The controversial position taken by President David Granger on guns and their relation to crime in Guyana needs to be tested closely, as the evidence for such is “slim or anecdotal”.
This was the view of former House Speaker Ralph Ramkarran Sunday on his online blog ‘Conversation Tree’, as he examined comments made by President Granger recently about the issuance of gun licences to private citizens and its correlation to the rise in criminal activities in Guyana.
Recently, on his televised programme ‘The Public Interest’, Mr Granger said his Administration would be working towards seeing fewer guns on the streets by scaling down the number of licences issued to private individuals. He indicated that that may be the reason why so many weapons were in the hands of criminals.
“We would like to see fewer weapons in the hands of private citizens; it is my personal view that weapons should be used by law enforcement agencies – the Guyana Police Force and the Guyana Defence Force…We will try to detect people coming into the country with illegal firearms… so there is a plethora of measures, which will be implemented and our whole policy is aimed at getting guns off the streets and leaving guns in the hands of the Police and the Army,” the Head of State said. He noted that some firearm holders rent their weapons to criminals.
But Ramkarran on his blog said there were no statistics or other evidence publicly available to link lawful gun ownership to the high level of gun crimes. He said by the end of the 1980s, after strong Police action against ‘kick down the door bandits”, criminals increasingly resorted to the use of firearms. He noted that in 1992, the newly-elected People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government increased the issuance of firearm licences, which had been previously denied to business people and farmers.
He said a few years ago all owners of firearms were required to submit their firearms when renewing licences.
“The objective was to acquire spent shells by firing the guns in water so that a database could be built of spent shells of all firearms, which are legally owned. That database is presumably in existence.” He further asked, “If, as the Government argues, private owners are renting their firearms to criminals, how come no one has been charged? This indicates that the evidence against private gun owners is slim or anecdotal.”
According to Ramkarran, the increase in gun crimes has also been linked to the increase in drug trafficking from the 1980s.
He said for several years, Government and security officials have attributed the prevalence of not only illegal guns and gun crimes, but also illegal drugs to Guyana’s porous borders. The implied argument was that it was impossible to stop the flow of arms across our borders because of the impossibility of monitoring them. According to him, this was the explanation, some would say excuse, for the inability of the authorities to reduce the incidence of gun crimes and drug trafficking.
“There are many initiatives which have been taken to reduce crime. These range from increased cooperation between the Governments of Guyana and the US in relation to drug trafficking, cooperation between the Governments of Guyana and the UK on security issues, efforts to build relations between the Police and communities, enhanced capacity of the CID, increased recruitment and training, and others. These have resulted in an overall reduction of crime. But the intractable problem of crimes involving the use of a gun continues to be deeply troubling to Guyanese in Guyana and overseas,” the former Speaker wrote.
He said Government and security officials face a situation that had no single, dominant cause and required wide-ranging solutions. These, he said, range from secure borders, better Policing, granting of gun licences only to those who are fully qualified, reduced drug trafficking, more stringent bail conditions and many more. He said, however, that the attempt to unduly restrict the issue of firearm licences ran the risk of returning Guyana to the days when only the politically favoured were granted licences.
“There are other issues, already in the public domain, that need to be addressed. Recently, both the Commissioner of Police and the Minister of Public Security called for bail to be refused to persons accused of gun crimes because while they are on bail, they commit more gun crimes. This has been a sore point for decades and the only answer is legislation.”
He said the extent of the power of Magistrates to imprison persons convicted of gun crimes, or any indictable offence tried summarily, was limited. Also, a simple amendment to the relevant law would enable a magistrate to refer such persons to be sentenced by the High Court, as if the person were convicted on indictment, if the Magistrate considered it necessary, either on his or her motion or at the request of the prosecution. (Guyana Times)