The media coverage of an Army officer who brandished his gun in a street quarrel with a motorcycle rider recently raised concerns about the inappropriate use of arms.
The circulation of small arms has clearly reached a point that puts development sustainability and security in many countries in the world at risk.
The uncontrolled circulation of arms has contributed much to the mounting tension, terrorism or any other security threats to a country, such as what has happened in Darfur, Sudan and Rwanda.
The United States Department of Public Information defines “small arms” as specially designed weaponries for personal use, such as revolvers, automatic guns, rifles and light machine guns.
Due to their threat to individual security, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) issued guidelines on Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) on 2008, which provides details on regulating small arms for the civilians; international circulation of SALW controls; the making and selling of weapons; procedures for gun tagging and making special codes for each weapon; and regulation on SALW to be held and used by the state and the apparatus.
Even though the harm and effects resulting from the small-arms circulation is felt by states, there is no international agreement that governs conventional arms at a global level yet.
In July 2011, the progress made on the “Global Arms Treaty” appeared, with further support at a meeting of delegates in New York. This agreement is important, especially given the magnitude of the arms trade, which reached US$1.2 trillion globally.
This creates urgency for the government to sign the treaty that is scheduled to be completed in July 2012 (see controlarms.org).
Furthermore, gunpolicy.org data shows that the number of private gun owners in Indonesia reached 0.5 per 100 people. As of August 2010, the number of self-defense use permits of firearms reached 17,983 weapons. On the other hand, gunpolicy.org also reveals that there are about 0.44 out of 100 people that are not registered owners.
National Police data says there were 453 cases related to the use of illegal firearms in 2009-2011. During a three-year period, there were 174 cases of the use of firearms for violence and theft, 142 cases of firearms misuse and 76 cases of arms discovery, with 61 people arrested.
In 2010 alone, there were 143 firearms sized in 73 cases of theft and violence cases, 24 cases of ownership misuse and 29 discoveries of weapons.
It is important to underline that Indonesia does not have a culture of firearms possession like Thailand and the Philippines. Less than 20 people were killed in shootings related directly to terrorism in the past decade, and most of them occurred in conflict-prone areas such as Central Sulawesi and Maluku
The International Crisis Group (ICG) said in its 2010 report that there are four sources of illicit firearms in Indonesia. First, the weapon is stolen or bought illegally from security forces personnel.
Second, the weapon can be a residual from the weapon storage in a conflicting area.
Third, the firearms are produced by local arms manufacturers. Fourth, the firearms are smuggled in from overseas.
In general, the government has taken actions to regulate and supervise the range of firearm-
ownership licenses. Any civilian, other than police and military, who owns any kind of weaponry or firearm, must obtain a permit from the National Police.
In order to secure the permit, applicants must first ask for recommendations from the intelligent agencies and the regional police where the applicants are registered.
The applicants must also present certificates of good behavior issued by the local police, employment certificates, health certificates and shooting ability certificates.
Since 2003, the government has annually submitted its report on the implementation of the United Nations Program of Action to Prevent, Combat, and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons, which is designed to solve the problem of illegal arms trading.
Indonesia has also imposed a regulation on the registration and supervision of the use of firearms among the state apparatus and civilians. Illegal possession, sale, exchange, storage, manufacture, import or use of explosive material and illegal firearms are criminalized under the emergency law number 12/1951 on firearms.
However, fundamental changes have happened after concerns were raised about the increasing security threat posed by firearms in Indonesia in 2010. Citizen aged 18–65 can possess weapons for the reason of recreation instead for self-defense and protection.
Only rubber bullets and gas firearms are permitted for self-defense, with the requirements of the submission procedure similar to permitting ownership of firearms ammunition.
What is happening is actually showing that Law No. 8 of 1948 regulating the circulation of firearms, which is a colonial legacy, is obsolete and should be revised.
From recent cases, there are at least several patterns of firearm misuse that can be described as followed: First, the misuse of firearms is committed by the state apparatus for certain interests or even personal interests.
Second, the misuse of firearms while performing duties is excessive and disproportionate. Third, the pattern of misuse of firearms that are legal for the public is for certain purposes. Fourth, the misuse of firearms is illegal for a specific purpose such as criminal acts.
In addition, the misuse of firearms is mostly caused by a lack of regulation; ineffective supervision and a lack of professionalism on the part of security apparatus; lucrative business circulation; and the lack of the deterrent of punishment against perpetrators. Improvement in regulation is therefore pressing. It is also necessary to have restriction on the use of firearms by civilians, except for the purpose of sports.
The use of arms among security forces requires stricter supervision and controlled licensing of firearms by the police. Finally, law enforcement of the perpetrators of the abuse and an audit on the use of firearms owned by civilians are needed.
At this point, the synergy among security institutions to supervise the circulation and the use of firearms is urgent.
Therefore, regulations that can accommodate comprehensive supervision are necessary at the domestic level in order to accommodate the supervision toward the things that affect national security.
Al Araf is program director of the Imparsial human rights group. Anton Aliabbas is a lecturer at the Indonesian Defense University, Jakarta.