One shot for the right to bear arms

With the football world cup competition going on, it’s hard to find any subject of news in a week that will be as compelling as the events that are happening on the football pitch.

With the football world cup competition going on, it’s hard to find any subject of news in a week that will be as compelling as the events that are happening on the football pitch.

I do not think that anything I may write about in subsequent paragraphs will invoke the kind of emotion that followed the shock of Brazil’s exit at the hands of the Netherlands, the African heartbreak at Ghana’s failure to successfully convert a last gasp spot kick or Germany’s ruthless demolition of Diego Maradona’s vaunted Argentine squad.

Even the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, took time off to fly down to South Africa and watch her nation do battle on the pitch.

This being the day after Rwanda’s 16th anniversary of liberation, the news out of the Supreme Court of the United States of America should be of some interest and curiosity.

Every 4th of July this nation marks the day when the forces of genocide, ethnic hatred and darkness were roundly defeated by the brave men and women of the Rwandan Patriotic Army.

I like to think that the sub-text to so great a feat should be that the liberation provided and guaranteed Rwandans with equal rights as provided by their constitution and the various international treaties that the nation has entered into on their behalf as well as the means and institutions to address any citizen’s grievances should theyfeel that their rights have been violated.

As shown by the ruling of the Supreme Court in the case McDonald v Chicago, rights while guaranteed to citizens may often be interpreted differently by the authorities who are supposed to uphold them.

The case revolved around the wording of the 2nd Amendment to the American Constitution that states, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed”.

The city of Chicago took the view that this right did not extend to handguns, Mr. Otis McDonald and others disagreed. When the matter was finally before the Supreme Court, Mr. McDonald and his co-plaintiffs were vindicated as the Supreme Court deemed the city’s ordinances on handguns to be unconstitutional and that the second amendment was fully applicable at every level of governance and not only on the Federal level.

The debate on the right to bear arms will doubtless continue on issues like bans on assault weapons or whether guns can be carried in public places but this represented a victory for the pro-gun lobby.

In Rwanda, the right to bear arms is not guaranteed in our constitution and is not likely to become a question that will tax the minds of our legislators and judges. Perhaps in the year 2020 when as a middle-income country, some in the middle class may feel the need to protect themselves with firearms or desire to engage in recreational activities and demand that the issue be revisited.

For now, we could perhaps take lessons on how the constitutionally guaranteed rights are interpreted and how any citizen may challenge any administrative act that they believe to infringe on such rights.

Sixteen years after liberation with a seven-year old constitution, tremendous progress has already made but the debate on interpretation or even amendments to the constitution is one that rarely makes it to the public conscience.

As a parting shot [pun intended], let us uphold the liberties guaranteed to us, fight for enlarging their scope wherever possible and learn not to wind our emotions to tightly around African soccer teams. Have a great week.

Oscar Kabbatende is a lawyer

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