After escaping kidnappers who chained him to a bed for 25 days, Mohammad Javed Afridi pressed Pakistani law enforcement for swift justice. The police offered him something else: temporary permits for four automatic assault rifles.
Since Afridi's ordeal ended in mid-October, police in his hometown of Peshawar, in northwestern Pakistan, haven't made an arrest in his case. They raided the kidnappers' hide-out, but the captors got away, a senior Peshawar police official says.
So the cops allowed Afridi to arm himself against future abductions. The 35-year-old journalist now carries an AK-47 to work and back home to his wife and five children. Relatives rotate duty as his bodyguards. If his car is again stopped by armed men on a dark road, Afridi vows to shoot first.
"I'm not going through that again," he said in an interview in northeastern Pakistan.
Guns have long been part of Pakistan's traditional culture, especially in the rugged northwestern part of the country. Handed down through generations, rifles have been used for hunting and for firing celebratory fusillades. Now, however, modern assault rifles and handguns have come into vogue among middle-class Pakistanis, and gun registration has jumped.
This proliferation reflects many urbanites' dwindling faith that the country's new civilian government can protect them. Over the past year, Pakistan has endured the assassination of popular political leader Benazir Bhutto, a spreading Islamist insurgency and the bombing of Islamabad's Marriott Hotel. November's deadly terror attacks in Mumbai, allegedly carried out by 10 Pakistani militants trained here, further frayed nerves.
But more than heightened terrorist threats, many Pakistanis fear the surge in violent kidnappings, extortions and robberies that target those who look like they might have money. The 11,758 murders recorded in the first 11 months of 2008 were the highest in Pakistan in at least a decade, say Islamabad police, who compile nationwide crime statistics.
"People buy weapons because they're insecure," said a senior Interior Ministry official. "No need denying it."
Arms licenses are issued by numerous Pakistani agencies. Local authorities and police hand out permits for weapons that can be used only within their states. The Interior Ministry licenses nonautomatic weapons that can be carried across borders between Pakistan's states. The prime minister's office gives clearance for automatic assault weapons that can be used throughout the country.
Firearm licenses issued by the Interior Ministry rose sharply in 2008. Licenses for 12-gauge pump-action shotguns, used by private security guards and also duck hunters, more than doubled over 2007, according to ministry figures compiled through year's end. Over the same period, the ministry granted 47 percent more licenses for 30-bore pistols and 53 percent more for 9mm handguns.