The right to bear arms subject to strict conditions
Stabroek News
October 19, 2001

Dear Editor,

Much has been said in the recent past on the issue of 'arming the population' and perhaps I could offer some amount of perspective. This clamour to take up arms appears to be coming from a particular segment of the society that to some extent is affluent, business oriented and, more importantly feel victimized by the 'wave of criminal activity' impacting the fabric of good social behaviour. In fact, it is an indictment against the Guyana Police Service (sounds better than 'Force'), our criminal detection capabilities, the intelligence gathering community, and ultimately the government 'of the people'. It is the mood of the people that these organizations have not discharged their responsibilities adequately and a decision must be made sooner rather than later.

Undoubtedly, it is a basic instinct of man to serve and protect 'self interest' and the need to bear arms is but an extension. At some point this societal value, like so many other values that identify with being 'Guyanese', has to be addressed and enshrined as an inalienable right in the constitution. Failing this, or in spite of this, the responsible agencies must be made to improve on their effectiveness and efficiency to satisfy this basic human psychological need to feel and be safe and secure.

Clearly, this is the basis upon which the Guyanese society should be structured before any form of development is to take place. If you read the advisory to visitors to Guyana you would realize the impact crime has had on the minuscule tourism industry, international investment and the confidence of those who would otherwise support and maintain an interest in Guyana.

The picture painted is bleak but accurate.

In my opinion Guyanese should have the right to self- preservation and, if instituted correctly, be allowed to bear arms. I am no proponent of a 'wild west' scenario but believe that legal remedies, strict criteria for firearm issue and retention, and stringent regulations to enforce applicable legislation, must be in place to protect this right. On the other end of the issue, the Guyana Police Service and other responsible agencies must be supremely equipped (not just 'adequately') to respond to this urgent dilemma. The buck stops at the government's door to realize this. It is grossly unfair to ask of these organizations to discharge of their duty without the concomitant authority, responsibility, training, and equipment.

Additionally, it is my view that several crime related functions should be separated and some privatized. For instance, the present George-town prison should be made a museum and a state-of-the-art facility constructed somewhere with remote access, preferably the 'center of nowhere'. Its control should be in the hands of a reputable security organization.

Off-hand, I can think of two (GEB and SECURICOR) that have international links and can source the expertise to make it work. This is but one aspect of the deterrent actions that need to be put in place.

A significant problem that plagues the society is an absence of accurate data retention and processing of its citizens. This has allowed for all sorts of crimes ranging from tax evasion and credit fraud to evasion of immigration laws. A control tool needs to be available to law enforcement agencies to monitor and regulate the activities of criminals. A virtually fool-proof method of identifying citizens (and other residents) must be instituted. This may take the form of a tamper proof ID card, temporary resident status card and supported by a social security numbering system that is tied in to benefits to citizens.

Specifically regarding the law enforcement agencies, more than anything else their role needs to be kept as simple as possible, their recruitment and training must represent the best that society has to offer, and money and time must be invested to keep them happy and safe. Additionally, they need to be equipped to prevent, detect and solve crime.

Indeed, the government has an arduous task ahead but must respect the need to actively control crime by not just paying 'lip service' to the issue and making token contributions to the cause, but by investing in the eradication of crime as a basis of overall development. Success would be achieved when persons no longer have to ask, "Is it safe?"

Yours faithfully,

Merrill Hyman