Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Men With Guns

Under normal circumstances, this story would have been all over Croatian media, giving our esteemed intellectuals and commentators another opportunity to take jabs at violent and decadent America and express pride for Croatia belonging to peace-loving European civilisation where such incidents don't happen.

But, by a macabre coincidence, yesterday city of Petrinja saw a very similar event. 37-year old Vlastimir Kihalić (Vlastimir Kihalic) killed shot and killed his 39-year old wife after brief row on the street. Fifteen minutes later he came to the apartment of his wife's friend, 40-year old Vesna Mokrović (Vesna Mokrovic), and killed her in front of her husband and children. 45 minutes later he was back on the street where he killed 39-year old Nada Kušan (Nada Kusan), another of her late wife's friends, this time in front of the victim's mother.

For an hour, police was at the state of alert, with road blocks, officers branding Kalashnikovs and helicopters in air. Citizens of Petrinja and nearby Sisak were spreading all kinds of rumours, mostly relating to Srdjan Mladjan, convicted serial killer who had killed a police inspector during a weekend prison furlough.

The drama ended when Kihalić came to police station, calmly gave his 7.62 mm TT pistol and surrendered. For duty policeman it was a familiar sight. Kihalić has joined police at the very beginning of 1991 war and remained in the force until 1998.

The motives for the murders weren't mystery, since they followed the all-too-familiar pattern of a husband who can't reconcile with his wife's filing for divorce. According to media reports, he made repeated threats towards her wife and her friends, whom he had blamed for the collapse of his marriage. And, just like in many similar cases, late wife had filled the police and social services files with all kinds of complaints.

But those details won't make Croatian public talk about the case. Another, more interesting things has surfaced after quick media investigation – Kihalić committed murders with a legally owned and registered pistol. Yet, he had been retired in 1998 because of being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The whole concept of gun control apparently failed in this case – Kihalić had the right to own a lethal weapon despite being officially certified as mentally unstable person.

Needless to say, judging by previous such occurrences, it is all but certain that the media commentators and politicians are again going to use this tragedy as an argument for even tougher gun control laws. With local elections nearby, HDZ might try to push speedy legislation putting extra layers of control or perhaps even banning guns to everyone but to those carrying them in the line of their work. It is all but certain that nobody in Sabor, especially from the pacifist pro-European and anti-violence "left centre" parties, would dare to oppose the move.

And it is all but certain that such measures, apart from increasing administrative paperwork and putting extra burden to notoriously inefficient Croatian judiciary, would have zero effect on the state of Croatian public safety.

By another macabre coincidence, on the very same day in Zagreb, two young men have robbed a luxury watch shop and netted 6 million HRK of loot – which represents a record in this century (there was one armed robbery netting 8 million HRK in 1990s). It is too early to speculate - especially considering that it is very unlikely that the robbers would ever be found – but something tells me that guns used weren't legally owned or registered.


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