Gun dealer sounds alarm over new US policy on gun export

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Attorney Nyree Alfonso – ROGER JACOB

ATTORNEY Nyree Alfonso, director of one of the largest firearm dealerships in TT, has sounded alarm bells over the local impact of a new US policy which imposes restrictions on firearm exports to curb US-made civilian guns in crimes abroad.

The new regulations will now require experts to better vet their customers and tighten sales to 36 countries deemed “high-risk” for illicit diversion of semi-automatic firearms. Trinidad and Tobago is one of these 36 countries which would be affected.

The regulations took effect on May 30, and the US Department of Commerce said it would accept public comments on the rule until July 1.

Alfonso shared her views on the policy as a director of a firearm dealership, which, she said, was affected as its stock of ammunition was depleted. Alfonso is a director of the Chaguanas-based Firearms Training Institute which is run by her husband, Towfeek Ali.

She said there is little or no hunting ammunition in TT and whatever ammunition has left “will run out.”

“We are one of the largest suppliers to security agencies and training associations. There is an absolute certainty that those stocks will become depleted and then, only the bandits will have ammunition.”

Ali and his dealership have been embroiled in litigation over the issuance of import permits. However, Alfonso said what they were not aware of was the pause on firearm exports from the US since October 2023.

She said it was only when the new policy was announced in May, that they learned of the pause.

In October 2023, the Commerce Department issued a pause on most firearm exports from the US. On April 26, the department said it will lift the pause from May 30 when the new restrictions take effect.

The rule imposes restrictions on exports to non-governmental users in the 36 countries where the US State Department has determined they are at high risk of diversions or misuse.

The department will apply a “presumption of denial for commercial transactions” in those countries.

Alfonso said she has sought counsel from colleagues in Washington on the impact the policy would have on local dealers.

She said it was clear that the Government sought the assistance of the Biden Administration to address the active diversion of arms and ammunition “legally imported” into TT.

“The country is awash with illegal guns and ammunition. Where is the evidence that legal imports of arms and ammunition are being ‘diverted’ into the hands of such criminals?”

“Why is the focus on the legal firearm dealers?”

Alfonso referred to an April 26, 2023, report by Caricom’s Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS) and Small Arms Survey which said the Caribbean had the “lowest” legal firearm ownership rates in the world.

“If we have the lowest ownership in the world, what is the ill we are trying to cure?”

“The protective services know the sources of illegal arms and ammunition flooding into the country but choose to focus on the holders of legal firearms and ammunition and the dealers who sell to them.”

The IMPACS study also said Caricom gun laws and regulations were highly restrictive by global standards and throughout the region, only specific kinds of firearms can be registered.

“I suppose it has escaped the attention of the powers that be that certain types of firearms (on the rare occasions when they are recovered) cannot be imported, much less sold, by legal firearm dealers because of existing legislative prohibitions.”

Alfonso questioned, “Did our esteemed leaders think their position through? How are holders of legal firearms going to purchase ammunition to train and keep for their use when import applications to American suppliers and manufacturers will now be met with a policy position by which such applications will viewed through the prism of a presumption that the application will be denied

“What is the impact on our desire to attract foreign investment of finding ourselves, at the request of the Government, on a list of countries plagued by corruption, instability and unable to control the legal import of firearms and ammunition, something which has been accomplished for many decades?

“It is time to take stock of where we are going as a country before it is too late.”

The countries named by the Commerce Department are Bahamas, Bangladesh, Belize, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Chad, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Indonesia, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Malaysia, Mali, Mozambique, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Tajikistan, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, Vietnam, and Yemen.