Guns, guns everywhere Editorial
Stabroek News
September 6, 2001

It must be apparent - we fervently hope - to the powers that be that Guyana is in the midst of a cycle of violent crime founded on the ready availability of firearms and sophisticated weaponry.

Every single notable crime in recent times has inevitably featured weapons which are deadly and have cost lives. The two recent atrocities in Sophia where Jagdai Singh and Garvin France were gunned down mercilessly are cases in point. The police have not been immune from this threat either. It was in a police station amazingly that Corporal Eloye Nathaniel Adridge was cut down by bullets from a gun concealed on the person of a suspect. Earlier this year, it was the terrifying spate of home invasions on the Corentyne Coast by gun-slinging bandits that led to the outpouring of rage at the police. And if one were to go by the account of the police, weapons fired at them featured in the incident that led to the deaths of Azad Bacchus and two teenagers, triggering a wave of unrest on the Corentyne.

But it is not only in the arena of deadly robberies and confrontations that guns are being whipped out or unearthed. A bust by Customs officials on the east coast recently revealed a NATO-issued weapon. The courtrooms of the magistracy are replete with cases of guns being drawn at will, threats being issued and shots being fired with serious results.

Even on the streets of this country, there have been spine-tingling cases of public-spirited citizens unsheathing guns to come to the aid of besieged persons in relatively minor cases.

It is not at all difficult to acquire firearms these days. Which is why the state's reputed tight control over gun licensing creates an artificial understanding that proliferation of guns is not a problem in this country. That is, of course, a fallacy.

The solution to this problem is not the issuance of firearms to each businessman or householder as some beleaguered businessmen and others have called for. That will only lead to more gun crimes - family violence in particular - and accidental shootings where children are usually the prime victims.

The answer lies in a three-fold response which we do not believe that the government and Guyana Police Force have begun to address: sterilising the supply that exists, stiffening legislation dealing with arms trafficking and the illicit use of weapons and fortifying controls over traditional smuggling points for weapons.

Various successful means have been employed in other countries for no-questions-asked campaigns for guns to be turned in including amnesties and purchasing. This usually precedes legislative amendments and tougher enforcement which are also seriously needed here. Loopholes have allowed arms traffickers in the past to escape with light sentences and there are many cases where gun charges can be taken indictably so that stiffer penalties can be applied in the High Court. The third facet of this campaign - sealing lacunae in border areas will be difficult and may only materialise if there is closer cross-border co-operation. It is, however, well within the ambit of the relations we have at the moment with our neighbours.

These are the policy challenges we expect the Ministry of Home Affairs to take on. We have not seen any of these areas being addressed with any enthusiasm.

At the conclusion of this year's United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in all its aspects, it was agreed that the UN would explore the possibility of a mechanism to enable states to identify and trace weapons in a timely manner. The participating countries also agreed to a medley of steps at the national and regional levels including the state taking the responsibility of ensuring the safe-keeping of all its armaments (Blackie's ill-gotten weapons come to mind) and the implementation of effective campaigns to absorb illicit weapons. At the regional level participating states agreed to bolster trans-border customs co-operation and information sharing among law enforcement, border and customs control agencies.

Guyana should explore whether or not there is any special assistance available to help in liquidating the veritable arsenal of weapons in the hands of criminals and in homes and other places. Otherwise, the incidence of gun-related crimes and deaths will rise further and pose an even more pernicious threat to the country's stability.