No Second Amendment

31 10 2020
Just some of the paperwork for firearms’ licence renewal in Zimbabwe

It’s quite difficult to get a firearm certificate in Zimbabwe. I am in the process of renewing mine and that has been quite demanding. Certificates have to be renewed every three years and in the past it has been relatively straightforward; fill in the form, pay the money and collect the documentation at a later date. That has now changed.

Last year I received an email from the Central Firearms Registry “encouraging” me to take in my weapons, a pistol and a shotgun, for profiling. Three rounds were to be supplied for each weapon, the police armourer would then fire the rounds and distinguishing marks photographed off the cartridge cases and, where applicable, the bullet. This would then be entered into a database to enable future identification of weapons used in crimes. As I was only being “encouraged” I ignored it. Now if one needs to renew certificates the profiling is compulsory.

My certificates are due for renewal on 1st November so three weeks ago I took my weapons and the requisite ammunition into the ballistics department of the CID (Criminal Investigation Department of the local police) in town. The weapons were duly handed over, receipted and I was asked if I could come back in one hour for the certificates. I facetiously asked the police officer if there was any in-building entertainment. I got a ghost of a smile – no, no entertainment was available. I said I’d be back the following week.

Two visits later and much misunderstanding I was in receipt of a cash payment that I shouldn’t have made at this stage and a list of requirements. I felt more than a bit daunted as I had to get the following done in two days before the current certificates expire at the beginning of November:
– a current set of fingerprints.
– two passport size photographs.
– a police inspection of the required safe.
– a letter from a doctor stating that I was in good mental health over the last three years.
– a letter from the government Agricultural, Technical and Extension (AGRITEX) agency stating I am a bona fide farmer and need the shotgun for vermin control. Curiously I didn’t need any letters for the pistol, just saying I needed it for home protection was sufficient.

At the Borrowdale police station I found the relevant department (Police Intelligence Unit) in a hot, cramped office.

Did I have the relevant fingerprint forms, two of them?

No I didn’t but was told I could find them across the road at a small shopping centre. A few minutes later I’d found the forms at a hairdresser’s which had a side business in charging phones too. I was relieved of the equivalent of US$1 for the two pages of poorly printed but legible forms. Curious to find out what the local exchange rate was I approached the money changer outside the corner of the shop. 80 local dollars in cash notes for one US dollar or 90 Ecocash (mobile banking money). Surprised at the relatively low rate I enquired as to why and was told that was what the legal rate was. I laughed and commented that I knew of hardly anyone who was using it. It’s well known that the street money changers are often employed by the fat cats in government but it’s a bit much to believe that they stick to the official rate as set by the Reserve Bank.

Back at the police station the finger prints were duly taken. The police had no transport of their own so we got into my pickup truck and I got chatting to the dour but pleasant police sergeant on the way to inspect the safe at my work. I had to ask if anyone at the police station, which has a sizeable staff, had contracted the Covid-19. Nope, nobody had. I presume that nobody had actually been tested either.

At my office the sergeant gave a cursory tug on the wall safe and pronounced it secure. Then she asked to look inside and gave it another cursory tug. I was glad she’d left it at that as it’s bolted into very soft farm bricks that wouldn’t have stood a serious inspection never mind a miscreant with a crow bar.

Back at the police station the sergeant said that the printer wasn’t working, it was out of ink cartridges and they couldn’t afford new ones. So if she sent me the file of the safe inspection to my phone could I print it out at home and bring a copy back to the police station for signing? And would I be able to help out with some bond paper (plain white A4 sheets) as they couldn’t afford those either? I reflected that things were in a serious state of affairs if the police couldn’t afford printer paper at the princely sum of US1c a sheet.

The next day, two copies of the approval letter in hand, I returned to the police station and handed over a ream of paper. The duty sergeant was delighted and very grateful. I cautioned him not to let his colleagues know as it wouldn’t last long.

The photographs were easily acquired at a local photographic shop and then I picked up the letter from my doctor stating I was of stable mind and I was into the final leg, or so I thought.

The local AGRITEX office is located at the Ministry of Agriculture where I had other business. Whilst I was waiting for another clerk a helpful security guard took my current shotgun certificate up the stairs (access restricted due to the Covid-19) to the AGRITEX office. Some time later an official appeared.

Where was the proof that I owned the land, specifically an offer letter (a letter from the government allowing the farmer a lease on the land)?
I didn’t have any – I rent the land.
Where was the proof that the farm is productive, for example delivery notes to the Grain Marketing Board?
I didn’t have any of those as I only grow and sell seedlings. I didn’t mention that I do sell seedlings to various government concerns as that likely would have necessitated a trip back to the nursery.
So how big is the farm?
10 ha. I could see the official was getting exasperated.
She shook her head and disappeared back up the stairs to reappear some 15 minutes later with the letter approving the renewal of the shotgun certificate.

The Central Firearms Registry is a short drive from the Ministry of Agriculture, I had the renewal in the bag – or so I thought. But I’d reckoned without the civil servant obsession with lunch hour. I’d forgotten the receipt for the certificate payment in my truck, yes that’s it in the photo bottom right. A whole $15 of local money that equates to about US15c. No small wonder the police cannot afford printer paper which costs about US1c a sheet if one buys a ream of 500 sheets. By the time I got back from the car with the receipt the firearms registry office had closed for lunch. There was nothing to do but wait.

Two o’clock and the clerk appeared and I was first in the rapidly growing queue. My finger prints still needed to be verified, would I be prepared to pay US$2 to get it done right away? I took that to mean that the “verification” would be a formality. I didn’t have the $2 and nobody had change so it had to go through the full process. I reflected that I didn’t have a lot of faith in the system as over the years I have given at least three sets of fingerprints to the police for various documents – why couldn’t I just get them scanned and a computer get the verification? I was tired at this stage and decided I didn’t need to labour the point. I accepted the receipt note for the application and left – I was told the documentation would be ready in two weeks or more.

In Zimbabwe there is no equivalent to the Second Amendment as in the USA. There is most certainly no right to bear arms. I am fully in favour of strict controls on firearm possession if it reduces weapons crime. I am sceptical that it will. The weapons profiling system should yield a searchable database of firearms but will it? The computers required need to be powerful and are only as good as the software on them. That is not going to be free and a police force that cannot afford paper is unlikely to afford the specialised software. Maybe it’s being funded by a foreign law enforcement agency.

There won’t be another renewal in three years time, the weapons are going to be sold. The shotgun was inherited from my father and is very old but not enough so as to be valuable. I have never used it. The pistol I bought for my mother back in 1978 when she was alone and vulnerable in a small village when the country was embroiled in civil war. I have fired it twice, at a tree, just for the hell of it. It should be easy enough to sell as it’s a good make.

Gun licences

26 05 2009

There was a ┬áDVD in the computer of some sort of music video finalists. Some were in English, others in black languages – South African I guessed, judging by the video content. The camera kept on focusing on the unzipped shorts of the white girl dancers just when they did the pelvic thrusting bit. In fact there did not seem to be much else that they did. The singers were black males. The detective who was typing out my letter of recommendation to renew my lapsed firearms licences seemed to know when the more explicit footage was showing and kept leaning over from hammering away on his manual typewriter to have a look. I mentioned that it was quite explicit stuff that didn’t need a lot of translating; he grinned and turned back to hammering away, apparently unaware of the irony of using a computer to watch marginal music videos and a manual typewriter to type up documents. Well, I suppose there was no printer that I could see. There were more old typewriters under a pile of firewood in the corner and a bicycle parked behind the bench on which I was sitting. A number of sheets of paper were taped to a wall detailing Wanted Persons (blank), Riotous Disturbances By Political Parties (blank) and various other crimes (blank) month by month since the beginning of the year. It seems that Borrowdale is a quiet precinct.

I’d managed to let the licences lapse through nothing else than carlessness; for some reason I’d convinced myself that they expired November THIS year. Nobody was too phased and now after getting my fingerprints of both hands, individual fingers, all fingers at once and then each thumb in duplicate (what happens if I lose both hands – but he missed the joke entirely) and having to wipe off the ink on the grass for want of any other useful surface, I was going through the motions of renewal. The detective should have come with me to inspect the gun cabinet at work to see that it was secure but after a bit of pondering decided to just get on with the recommendation. Maybe the music DVD was more compelling.

The woman who took the payment for renewal and the fines for lapsing was very friendly and even went over to the shopping center across the road to get change because I could not pay for everything in one lump sum but each payment had to have the serial numbers of the notes for the EXACT amount on each receipt and I only had the TOTAL amount. Whatever. I put my mind into neutral and wondered about the beheaded soap stone sculpture in the someone unkempt garden and the empty disposable syringe with the needle attached lying on the desk opposite. After about half an hour it was all complete and getting the hint that “we are eating now” decided to go home and get my own lunch.

Tomorrow I’ll tackle the Central Firearms Registry in town.