Opposition parties- A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance For Change (AFC)- on Tuesday agreed that licensed guns in the hands of unsuitable persons should taken away but they differ on the method.
APNU believes that if government stops tinkering with the licensing process and leave it in the hands of the Guyana Police Force (GPF), guns from unsuitable persons can be pulled off the streets when those persons breach the law.
“Until they violate some terms of their licence you have to allow them to keep their firearm,” says Shadow Home Affairs Minister Winston Felix, adding that an investigation has to be done by the police to establish “cause” such as an illegal act or breach of other conditions.
He dismisses suggestions that government should recall all licensed firearms and re-assess persons before re-issuing or revoking licenses. “To what effect? To do what? I see no reason for it because it is a minor component. The government must re-adjust their behaviour. It is their behaviour which is complicating the system and corrupting it so you can’t suffer the bulk of people where people could hardly get proper protection for their properties and themselves,” he says.
Felix says Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee’s desire for his ministry to have a say in the renewal of licences will add to an already cumbersome bureaucratic burden on citizens. ‘The ministry wants to insert itself for political reasons. That’s all I can see to it,” he said.
Felix is not entirely opposed to Rohee’s touted review of the law. At the same time, he says the law adequately guards against licenses being granted to persons who are ineligible.
The Shadow Home Affairs Minister flays government for directly inserting itself in the licensing process through the establishment of a Firearms Licensing Advisory Board, saying that amounts to “political control” of the system. He contends that since the board has been established, a number of persons who will not normally be licensed have been given the green light to bear arms.
“What the government needs to do is let the act work. The police have a role to investigate and upon recommendation, approve or refuse the grant of a firearm license,” says Felix, a former Police Commissioner. He acknowledges that there have been allegations of corruption but never has there been a person, who had been in illegal possession of a firearm, being “rewarded” with licences along with being in possession of an unlicensed gun. That was the case of the man who went berserk on Middle Street, Georgetown earlier this month, killing four persons including two policemen who had responded to a report of gunshots at the scene.
According to Felix, if the Firearm Act is properly enforced and applied, the rush to amend the Act will not arise.
However, the AFC prefers all gun licenses to be reviewed under a revamped law that provides for greater civilian oversight and mandatory psychological assessments. “A re-evaluation of all those gun licences given to those people by putting in the process-civilian oversight and psychological evaluation-Everyone of them should be reviewed and monitored so we start with a clean slate,” he told Demerara Waves Online News.
He wants psychological evaluation to be made mandatory and for gun licensees to be constantly reviewed to keep track of their temperament and mental stability.
The knowledge of the temperament of gun license applicants, he says, will be known more fully by Divisional Commanders with assistance from local civilian oversight.
He “wholly supports” Rohee’s call for a long overdue review of the Firearms Act. At the same time, he does not believe that the Home Affairs Minister should be dealing directly with gun licences.
The law, he says, should specifically state that gun licences should be revoked if the owner lapses twice
Ramjattan agrees with Rohee that the renewal of gun licences should not be automatic but based on fairness through a combination of inputs from the community, civilian oversight, divisional commander and psychological evaluation.
There are an estimated 15,000 gun licenses.