Hinds: 18 of 108 legal guns in ‘matters of interest’ recovered by police

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

File photo: National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds.

National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds said of 108 legal firearms involved in matters which attracted police attention, 18 have been recovered by the police. He said of these, there had been seven shootings, including four murders and three suicides, while others had been used in robberies.

Hinds was responding to questions during a joint select committee meeting on national security addressing the issue of firearms and gun violence.

He said these firearms were not owned by security firms or law-enforcement personnel, but the general population. He said the matters involving the 108 firearms happened within recent months, although he said later the incidents happened between 2017 and 2021.

“What I got was the raw data, where 108 weapons would have come to the attention of the police, some by virtue of being lost, and people have been charged for negligently losing them, which is a criminal offense under the Firearms Act. Some were stolen, which is a criminal offence and, since I spoke on Tuesday, I got further information there were seven shootings with firearms issued to Firearm Users’ Licence (FUL) holders, four of them murders and three suicides, in the context of murder/suicide. There have been cases where people have made them available to criminals for criminal activity, and some of these people have been arrested.

“Some people have been negligent in their management of their firearms. We’ve seen people leaving firearms in cars to go shopping, and the criminals stealing them. In other cases people have not secured them properly at home, and people have even been showing off or gallerying with them.”

He noted there was a correlation between the increase of FULs and this increase of legal firearms being used in matters of concern.

“The records available show an exponential increase in the issuance of FULs and firearms in the context of what the law calls variations. People would get a licence and then apply for a variation. The recent audit showed the concept of variation may have been abused because the capacity for determining the safety, security and capacity to properly manage, and the need for additional firearm(s), was not properly exercised, so now you have many citizens out there with anywhere from nine to 35 guns. There is also a tremendous amount of ammunition around as shown by a recent shooting where 65 shell casings were found. Millions of rounds of ammunition were authorised to be brought in by firearms dealers.”

He said the monitoring mechanism for legal firearms needed to be strengthened. He said the police were bound to make regular visits to security firms, firearms dealers, and gunsmiths to match police records with those of the business. He said FUL holders were required to take their firearms to a station yearly to be checked, and the police had the right to investigate their homes or businesses to see that the firearms were being secured properly. He said he was not sure those methods have been consistently followed.

Hinds said another issue was licences were issued for the importation of component parts, which could make it difficult to trace ballistics. He said an audit was taking place in this regard. He said he did not think auditing FUL holders more frequently was possible presently.

Hinds said there had been an unwritten restrictive policy with respect to the issuing of legal firearms, and FULs were only supposed to be used if there was a demonstrable need, with robust processes taking place before one was issued. He said the conduct of the former police commissioner ran contrary to this restrictive policy, and the figures for grant of FULs were very small compared to the three years when he was in office.

Opposition Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial questioned whether the matters in which the firearms were used were non-violent. She questioned whether the exponential use of legal firearms being used had a corresponding use of people defending themselves because they were under attack.

Hinds said the police service was focused on the fact that the society was increasingly violent.

He said a policy was being drafted with respect to firearms and the authority of the police commissioner.