ON WEDNESDAY, chairman of Parliament’s committee on national security, Fitzgerald Hinds, revealed there are some 8,154 illegal firearms circulating in Trinidad and Tobago, according to estimates by the Strategic Services Agency. Yet, despite the scale of the problem, little has been done to implement key recommendations made by the committee when it comes to gun control. What a sorry state.
The figure of 8,154, despite its precision, is by nature an estimate. That does not make it any less alarming. In fact, other sources suggest the figure might be conservative. For instance, the University of Sydney’s Small Arms Survey puts Trinidad and Tobago’s total at 32,420 as of 2017 but notes the uncertainty surrounding firearms data.
What’s clear, though, is about 80 per cent of all murders are committed using guns. Though police have intensified efforts to recover these weapons, the 1,000 guns that are net by police operations per year would seem a drop in the bucket. And that bucket is overspilling.
But if we know the number of guns, why don’t we know where they are and how to get rid of them? One answer might be the fact that gun tallies rely on the systematic estimation of a broad spectrum of sources, making approximation unavoidable, especially given the way guns are concealed. Still, it’s hard to reconcile the knowledge of such a large quantum with failure to take decisive action.
The most disturbing aspect of Wednesday’s committee hearing was the picture of lax implementation of committee recommendations made since 2017. Key fixes have yet to be done at the Port of Port of Spain, such as the boosting of CCTV coverage. Why? What are the reasons for the slow pace of reform? Are recommendations by Parliament simply being ignored? Or have certain conditions created challenges to implementation?
It’s little use if the police are going all out to get guns off the streets when the same guns are coming right back in through our ports. Be that as it may, the matter goes beyond conditions at our ports. What is being done to detect and eradicate the stock of guns already here on our soil?
In this regard, attention should turn to conditions at the Forensic Science Centre where most seized materials are held. When it comes to firearms, there is also some suggestion that Special Branch has a role to play. Whatever the custody chain, it is hoped guns are being destroyed and not being recirculated.
Things may not be as bad here as they are in Jamaica, where there were 200,085 illicit guns in 2017, according to the Small Arms Survey. But we need to ensure we never get there.