At least five people, including a little girl, have fallen victim to wayward bullets in the last four months
For a city historically riddled with enough violence to have a neighbourhood named Golimar, it is no surprise that most karachiites are accustomed to the sound of gunshots. While most outsiders would instinctively quiver at the report of a rifle, a seasoned resident of this madding city is likely to shrug it off as the sound of celebration.
“I remember my sister’s wedding a few years ago when we fired some shots into the air and lit fireworks at her reception to celebrate, as one does. Our guests from Islamabad were a little startled to the point of thinking we were being attacked,” recalled Shahzaib, a graduate student who belongs to a moderately affluent household. “I have spent much of my childhood in an area called Gulistan e Jauhar, which is famous for two things: being rowdy and full of wedding halls and banquets. So every time we’d hear a gunshot growing up, we would try to guess whether it was something hostile or a wedding celebration. Maybe it was that kind of nonchalance that sort of normalised the sound for us,” he added.
However, despite the normalisation that this city seems to have granted aerial firing, this callous act of celebration is known to have claimed hundreds of lives in the last few decades. The most notorious day for this kind of activity remains the night of New Year’s eve when the city’s police force is kept on high alert for any cases of aerial firing, while emergency services are also kept on standby. “Our ambulance drivers and rescue workers are specifically prepared for emergency situations like such during festival season. We have to stay ready for rapid response and there are always some cases of death or injury by aerial firing,” shared Chhipa Foundation’s spokesperson Chaudhry Shahid Hussain.
This year, it was an 11-year-old child who was killed by a wayward bullet shot into the air, while at least other 17 people were reportedly injured across the city on the same night, as the city reverberated with celebratory gunfire.
According to District Kemari’s Deputy Commissioner Mukhtar Abro, under the law, aerial firing is an offense that warrants arrest and registration of a criminal case. “This form of celebration is entirely illegal and risks precious lives. The police launch routine crackdowns against offenders and they are more than likely to end up behind the bars for aerial shootings in public,” he told.
However, Hassan Sabir, who is a legal practitioner believes that there are several lacunas in the law that allow such offenders to dodge critical punishment, which in turn encourages them to continue bending the law. “We need to have more stringent laws for gun violence and aerial firing so that habitual offenders realise that their actions are not free of consequence,” he urged.
Speaking in this regard, Naeem Khan, who is a local activist against gun violence, was of the view that in addition to police arrests, the licensing authorities also need to take action against the offenders. “When firearm licenses are issued, it is with trust that the licensee is mature enough to only use it for self-defense and will not endanger others by using it callously. So if a person is arrested for aerial firing, the licensing body should immediately confiscate their firearm and rubbish their license,” he opined.
When probed regarding the legislative need, Sindh Labor Minister Saeed Ghani corroborated that aerial firing is considered a criminal and a punishable offense in the province. “The Sindh government has issued stern action orders against those engaged in this illegal activity,” he told.
However, the said stern action seems to have done little to stop aerial firing in the city. Jinnah Hospital’s police surgeon and medico-legal officer Dr Samia Tariq, believes that she’s only seen a rise in cases of casualty and injuries from blind bullets in the past few years. “Most such incidents happen outside a wedding party, and these bullets can land on absolutely anyone. In the last four months, I have seen at least five such cases, which also included a little girl who was shot in the neck by a wayward bullet while the balcony of her own residence,” she told The Express Tribune, urging citizens to forsake aerial firing and adopt safer celebratory practices.