GUNS IN THE SHADOWS
• 7,000 firearms in circulation with lapsed permits • FLA to begin crackdown
More than 7,000 guns are currently in circulation for which the permits have lapsed, Jamaica’s firearms regulator has disclosed. The Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA) revealed, too, that 299 legally registered guns have been reported lost or stolen...
More than 7,000 guns are currently in circulation for which the permits have lapsed, Jamaica’s firearms regulator has disclosed.
The Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA) revealed, too, that 299 legally registered guns have been reported lost or stolen over the last five years.
Now, with the window closed on the latest gun amnesty, the FLA says all the permits will be revoked in a crackdown that could result in long prison sentences for delinquent licence holders under Jamaica’s new gun law – the Firearms, Prohibition, Restriction and Regulation Act, which took effect earlier this month.
“They could be lost or stolen from the owners or the persons could be dead. These are all possibilities. So, that’s why we consider them at risk,” the FLA explained to The Sunday Gleaner.
“We don’t know if the firearms are still in their possession; we don’t know if the ballistic signatures have changed or whether they (permit holders) have moved. So they are at risk at the moment.”
A more worrying concern for security expert Lieutenant Commander (Ret’d) George Overton is whether these weapons have “fallen into other hands”.
Jamaica recorded just under 13,000 murders over the last decade, 80 per cent of which involved the use of a firearm, police data show.
Up to November 16, the police recorded 1,363 murders this year, a 5.9 per cent increase when compared with the corresponding period last year.
“We worry about guns being smuggled into the country, but if people are just not renewing and losing their guns, that is a greater problem,” Overton, the operations manager for the Guardsman Group, told The Sunday Gleaner.
The police were unable to provide data on the number of licensed firearms that were reported lost or stolen and later linked to crimes.
“We don’t have any frequent incidents. Anecdotally, we may see one or two, but not anything significant,” said one law enforcement official.
Leader of opposition business in the House of Representatives, Phillip Paulwell, stirred public debate last week after the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions ruled that he should be charged for losing his licensed firearm through negligence.
Four other licensed firearm holders are to face similar charges, Senior Superintendent Marlon Nesbeth, who heads the St Andrew Central Police, also disclosed last week. Their names were not revealed.
Paulwell, a long-time lawmaker and former Cabinet minister, acknowledged that the pouch with his firearm was stolen from his vehicle in July after he made an emergency stop in Hope Pastures, St Andrew.
“My vehicle was locked. My firearm was in a pouch on the back seat where my security would normally be. I rushed in and out of the premises in five to 10 minutes and by the time I got back out, the window of my back seat was smashed and the bag was removed,” he told The Gleaner last Monday.
NEARLY 300 MISSING SINCE 2017
Paulwell’s gun is among 41 licensed firearms that were reported lost or stolen between January 1 and November 11 this year, according to FLA data.
Thirty-nine were reported lost or stolen last year; 32 in 2020; 62 in 2019; 59 in 2018 and 66 in 2017, Nasseta Stewart, corporate communications officer at the FLA, told The Sunday Gleaner on Friday.
For Overton, who is also chairman of the national security and justice committee of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, these figures are “disappointing, but not alarming”.
“We would really prefer to have a perfect world where we don’t lose any. But if you’re losing 60 a year, that’s not alarming. Bad, but not too bad,” he said.
The FLA corporate communications officer disclosed that 6,082 gun licence holders failed to renew their permits for the 2019-20 fiscal year.
That number climbed to 6,178 the following fiscal year and 7,189 up to November 11 this year, she disclosed.
“Where is the enforcement by the FLA?” Overton questioned.
“If there are that many people out there that have not renewed, then they should be going out there and seizing the guns because they have addresses … . They have everything for those people.”
The FLA explained, however, that the two-week amnesty, which ended yesterday, was to give persons with lapsed permits one last chance to turn in their weapons. And it appeared dozens of people grabbed the opportunity.
Seventy guns for which the permits had lapsed were handed over to the FLA under the amnesty up to late Thursday, the regulator confirmed. They contained a total of 878 bullets.
Among the 70 firearms surrendered to the FLA was a pistol for which the permit had lapsed since 1988 when the St Andrew-based owner died.
“His wife wanted to keep it for posterity,” a source disclosed.
Another pistol for which the licence expired 17 years ago was handed over on the first working day of the amnesty.
In a new get-tough approach, the FLA said revocation notices are being prepared and will be dispatched to the more than 7,000 delinquent gun permit owners, giving them three days to turn in their weapons.
“If the licence is revoked and you fail to turn it over, it is an offence. Failure to surrender the weapons could result in five years imprisonment or [a fine of] $5 million,” the regulator said, citing provisions in the law.
“Once the person is served with the notice of revocation and they fail or refuse to surrender the firearm within the time stipulated, the person can be arrested by the police and charged.”
The full list of delinquents will be turned over to the police.
The FLA said it is also partnering with the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency to ensure that delinquent gun permit holders do not enter or leave the island without giving account for their weapon.
There are currently approximately 45,000 licensed firearm holders across the island.