Jordan bans use of firearms in public but people are still shooting
Amman - Samer Khalidi, 17, was hit by a bullet in the head at the end of July while attending a wedding party in the northern city of Ramtha. He died instantly. No one expected that the wedding would turn into a funeral, especially when the person who fired a gun into the air was the groom, who ended up in jail.
In Kerak, south of Amman, a bride was hospitalised in May after she was seriously wounded in the forearm by a stray bullet in her outdoor wedding reception.
Khalidi and the bride are among scores of victims of festive firing of weapons in Jordan, which is also a practice in many other countries.
In Iraq, thousands of hooligans throng streets firing guns into the air when their national football team wins. In Saudi Arabia, a heavily armed population fires in celebration of weddings and occasions such as a relative earning a high school diploma.
The worst is possibly Yemen, where tribesmen are all armed. The most common weapons for the Yemenis are the assault rifles along with the dagger, which is part of Yemen’s traditional costume. When a dispute flares, even among friends, they often randomly fire into the air in rage.
Firing guns in Lebanon is a common practice to celebrate any occasion, whether a wedding, earning a high school diploma or even when a political leader delivers a speech on television. Falling bullets often break windows but can also cause injury or death. In 2015, a Lebanese bride celebrated her wedding by firing a gun into the air before she rushed to the dance floor — an unusual practice for Lebanese women.
In Jordan, firing a weapon is common in both celebrations as well as in family feuds to insinuate machismo. In the Jordan valley, tribesmen block streets and fire in residential neighbourhoods inhabited by civilians if two clans are quarrelling.
Hanna Jwaihat, a 63-year-old retired teacher, told The Arab Weekly that gunfire in public is an “irresponsible act by irresponsible people”.
“The authorities should do more to stop this nonsense, which is endangering people’s lives,” she said.
Jordanian law stipulates a prison term of seven years for those found in possession of a firearm without a licence but the law, observed to a certain extent in Amman, is rarely enforced in outlying villages.
In all cases, the law is strictest in situations that pertain to militants and saboteurs stockpiling weapons to destabilise the country. The law penalises those who fire a gun in public with a prison term of up to three years. Some Jordanians opt for fireworks along with firearms. When police arrive to investigate, firearms are replaced with fireworks.
If a firing incident takes place at a wedding and police prove it, the celebration can be forcibly stopped until the shooter surrenders to authorities. Ziad Twairesh, 43, a shop owner from Madaba in central Jordan, said it is common to see guns in weddings. “I used it a couple of times and no one was hurt,” he admitted with a smile.
“People do it for fun.”
A 2104 study by the Jordanian Society for Political Science determined there are about 350,000 firearms in Jordan.” The study estimated that in 2013, 21 people died from guns being fired into the air.
Popular firearms include .45- and .36-calibre weapons, US-made M- 16s and Russian-made Kalashnikov assault rifles.
In 2014, citizens of Ramtha kicked off a campaign, entitled “Do Not Kill My Happiness”, in which they agreed to stop firing weapons during weddings and other celebrations.
“I remember we had several campaigns that called for a complete halt of this danger but people still do it and they will keep doing it until many more innocent people are killed,” Amman accountant Montaser Sbaihi, 35, said.
“Some people will walk the extra mile and ask their guests not to use guns in their wedding. It happened in Amman where a groom put a big sign asking people not to fire guns.”
In 2010, Jordanian King Abdullah II addressed the practice after two people were killed and 13 others wounded in heavy public shooting when results for the high school diploma were announced. Abdullah formed a committee of high-ranking security officials to map out stricter measures against violators. Jordan’s clergy warned that Islam bans harming other Muslims. But the shooting did not stop and victims of festive firing remain frequent headline in Jordanian newspapers.
Recently, the Public Security Department launched an initiative entitled “Do not Kill with Your Happiness” to raise awareness about the hazards of firing guns in public.
“This trend is deep-rooted in our culture whereby tribesmen roaming the desert alone used to carry guns to defend themselves against wild animals,” said Abu Mahmoud, 45, who declined to be identified further.
Psychologist Hussein Khuzaei called for boycotting events in which firearms are used.
“It’s simple, just don’t go,” he said.