In Lebanon, it is common to fire celebratory gunshots to mark a wedding, a baptism or even a graduation. But, each year, dozens of people are killed by stray bullets. In a bid to lay this tradition to rest, a Lebanese NGO recently launched a campaign that uses humour to raise awareness about the dangers of this practice. The campaign consists of a fake website that offers couples the opportunity to hire a professional gunman for their wedding ceremonies.
Launched in late 2017 by the NGO Permanent Peace Movement, the website Eleguns [a play on the words “gun” and “elegance”] offers a catalog of wedding shooters ranging from Emad (age 27, armed with a ponytail and a kalashnikov perched jauntily on his shoulder) to Jad (age 34, sporting sunglasses and a M4 Carbine rifle) to Hala (who, at age 31, is every inch the Bond girl armed with a discrete Glock 19 pistol).
Prices vary depending on not just the shooter, but the weapon and the number of shots you want fired. For example, it’ll cost you $300 [Editor’s note: about 245 euros] for 200 bullets for an AK-47.
The site goes so far as to let you choose your shooter’s outfit-- the choice between a shooter clad in a suit and tie or a traditional Lebanese ensemble is yours and yours alone.
However, when you scroll to the bottom of the page, you don’t get a summary of your purchases but an invitation from the Permanent Peace Movement asking you to sign a pact that you will, in reality, never use celebratory gunfire to mark your special day.
>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS: Celebratory gunfire at wedding ends in bloodshed
"When a shooter is arrested, he is usually quickly released after the intervention of a cousin in the police force or a friend in the army”
Fadi Abi Allam, the president of the Permanent Peace Movement, is one of the founders of the project.
In November 2017, we set up a fake Eleguns stand at a wedding show in Beirut. We wanted to see how people would react. To our surprise, most people thought that we were serious!
People tend to think that celebratory gunfire just happens in rural regions. But, there we were in central Beirut, and couples were making inquiries about the price of each performer.
However, when we explained to them that they had been tricked, most of the couples agreed to sign a pact promising to not use firearms during their ceremony. In total, we got about 1,500 couples to sign.
Celebratory gunfire is part of a deeply entrenched tradition in our society. We try to reach out to community leaders who have a lot of influence and who might be able to change things. In the past few months, we’ve visited clan chiefs, imams and priests to ask them to sign the document and to start raising awareness in their communities.
A 1959 Lebanese law fines shooters 500,000 Lebanese pounds [Editor’s note: Equivalent to 30 euro cents] and two weeks in prison. This law was amended in 2017, making it tougher. The fine was raised to 5.4 million Lebanese pounds and the prison sentence was extended to six months. But the real problem is that this law is rarely applied. Even when a shooter is arrested, he is generally rapidly released with the help of a cousin who is a police officer or a friend in the army. It takes time to change hearts and minds.
According to the Permanent Peace Movement, 90 people were killed by stray bullets in 2017. Lebanon has been rife with light weapons and small arms since the civil war (1975-1990), which resulted in 150,000 deaths.