Hinds: Amendments to Firearms Act being considered

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds. – File photo courtesy Office of the Parliament

NATIONAL Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds has said his ministry and the Office of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs are exploring the possibility of amending the Firearms Act with respect to ensuring the integrity of the operations of licensed firearm dealers.

He was responding to a question from Independent Senator Dr Paul Richards in the Senate on April 29.

Hinds said according to information provided by Commissioner of Police (CoP) Erla Harewood-Christopher, firearm dealers’ licences were approved between 2018 and 2023.

These included three, two, six, zero, zero and zero in 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023 respectively.

“Together these represent an increase of 11 dealers between the period 2018-2020. Prior to this, there were 19 active firearm dealers providing that service across Trinidad and Tobago. Therefore during the period 2018-2023, we saw an increase of 57.8 per cent (in the number of new dealers’ licences being issued).”

Richards asked if there was proper oversight of these dealers with respect to their sales of firearms and ammunition to the public, “in the context of the criminality in the country, the levels of criminality in the country.”

Hinds replied, “We have evidence that adequate oversight had not been exerted in respect of firearm dealers.”

He gave senators an example.

“It is now in the public domain. The police are supposed to check on the books, the records of these dealers, to see what they bring in, what they sold and to whom, what quantities.

“In the one case that is now in the public domain, when the police pressed on one of the dealers, he sued the police in relation to relevant matters or related matters.”

The dealer, Hinds continued, “related that his book or books were lost for about three years.”

He said when the dealer was asked if he reported this to the police, the dealer said no.

“In that example alone, it is quite clear that the implication of the senator’s question is borne out. Sufficient oversight, professional and security considerations…absolutely no.”

Richards asked if there is any investigation into the overall, potential danger that has been posed “because of this inadequate oversight, due to the fact that one errant dealer could potentially, if no books had been kept for three years, easily have dispensed thousands of rounds of ammunition and weapons unbeknownst to the State of Trinidad and Tobago.”

Hinds said, “Based on information available to me, in the very matter, it may not have been that the books were not available. It may be that they were not produced and some kind of explanation of that, along that line, was given.”

He told senators, “What we saw in those years (2018-2020), in my view…the subject of three investigations by the State, one by the Police Service Commission and two others commissioned by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago.”

With respect to the latter two investigations, Hinds said, “Upon which a judge is on record as saying that it would have been a failure on the part of the Prime Minister and the Government not to have acted in the face of the information that those investigations yielded.”

He added, “These matters continue to be under investigation. I give you that assurance and in respect of breaches of the law. I am confident. I am hopeful even, that the answers will be provided and the right conclusions and evolutions will be arrived at.”

Richards asked if there was any truth to reports in the public domain about shortcomings in the oversight of firearm dealers’ dispensation of firearms to members of the public, resulting in thousands of rounds of ammunition being unaccounted for.

Hinds replied, “When the report that was commissioned by the PSC was issued by retired Justice of Appeal Stanley John, he saw the wisdom in making a sealed copy addressed to the office of the honourable Prime Minister as chairman of the National Security Council. He made that available to the PSC, suggesting that it be sent to the Prime Minister in that capacity (NSC chairman) because in his view, Mr John’s view, he felt that it raised very, very serious issues of national security.”

The report that Hinds referred to was a firearm user’s licence (FUL) report John submitted to the Prime Minister in 2022.

The report is believed to include a summary of an investigation into the issuing of FULs at the police firearms department and other operations and practices relative to FULs during the 2018-2021 tenure of CoP Gary Griffith.

Last March, Griffith obtained an injunction from the High Court to prevent Dr Rowley from laying that report in Parliament.

The matter is still before the court.

Hinds said, “I can tell you from all the information available, yes, very, very serious issues of national security have arisen. There seemed to be a kind of madness and wildness and mayhem in respect of the importation, the grant, the issuance of new licences to new firearm dealers.”

Hinds reiterated that John described this matter “as a well-oiled, white-collar criminal enterprise conducted under the nose of the then CoP.”

Richards asked if there any consideration is being given to laws governing the oversight and management of legally issued firearms.

Hinds said, “Certainly, the Office of the Attorney General and the Ministry of National Security has engaged this issue and we have devised a draft policy in this regard with new elements coming on board as the investigations by the police continue and new things and new nuances are discovered.”

He added, “The Government recognises that a lot went wrong. The matters are under investigation, as I said, and I am confident that the Government will take action to improving the state of affairs in respect of the management of firearms to tighten up the looseness and the wanton state of affairs that subsisted in the period under review (2018-2020). It may very well yield recommendations for improvements in the law, the Firearms Act.”