Dear Editor: Is Stand Your Ground legislation or tightened gun laws the better fit for T&T?

“[…] More recently, the Opposition Leader suggested that, should her party form the next government, all off-duty police and prison officers will be issued licensed firearms provided by the State.  There are an estimated 7,000 police officers and over 3,000 prison officers in the country.

“Let us, therefore, be very careful about the messages being communicated and the solutions we seek to espouse. Guns fuel aggression and, by extension, increase the risk of homicides, suicides and unintentional injuries—endless data from the CDC, FBI and other sources support this fact…”

The following Letter to the Editor, which looks at possible gun legislation to address crime concerns, was submitted to Wired868 by Anton Doldron:

The clamour for the issuing of more firearms users’ licenses for law-abiding citizens of Trinidad and Tobago has been loud and long. In the lead-up to last year’s local government elections, the Leader of the United National Congress suggested “emptying the clip” and “lighting them up” as measures to be adopted during home invasions.

The adoption of this battle cry led one political analyst to indicate that the party leader’s more belligerent approach seemed to have resonated with the population and brought success. The opposition party’s main theme in combating crime will, it seems, be the introduction of Stand Your Ground legislation.

What really is Stand Your Ground law? It was first introduced in Florida in 2005 and was based on the castle doctrine, which allows people to use deadly force to defend their homes. Several US states have since introduced the law, extending the principle to include vehicles, public spaces and third parties.

Stand your ground?

Not surprisingly, however, it has been linked to an increase in homicides and some rulings of justifiable homicides have fuelled greater controversy in an already racially divided society.

More recently, the Opposition Leader suggested that, should her party form the next government, all off-duty police and prison officers will be issued licensed firearms provided by the state. There are an estimated 7,000 police officers and over 3,000 prison officers in the country.

Let us, therefore, be very careful about the messages being communicated and the solutions we seek to espouse. Guns fuel aggression and, by extension, increase the risk of homicides, suicides and unintentional injuries—endless data from the CDC, FBI and other sources support this fact.

A child discovers a firearm at home.

The impact of gun violence is far-reaching. There are the casualties, the emotional anguish of the families of the victims; the suffering of those who are injured; the trauma of the witnesses to these attacks; the fear being harboured among persons who live in communities where gun violence is perpetrated; those who traverse these communities; and, of course, the wider society whose levels of socialization, a significant contributor to well-being, has been negatively impacted.

Our current system for the issuing, administration and oversight of firearms needs to be far more rigorous.

Japan has a population of 127 million but seldom has more than 10 shooting deaths a year. Citizens wishing to own a firearm must attend an all-day class, pass a written test, achieve at least 95% accuracy at the shooting range, pass a mental health evaluation at a hospital and undergo background checks and interviews with families and friends.

At the end of all that, they can buy shotguns and air rifles but no handguns. And they must retake the class and the examination every three years.

The Government of Trinidad and Tobago, as advised by the Attorney General, is reviewing a draft UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) bill, which, in accordance with an international legal framework on firearms, proposes a comprehensive system of firearms control and regulation.

The draft suggests regulation of firearms shooting ranges, storage and destruction processes and reform of the firearm licensing regime. Two significant issues are highlighted: establishing a Firearms Licensing Board to limit the discretion of the CoP and regulation of conventional firearms. Storage, transport and carrying firearms and gun-free zones were also considered, the latter making headlines and spawning concern among gun dealers.

Commissioner of Police Erla Harewood-Christopher.
Photo: TTPS

This bill, the AG indicated, is in the early stages of a comprehensive consultative process involving internal government agencies, stakeholders and the Law Reform Commission before it is taken to Cabinet.

Let’s hope that, in the final analysis, the new gun laws will address the inherent weaknesses while strengthening oversight and reducing access to dangerous weapons.

But guns and the attendant risk of gun violence do not only originate from among legitimate firearms’ users/dealers. In Trinidad & Tobago, the illegal gun trade has been described as a very lucrative business.

Freeze…

The JSC report cited earlier valued the industry at between $56 and $144 million, with the average black-market price for a firearm being $17,429. Additionally, the majority of the illegal firearms (84%) were pistols and handguns, with the profit margins ranging between US$1,000 and US$2,000 depending on demand. Margins on the long-arm rifles were of the order of US$5,500.

The report went on to say that, based on a Strategic Services Agency (SSA) analysis in 2021, there were an estimated 11,043 illegal firearms in circulation, representing a 17% increase on initial estimates of 9,389 in 2019.

More stringent border protection procedures, the recruitment of more highly trained personnel, the use of sophisticated detection equipment and measures to identify and remove corrupt individuals would go a long way towards reducing the number of illegal guns entering the country.

Two young women protest the proliferation of guns in their society.

Central to the administrative and procedural initiatives necessary for a successful approach to gun violence are the people. The churches, schools, communities, parents and guardians must play a greater role in teaching/counselling; it is in that arena that individuals who are at high risk of harming themselves and others can be identified.

Crime prevention requires a multifaceted approach. Countries around the world have adopted a variety of strategies to reduce gun violence. After a spate of violence in the 1980s and 90s, which culminated in a 1996 shooting that left 35 dead, Australia paid citizens to surrender their guns to the government.

A massive buyback programme was introduced and, in the ensuing years, gun deaths were cut nearly in half. Firearm suicides fell from 2.2 per 100,000 persons in 1995 to 0.8 in 2006 and firearm homicides dropped from 0.37 in 1995 to 0.15 in 2016.

Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds shows off a destroyed firearm during a TTPS exercise on 26 November 2022.
(Copyright Ministry of National Security)

Norway embraced an approach where the government strengthens the cohesion and trust between law enforcement and communities.

In New Zealand, following mass shooting deaths in March 2019 when 51 persons died and dozens more were injured, the authorities instituted a ban on most semi-automatic rifles. Decisions were also taken to strengthen gun laws.

At home, the Administration of Justice (Indictable Proceedings) (Amendment) Bill 2024 was passed in the Senate on 17 May. This was described as a major reform, as the elimination of preliminary enquiries could mean swifter justice, not just for the criminal suspects but for the victims and the communities as well.

Gun play in a tense domestic scenario.

The Judiciary has also signalled support for confronting weaknesses in the system. Evidence the recent judgement against the state for the TTPS’ failure to protect a young mother, who was shot and killed in 2017 despite multiple reports of domestic violence having been made to the authorities.

In his ruling, the judge said this: “Behind closed doors, the abuser wields power, manipulating vulnerability into a weapon of coercion and control.” He further intimated that the victim’s right to equality before the law and the protection of the law, as guaranteed by Section 4(b) of the Constitution, had been infringed by the acts and or/omissions of the State and/or its servants and/or agents.

A lot more remains to be done. There are brilliant minds among us and, with genuine commitment to and conviction regarding creating a safer society, there should be few challenges in formulating laws, regulations, policies and processes that facilitate the attainment of that goal.

Police officers get to work behind crime scene tape.
Photo: AP Photo/ David Goldman

It is we the people, remember, who ultimately determine the outcome.

Editor’s Note: Click HERE to read guest columnist Anton Doldron’s take on the increased requests for FULs and the potential implications.

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One comment

  1. If you want to look at the consequences of unregulated or purportedly regulated gun ownership, just look to the USA.

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