In the wake of the widespread and fearsome use of firearms across the country resulting in deaths and massive injuries, the National Assembly is considering making a law that will introduce Forensic firearm examination as one of the ways of tracing and controlling the acquisition and use of the weapons. This is a process that will entail the scrutiny of the characteristics of firearms as well as any cartridges or bullets left behind at a crime scene so as to find out what happened and by whom.
This has become necessary, if not urgent, as the Nigerians worry over the indiscriminate use of high calibre firearms with security agencies seemingly helpless and inexplicably unable to trace the source of the firearms let alone the users. The demand for analysis of the weapons in use to verify who the culprits are became strident in the wake of the mindless killings that have become the aftermath of the farmers/herders clashes in parts of the country. Forensic examination of the murder weapon is common during investigations into crime and criminality in developed societies.
The success of this method of investigation in advanced societies is due, mainly, to the fact that there is reliable documentation of weapons from the factory of manufacture to the firearms shops, who bought what and at what time. In most cases, there are video clips of transaction between the seller and the buyer which can be recalled, traced and analysed.
Specialists in this field in their work link bullets and cartridges to weapons and weapons to individuals. Also, obliterated serial numbers can be raised and recorded in an attempt to find the registered owner of the weapon. Examiners do, as a matter of routine, look for fingerprints on the weapon and cartridges, and then viable prints can be processed through fingerprint databases for a potential match.
By examining unique striations, or markings, left behind on the bullet as it passes through the barrel and on the cartridge as it is hit by the firing pin, spent rounds can be linked back to a specific weapon. Known exemplars taken from a seized weapon can be directly compared to samples recovered from the scene using a comparison microscope. Striation images can also be uploaded to any existing national databases. Furthermore, these markings can be compared to other images in an attempt to link one weapon to multiple crime scenes. Like all forensic specialties, forensic firearm examiners are subject to being called to testify in court as expert witnesses.
In our opinion, the nation needs such scientific process especially at this time that there is public outcry at the level of insecurity in Nigeria particularly with the abusive use of arms and ammunition. But the worrisome dimension to it is that, much as this is desirable, the logistic implication is overwhelming as most of the weapons that are causing the mayhem are imported, read, smuggled into the country except for the ones officially acquired by the security agencies.
Even up the highest level of officialdom, it has been admitted that socially incorrect characters are responsible for the criminal proliferation of weapons including those that can cause mass destruction. This smacks of despondency when decisive action is required to control the situation that is tugging at the very fabric of the nation’s body polity. It is this attitude on the part of those whose duty it is to manage the situation that is exacerbating the anxiety on the part of Nigerians. Unfortunately, that state of mind is fast becoming extremely unmanageable and justifiably so in cases where the security agencies, to all intents, appear not to have an effective response to the menace.
In the event that the National Assembly behave out of character, quit grandstanding and follow through the proposition, then that will be a good start in the effort towards fighting the obvious malady. But the other dimension is that statutes are not all that are required in the fight against any form of societal dysfunction. If the political will is not sufficiently strong, it will yet be another legislation in the books. The perceived challenge in implementing the law, if eventually enacted, is that the political class are part of the problem and may resist or out rightly sabotage it. It is no secret that they are mostly responsible for illegally bringing in these weapons to arm their thugs who do their bidding of using them against their opponents. The herdsmen we know will not be inclined to invest their hard earned money on AK-47 rifles. They were given to them and that is why they use them so mercilessly.
However, and regardless of the challenges posed by exploring that option in the fight against illegal possession and use of arms, it is the view of this newspaper that forensic scrutiny of firearms is advisable in the present circumstance.
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