is two weeks with weapon handling. Management and marksmanship, he added, take a maximum of three days. Brig Felix Kulayigye, the Defence ministry spokesperson, described as “inadequate” the training period.
“The issue is not about the gun. The issue is the man behind the gun. The army addresses the man behind the gun. On top of the weapon handling and the marksmanship we deal with the minds and hearts that hold the gun. That requires some time,” Brig Kulayigye said.

Mr Enanga told Monitor that the Force is considering introducing refresher courses for all those licensed to carry private firearms.
“We give them basic training, but then individually we urge them to go for more training. However, the department of private security and firearms intends to have refresher courses in each region. That is our plan given what has been happening,” Mr Enanga said.