The recent police report on the seizure of an AK47 assault rifle in Arima proved to be an eye opener for National Security Minister Gary Griffith. Although it wasn’t the first reported capture of an AK47, the former military officer described it as “particularly worrying” given that this weapon is designed for warfare, thus representing overkill potential for routine acts of crime.
The report precipitated yet another round of questions, including from the minister, about where these guns were coming from, how people were getting them, and the purposes for which they were to be used. While these are all important and intriguing questions, the more relevant issue for the public is what plans do the minister and the police service have for getting such sophisticated weaponry out of the hands of unauthorised elements and blocking future access to them?
One assumes that this particular gun can be tracked back to the manufacturing batch and, after that, to the purchaser whether here or abroad. Such investigation should yield important clues about the criminal alliances that facilitate the trade in guns. Given the lengthy record of illegal trafficking in guns, the T&T Police Service should have assembled a storehouse of information by now related to the illegal gun trade. And yet, despite the recurring loss of lives and property under gun threat, there have been embarrassingly few breakthroughs on the business supply side of the gun trade. As in the case of drug trafficking, the police assault against the illegal gun trade remains largely focused on the demand and user end.
This has been a national problem of long standing. Over four decades ago, the very colourful and decorated police inspector Randolph Burroughs who would later become commissioner of police before falling from grace, regularly made the news by announcing the seizure of one cache of arms or another. After the 1990 attempted coup, T&T discovered to its horror that large shipments of arms and ammunition had been secreted in lumber and brought into the country under the noses of customs and other officials. Today, in 2014, we’re still wrestling with the same problem of illegal guns which has only gotten worse and more deadly.
Instead of vowing to use “any means necessary” to rid the country of illegal guns, Minister Griffith should provide the public with an informed assessment of the illegal gun industry while identifying the key elements of an integrated plan for bringing the problem under control. Clearly, the gun problem calls for more than police raids. It requires intelligence on the importation, internal transport and distribution of guns and effective monitoring systems among other things. The minister’s tough talking is unlikely to convince a public that has grown skeptical about promises and plans announced by a succession of governments. As long as crimes are committed with the use of guns, reports of police seizures will mean little to the public.
If Minister Griffith is to live up to his promises of action and solution, he will have to do much more than deliver higher-calibre gun talk.