PM praises US: Gun violence a health emergency

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Prime Minister Dr Rowley – Photo by Ayanna Kinsale

HOURS after the US Surgeon General Dr Vivek Murthy declared gun violence in the US a public health crisis on June 25 the Prime Minister took to his Facebook page to praise the US for its stance on the matter as he noted Murthy recommended “an array of preventive measures that he compared to past campaigns against smoking.”

“When TT took this position and sponsored an international symposium where this was the major theme, the useless wastrels of the UNC opposition attempted to denigrate the country over this realisation and had nothing but negatives to offer.”

He added, “We are happy that the US Government has come to this conclusion in their country since this augurs well for them seeing more of our problems on this crisis and would continue to work together with us as we devise and strengthen our responses.”

TT and Caricom last year held a symposium to address gun violence in the region, declaring it a public health crisis.

On June 24 the US Department of Justice said a gun smuggler was jailed for three years in a United States (US) prison after trying to illegally ship guns and gun parts to TT.

Chrissie Fier Williams, 39, of Kissimmee, Florida pleaded guilty to three counts of export of firearms and ammunition and shipment of firearms without a licence.

According to court documents, on five separate occasions between January 28, 2021, and October 4, 2022, Williams prepared packages with household items to be sent to TT.

Williams concealed firearms, firearm parts, and ammunition inside the packages, prepared fake shipping manifests to conceal the contents and paid “straw shippers” to deliver the packages under their names.

The DOJ said Williams concealed completed pistols and AR-style rifles, parts that could be readily assembled into completed guns, extended magazines including a 65-round drum magazine and a 100-round drum magazine, and ammunition to match the firearms being smuggled inside the packages.

The US Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida said 18 firearms were seized.

The US Department of Homeland Security with assistance from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security investigated the case.

Williams faced a maximum penalty of 60 years in federal prison but after pleading guilty was sentenced to serve three years and one month in federal prison by U.S. District Judge Carlos Mendoza of the Middle District of Florida.

The DOJ said this case is part of Project Safe Neighbourhoods (PSN) in which communities and law enforcement partner to reduce violent crime and gun violence.

Meanwhile, National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds on June 25 said police have arrested and charged 39 people between 2018 and 2024 for trying to smuggle guns and ammunition into the country.

He gave the figures while answering a question by Independent Senator Paul Richards during the sitting of the Upper House about the number of arms and ammunition found at legal ports of entry since 2018 and the number of people arrested in that period.

He said 56 weapons and 5,844 rounds of ammunition had been seized during that period at legal ports of entry.

Hinds said ten people were arrested and charged for illegal importing guns while 29 people were held in connection with the illegal importation of ammunition.

Asked about the possible involvement of customs officers in the illegal importation of guns and ammunition, Hinds said he could not answer “truthfully” but would not be surprised if this was the case.

“We have found across TT, all occupations, including the customs and excise division, there are people who are sworn and paid to protect the people, but allow themselves to become dangerous to the people.”

He said transit sheds have proven to be the most vulnerable point of entry for illegal guns and ammunition into TT.

“These are facilities authorised by the control of customs to assist the state with the smooth importation of goods with a focus on the ease of doing business. We have found that those have been the most vulnerable.

“For the last two years law enforcement, working in tandem with our international collaborative support, were able to discover tremendous amount of activity in those places leading to the shutdown of two (transit sheds), and we continue to pay particular attention to them.”

Hinds suggested while more could be done to address the issue, his ministry was limited by the resources at its disposal.

“Given that fact and the seriousness of what we have to contend with, I venture to say that whatever we have in place is not enough. But it always has to do with the question of resources and the allocation of same. But a lot of other weapons and ammunition are discovered across the country, otherwise may have passed through the port and then get inland and detected accordingly.”

“So yes, there are resources in place at our borders and we continue to apply them to detect them at the ports and if it passes there, to detect them otherwise. But we are quite close to the source and we are also quite clear that our legal ports of entry are indeed a very threatening opportunity against us in respect of the importation of illegal firearms and ammunition.”