Guns, ammo chokepoint

Police Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher - FILE PHOTO/ROGER JACOB
Police Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher - FILE PHOTO/ROGER JACOB

On Wednesday, Justice Kevin Ramcharan gave the Police Commissioner 28 days to decide on firearms dealer Towfeek Ali’s 2022 applications to import guns and ammunition.

It’s a delicate matter, but one that must be guided by law and established procedure.

Mr Ali, the owner of the Firearms Training Institute in Chaguanas, sells ammunition by the millions of rounds and firearms by the thousands of units.

In the light of the Stanley John report alleging illegal activity in the granting of firearms licences and distribution of guns and ammunition, the CoP is understandably cautious about opening a spigot that will pour more guns and ammunition into a country already awash with these tools of murder.

Justice John described the situation in his report as "a thriving, well-oiled, white-collar criminal enterprise being conducted under the nose of the Commissioner of Police."

Firearms dealers then found themselves under increased scrutiny.

Brent Thomas was arrested in September 2022 and again in Barbados in October 2022, in circumstances that were sketchy at best. The state would later admit the Barbados arrest was unlawful.

Mr Ali counts among his clients not just private gun owners, but the Defence Force, Police Service, security companies and the praedial larceny unit of the Agriculture Ministry.

In 2022, Mr Ali applied to import 3.6 million rounds of ammunition for resale, including 60,000 rounds of military-grade bullets.

Justice John’s report found discrepancies in the dispensation of 57 million rounds of ammunition imported in 2020 and poor data reporting from dealers, among other issues.

But refusing permission to import isn’t an answer.

What’s needed is a revamp in the reporting and accounting processes for legally imported guns and ammunition, which should have been the status quo, rather than a measure yet to be implemented.

An audit into the procedures for granting firearm user’s licences was successfully stymied by former CoP Gary Griffith, who blocked the report from being laid in Parliament. Mr Griffith argued that the audit, which followed the John report, overreached its scope in making potentially detrimental statements.

But after finding $350,000 worth of arms and ammunition at the Port of Port of Spain, imported as personal effects, in July, and, in August, guns 3D-printed from online plans, greater efforts to exercise control over weapons imported legally must be a concern of the Police Commissioner.

The arms import business is a delicately woven tapestry involving the nation’s security forces, private security firms, licensed firearms users and shooting enthusiasts.

All these stakeholders must collaborate to identify and unravel any illicit threads that are believed to have insinuated themselves into the business. TT cannot be expected to accept an official channel through which it may be possible for criminals to arm themselves.


"Guns, ammo chokepoint"

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