The Hunters Association of Trinidad and Tobago and other regional hunting groups says there is a chronic shortage of ammunition and cartridges for hunting ahead of the opening of the hunting season.
The hunting season starts on Sunday but the majority of hunters, the association said, will have no ammunition because of a shortage of supply from licenced firearm dealers.
Hasan Ali, president of the Nariva Mayaro Hunters Group, told Newsday the reasons for the shortages given by one dealer have been vague, although he hopes the company will restart sales within two weeks.
Newsday understands the Commissioner of Police Erla Harewood-Christopher, is responsible for approving import permits for ammunition for private firms. A wide-scale audit into the sale of legal firearms and ammunition is yet to be completed.
Although the TT Police Service is independent of the government, several groups and an arms specialist, who spoke with Newsday, said they believe the issue of a shortage of ammunition supply to be politically influenced.
“What it looks like to us is a spite game from the government,” Ali said.
The shortage has already cost many hunters thousands in lost revenue over the last season.
“In my eyes, what the government really doing is they making more (room) for the black market,” said Ali.
Currently, ammunition for licensed guns can only be purchased from Amalgamated Security Services, since no other suppliers have received approval to import and sell ammunition in recent months, Ali said.
Hunters typically use 12 and 16-gauge shotgun cartridges for hunting. Along with farmers, hunters also use 9mm ammunition for personal protection.
Additionally, Ali said, the shortage will only bolster the illegal trade of arms and ammunition and prove counterproductive in any meaningful fight against crime
“Just like we have all this crime going on in the country, what do you think will happen? It’s an encouragement now to actually (increase) the crime rate. Because when (ammunition) starts to come in now, ent they will fall into the wrong hands?”
He suggested the focus on licensed firearms to commit crimes is misplaced.
“If a man uses a licensed firearm against himself or his family, you will hear about that and you will hear a big noise because, at the end of the day, they trying to cut down on the private sector (arms and ammunition trade). They will stress on this one person or these two people. But you don’t hear about it much because it doesn’t happen often.
“But,” he added, “with these random shootings and where they get their firearms – you don’t hear anything about that, you know. But I guarantee you going to hear about the licensed firearm.
The government and the police service, he said, should rather focus their focus on the increasingly frequent use of police and TT Defence Force ammunition and uniforms in the commission of crimes.
He said he firmly believes the government is retaliating to threats of legal action by firearm dealers, as well as individual hunters and groups related to a ban on wild duck hunting and other matters.
Newsday spoke with Paul-Daniel Nahous, a counter-terror instructor and arms specialist, who said he agreed with the hunters’ groups that the lack of approvals for dealers’ licenses appears to be a matter of politics. Nahous, who is aligned with Gary Griffith's National Transformation Alliance and worked as an advisor to Griffith when he was commissioner of police, said a dealer cannot import ammunition with only a license but requires approval for every purchase and import.
Every unit of ammunition is accounted for by the private importers and retailers, he said.
“It’s entirely political. What the PM has done is use that number (of legal ammunition being imported) to scare people.”
He was referring to recent comments made by the PM, in which he describes legally imported guns and ammunition reaching the hands of criminals as “frightening.”
Nahous countered this, saying the vast majority of violent crime is perpetrated by criminals with illegal firearms. He also concurred with the association’s concerns that the bullets found on crime scenes belonging to the protective services are greater cause for concern than legally imported firearms.
Nahous, an honorary game warden, also expressed concern about the lack of suitable ammunition for hunters to use. Many hunters have and will continue to use less powerful guns and ammo to hunt large game, which results in prolonged suffering of the animals.