Gun safety at hand after boy wounded

A family tragedy probably caused by irresponsible gunfire should make us all stop and think.

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The father of Saeed Rashid Al Khateri saw his son shot in front of him. During the recent Eid celebrations in the Suwan area of Ras Al Khaimah, the 5-year old was struck seemingly out of the blue. After the boy was transferred to Rashid Hospital in Dubai, doctors discovered a bullet lodged in his spine and Saeed may be permanently paralysed.

No one could imagine such a tragedy as the Khateri family celebrated the holiday. Initial reports indicated this was a totally unintended - and unnecessary - accident, yet the by-product of deeply irresponsible behaviour. Police at first concluded that Saeed was wounded by gunfire, after a family in the same town, celebrating relatives returning from the Haj, shot off firearms into the air. Authorities cautioned yesterday that the incident was still being investigated, but it is doubtless a wake-up call about gun safety.

The speculation that Saeed might have been the victim of celebratory gunfire is all the more poignant after a tragedy in eastern Saudi Arabia last week, when 23 people were electrocuted after revellers shot down power lines. One can only imagine the heart-break of a family that turns from celebration to mourning in the space of a few minutes.

Gun safety in general is an important topic, and in a society where firearms are part of the culture, everyone who comes in contact with them must receive a basic level of training. But celebratory gunfire is a special case, not caused by ignorance, but by callous disregard of the welfare of other people.

In no way is the phenomenon limited to the Arabian peninsula. Jordan is particularly well known for rowdy celebrations involving automatic weapons fired into the air. The habit hasn't been curbed despite regular reports of deaths and injuries. In the United States, another society that is saturated with firearms, every New Year and Fourth of July is marked by useless, unnecessary tragedies.

These accidents surely have lessons for us. Firing off weapons at parties might be considered to be a tradition - if so, it has no place in modern-day society. Although the practice is illegal, it is still relatively common in the Northern Emirates. People who use firearms so irresponsibly must understand that they endanger children like Saeed, and be held responsible accordingly.