There is widespread ambivalence about how to loosen weapons from the public's not-always-responsible grip.

On the night that he was to die, Hassan Nahassi should have been safe.

It was October 20. A middle-age man turned Libyan rebel commander, Mr. Nahassi had returned home in the evening, leaving behind the front lines of Surt for a reprieve from the fighting. He wanted to rest with his wife and children.

Then came the news. Muatassim el-Qadhafi, a son of Col. Muammar el-Qadhafi, had been captured on the front that Mr. Nahassi had left only hours before.

Muatassim was loathed and feared. Word of his capture sent elation coursing through his enemy's ranks. Around Misurata, rebels began firing into the night sky, celebrating a milestone in the slow, inevitable dismembering of the Qadhafi clan.

At Mr. Nahassi's home, Sadiq, his 14-year-old son, asked if he might fire a burst. “Please father,” the boy recalled asking. “I need the rifle, the Kalash.”

Mr. Nahassi, his family said, had spent his career working in the city's sprawling steel works. Caution had been ingrained in his being. But on this night, sensing victory near, he relented.

He retrieved a rifle, took the boy to the front courtyard, inserted a magazine, chambered a round and set the weapon's selector lever on automatic. He handed the weapon to his son. “And I shot it into the air,” Sadiq said.

Sadiq's brother, Ali, 12, had been asleep inside. The gunfire woke him and drew him out. He asked if he might have a turn, too.

In the swift run of seconds that followed, the Nahassi family forever changed.

Ali was unfamiliar with a rifle's roar, or the way its muzzle, when as it fires, wants to rise. He gripped the weapon too lightly as he pulled its trigger back.

“With the first shot the barrel jolted and hit him behind his left ear,” Sadiq said. “He was dizzy and falling and my father stepped toward him.”

As Mr. Nahassi lunged, Ali spun. The rifle kept firing. Its muzzle swung through air, discharging bullets as it moved. One bullet passed through Sadiq's shoulder. Several more hit Mr. Nahassi in his abdomen and chest.

Shot by the son, the father fell. Within a half-hour, Hassan Nahassi was pronounced dead.

Many tales of sorrow

Libya this year has provided an unending stream of sorrowful tales. But what befell the Nahassi family served as more than another dreary vignette of a revolution's bloody toll. It framed the enduring perils and elusive solutions for a population that toppled its former ruler and took possession of his military arms, but now is unsure how to create security or order, or what to do with the guns.

Several weeks into its mourning, the Nahassi's family's reaction to the accident captures the widespread ambivalence in Libya about how to loosen weapons from the public's not-always-responsible grip.

Guns, many Libyans say, set them free. And with the future uncertain and memories of persecution fresh, almost no one is yet sure how to give the guns up, even as they acknowledge that much of their former ruler's arsenal would be better not loose.

Sadiq's cousin, Abdullah Kamal bin Hameda, 22, who through an accident of patricide has become one of the caretakers of the Nahassi home, put it this way: The adults have put the weapons out of the children's reach. They otherwise intend to keep them.

“It is difficult to put down the guns right now, because I do not know who is my enemy and who is my friend,” Mr. Hameda said. “When we will have a new government, and it is strong and we trust it, then we will give them the guns. But not now, not to the N.T.C.”

The N.T.C., or Transitional National Council, is Libya's interim government, which many Libyans have accepted as only the temporary authorities.

Mr. Hameda had been a microbiology student. He said he was eager to return to civilian life, and leave war behind. He also said he intended to maintain a small armoury at his home, where he has five automatic rifles claimed from the defeated Qadhafi forces, until he sees what comes next.

“My house is like an army base,” he said. Military firearms — the assault rifles and machine guns — are only part of it. In Misurata, as across Libya, many other devices of modern warfare have been spirited away into countless caches: hand grenades, mortar tubes, antiaircraft machine guns, heat-seeking missiles, antitank rockets and conventional munitions beyond measure, of almost every sort.

The last months of Mr. Nahassi's life provide a portrait of an entire class of Libyan men who were transformed by war. Until the uprising changed his trajectory, he was a neat and balding technocrat, a factory supervisor by training and experience. He was given to clean shaves and red ties.

As the city's population rose against the Qadhafi rule in February, he joined a local fighting cell and began to help reclaiming Misurata from his nation's own army.

And as the Qadhafi forces were pushed backward, splinter groups broke off and formed their own groups. Mr. Nahassi, accustomed to responsibility, became a commander, leading a militia of his own.

That brigade claimed more than 100 fighting men and a small fleet of armoured pickup trucks. They pursued the Qadhafi forces to the east, west and south. By then people could be forgiven if they did not quite recognise Mr. Nahassi's new look. Gone were the red ties and freshly shaved cheeks. He wore a bush hat, camouflage, and a long, gray beard. He had become, as Misurata called its fighters, one of the city's lions.

When he died in the last hours of the war, he left behind a life he had spent decades building, including Ali, his younger son, a pre-teen who, on a recent day, sat quietly in the corner of the front room of their home.

At the entrance to the courtyard, the marks of the bullets the boy had fired showed as cracks and divots on the door and cement walls.

Inside, Ali sat, wordless, bright-eyed but in grief, holding a cellphone with a screen that displayed an image of his father not long before he died.

Mr. Hameda led him away and then served green tea.

From what happened in this home, he said, he hoped Misurata, and Libya, had learned. Libya needed its guns, but it did not need this.

“The people now are more cautious,” he offered. “They do not shoot in the air like before. They learned from their mistakes.”

Asked when the weapons might go back into the armouries, he could only exhale loudly, and shrug.

“Not soon,” he said. “We are waiting to see what our government will be.” — New York Times News Service

Keywords: Libyan crisis

More In: Comment | Opinion