By: José Niño

The war-torn nation of Iraq is making a bold move in reforming its gun laws.

Iraq recently loosened its gun laws to allow for the licensed carry and ownership of handguns. Previously, guns in Iraq were only sold for hunting and sporting purposes. But now the Iraqi government has marginally expanded gun rights for individuals who want to own and carry handguns.

A report from Reuters breaks down what Iraq’s new gun laws entail:

“The authorities have since been battling to curb illegal weapon sales and the government has stepped up efforts to control gun ownership through regulation.

The latest initiative came into force this summer and allows citizens to own and carry handguns, semi-automatic rifles and other assault weapons after obtaining official authorization and an identity card that also details the individual’s weapons.”

These new laws are a big step in the right direction Iraq. It’s no secret the Iraq War has brought about mixed results. The Middle East is a complete mess and filled with non-stop political conflict. Iraq is one of the most lurid examples of this instability.

Since the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, the illegal weapons trade has boomed. Iraqis looted police stations and military bases and sold firearms in the streets to residents who would use them to defend themselves. At certain points, the country was essentially lawless, and it made sense for Iraqis to arm themselves, even if it meant turning to the black market.

Any effort to advance gun rights is a welcome development in this troubled country. The threats of Islamist terrorist organizations like Daesh, insurgent groups, and Iraq’s politically ambitious neighbor Iran are very real. Allowing law-abiding Iraqis to defend themselves would greatly help these people, who now live in what is essentially a war zone.

Liberalizing Iraq’s gun laws is a sensible bottom-up strategy to rebuild the nation’s security, instead of relying on foreign aid or its corrupt military forces. What Iraq faces is all too common in many Third World countries, places that do not have the luxuries of efficient justice systems or competent law enforcement services to bring about any semblance of order.

A tribal sheikh, Haider al Suhair, correctly summarized the potential benefits of expanded gun ownership in Iraq: “The criminal who plans to attack others will understand that he will pay a heavy price.” Gun store owner Hamza Maher chimed in as well, stating that the “reason for buying is self-defense, and it’s safer for citizens to buy a weapon from an authorized store instead of from an unknown source.”

Iraq is making the right call in shifting towards more gun ownership, however, leaders should continue working hard to phase out the government authorization and identity card requirements in its new gun reforms. Regulations are ineffective in battling crime and only create another bureaucratic hurdle for law-abiding citizens to jump through. Nevertheless, in politics, you take what you can get.

As long as Iraqi politicians recognize the benefits of expanding gun rights, this recent move can at least serve as a springboard for much bigger reforms further down the line. Americans take for granted the level of gun rights they have compared to other countries. In most countries, gun ownership is outright banned or heavily restricted to a select group of the populace.

For an Iraqi people who have faced so much instability over the past 20 years, pro-gun policies are a God-send. Let’s hope the rest of this troubled region follows suit and empowers their citizens by allowing them to exercise their right to self-defense.

José Niño is a Venezuelan-American political activist based in Fort Collins, Colorado.