Jamaica: Hunt for 3,000 guns after amnesty

Jamaica Observer:-MORE than 3,000 gun licences were not renewed under the amnesty granted by the Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA) last month, and the agency’s CEO Shane Dalling says his team will not rest until they are able to determine the status of those weapons.

“We’re going house to house now to check whether any of these people have died, are abroad or are incarcerated,” Dalling told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.

“We are not coming off the road until we can account for all those firearms that were issued to holders who we have not seen,” he added.

Late last month the FLA had offered an amnesty to licensed firearm holders who had not taken their weapons in for inspection each year, as mandated by law, some of them for as many as 14 years.

The amnesty triggered a crush on the FLA office after Dalling announced that gun owners who failed to abide by the law would be charged and their firearms seized.

In light of the rush, the FLA extended the close of the amnesty from July 1 to July 29.

On July 27, Dalling told the Observer that up to that date the enforcement drive had been an overwhelming success as many more gun owners than expected were showing up at the authority.

“We have persons coming in who have never been registered on the FLA system for 14 years. They have had the firearm and never been checked again. Since our enforcement drive, those persons are coming in voluntarily… the car parks are filled to the point that we are parking people on the lawn,” he said.

Yesterday, he said that more than 1,200 firearm holders took advantage of the amnesty.

The current house-to-house checks, he said, will help the FLA determine what has happened to the over 3,000 firearms unaccounted for to date.

He declined to speculate whether individuals who received gun permits under corrupt circumstances were among the 3,000, saying that the checks will give the FLA a clear picture.

“Maybe some of the guns were lost or stolen; we don’t know,” he said, adding that there is at least one case that he is aware of in which the licensed firearm holder was convicted of murder and sentenced, but because he did not use the gun to commit the murder the weapon was never turned over to the authorities, neither was the licence revoked.

The FLA team doing the checks, he said, have the authority to seize the weapons recovered.

Cases of gun licences issued to criminals and other individuals under questionable circumstances from as far back as 2012 are now being investigated by the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA).

Law enforcement sources have confirmed that the MOCA probe involves as many as 257 cases.

Meanwhile, Dalling, in a statement to the press on Monday, said that the separation of the FLA’s new applications department from the operation of the Review Board — one of the measures in the FLA’s reform agenda — will lead to better protection and confidentiality.

“That will prevent people coming in for application forms from crossing paths with people who already are licensed firearm holders,” he told the Observer yesterday. “So people picking up application forms will go to a different location and only those renewing applications will come to this location.”

He also explained the decision to confiscate all guns in storage beyond the legal time.

“What has happened is that many people have left their guns here for years — five, 10 years — and may be overseas in prison. When they leave prison, they come back here, pay the outstanding fees and go home with the gun. But the law requires that the gun be turned over to the Crown in one year and six months. So under this new regime, anyone like that will have to reapply, giving the FLA the opportunity to detect if the applicant has a conviction,” he said.