ALL legal firearm owners will soon have to take annual mandatory retraining courses to prevent the negligent discharge of their weapons, says acting Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith.
In a statement on Friday, Griffith said his comments were not in reference to a recent spate of incidents in whichfirearm holders – including Prison Commissioner Dennis Pulchan and the president of the Pharmacy Board, Andrew Rahaman – have accidentally shot themselves. The retraining, he said, is aimed at seeking to minimise "the possibility of negligent discharge and weapons being stolen."
Griffith said in recent times there have been reports of firearm holders taking their guns around with them on occasions where loss or theft is possible. He advised they should be kept in a safe or left at a police station, if the holder is going for a jog, to the beach or intends to drink alcohol.
To avoid a gun possibly going off accidentally, Griffith said it should
not have a round of ammunition
in the chamber and only be cocked when drawn from its holster in preparation to be fired or cleared.
He said holders of guns need to remind themselves of the proper way of handling a weapon taught to them during training and always to point it in a safe direction, whether loaded or unloaded.
In an effort to prevent further negligent discharges, Griffith said he intends to institute another stipulation for people seeking guns – mandatory annual refresher/retraining courses, to be undertaken by all licensed holders, at approved firearm training ranges. This would include, but would not be limited to: target practice; safe weapon handling drills; and weapon cleaning and maintenance.
Under Griffith's three-year tenure as CoP, the process of obtaining guns was revamped, He said 5,000 licences were approved. Each firearm holder can apply for multiple weapons, and Griffith told Sunday Newsday he had approved over 100 licences for civilians to buy semi-automatic assault rifles, which carry 5.56 and 7.62 rounds of ammunition. Such weapons are primarily used by the military and tactical units of the police.
In the past, approximately 400 weapons have been issued annually by other CoPs. Griffith said there are currently 50,000 applicants. Under Griffith's tenure, the number of gun dealers and shooting ranges approved by him have also exponentially increased.
But stakeholders in the national security arena have raised concerns about the type of weapons in the hands of civilians and questioned whether there have been any possible breaches of the Firearms Act, which prohibits a civilian from owning a weapon designed so that it can become an automatic gun.
In a recent case, the head of the legal unit of the police Christian Chandler was stopped by the Coast Guard and the Coastal and Riverine Unit on his pleasure boat with a semi-automatic rifle carrying armour-piercing 5.56 rounds of ammunition.
Chandler, who is now on leave pending the outcome of a criminal investigation arising out of the August 5 incident, is also a licensed firearms dealer.
Griffith told Newsday that semi-automatic weapons have only been issued to people who engage in the sport of target shooting.
In his release on Friday, he reiterated that of the 5,000 licences issued under his hand, not one of the successful applicants had used their weapon to commit a crime or lost the weapon, and said the process in Trinidad and Tobago was far more stringent than in the US.
He said under his tenure investigative and compliance units were created to work alongside the Firearms Permit Unit to ensure only suitable and qualified applicants were approved.