Gun warning!

Firearm Authority urges caution after frustrated man demands refund for pistol following long wait

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, June 17, 2018

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Head of the Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA) Shane Dalling is cautioning firearm dealers to desist from accepting money from persons before they have fulfilled the requirements of the authority and received purchase orders to pay for their weapons.

Dalling says persons should also stop entering into these arrangements with dealers as they have no authority to essentially sell guns to individuals who hold no licence to have them.

He told the Jamaica Observer that: “I know they (dealers) are doing this, and they have admitted that they are doing it.” For example, he said some prospective firearm holders are being allowed to pay for preferred guns in order for the dealers to “hold” the weapons for them. “That is wrong because the dealer is not authorised to sell you anything unless you have a purchase order. The dealer will tell you it's a business decision, but it's not car or phones we are selling; its guns,” he said.

Dalling said that any complaints of a “backlog” of weapons being held by any dealer should not be blamed on the FLA. “They have been selling guns to persons before the person even gets a purchase order from the FLA to purchase a gun. What is happening (is) you apply to the FLA for a gun, and before your application is even considered the dealer is selling you the gun. So when you're denied, he has that gun for you and is telling you that he must sell that gun (to get back your money). In fact, he should not have sold that gun,” he stated.

Dalling warned that dealers who continue to engage in this practice could have their licences revoked. “I have actually issued a warning to them to cease the practice. I have gone into audit books and seen many guns that are sold for which no purchase order was granted. If you can sell a gun without a PO (purchase order), then what is to prevent you from selling a criminal the same gun?”

He said that some dealers have, over the years, been selling firearms and pre-empting the process in an effort to secure business, anticipating that buyers will eventually get their licences. However, if a person is denied a licence there is an issue recouping their payment. “You take his money from the minute he applied, and he is denied, then you tell the man that he has to wait until you sell that same gun before he can get back his money. The man should not have been sold in the first place,” he stated.

Dalling was speaking against the background of the bitter complaints of one applicant to the Sunday Observer about the long delay in receiving his firearm licence. The man, who said he had applied for a licence from 2016, and showed receipt of a purchase order from the FLA, said he had paid for the weapon only after he received the order, but was now so frustrated with the process that he had asked the dealer for a refund. But he said he was told that he had to wait until the dealer has a new buyer for the weapon.

Dalling reminded that, although the FLA regulates the industry, gun shops are private entities in charge of their own daily operations. “If you have been approved by the FLA and you get your purchase order, you would have no difficulty in purchasing that firearm and going about your business. The issues that confront us are: Did you buy that firearm before you're approved?”

He also noted that the FLA and the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) are still carrying out investigations stemming from last year's controversy over irregularities at the authority. Those irregularities had pointed to, among other issues, persons of questionable character being issued licences by the FLA. In August, the Board of the FLA resigned amid the scandal, and the police moved in to launch its investigation.

Dalling stressed that clearance checks now have to be completed before any licences are issued, pointing out that in the previous dispensation a part of the corruption at the FLA was that persons were being issued licences before background and character checks were completed.

He noted that the probe into the FLA's operations had found that even persons who were denied licences from 2016 “miraculously” got approved in 2017. “Those are also on hold because you are supposed to appeal under the law. So we are not granting those,” he stated, adding: “If you have the gun before the clearance comes back, and you're negative, you already have the gun and are out there. So we are checking every single file in that category; we are ensuring that the clearance comes back and there is no adverse finding. Once that is done, then we release, but once there is an adverse finding we send it back to the board for revocation or rescinding of the approval.”

Dalling said that all investigations for clearance should be completed by the end of July.

To carry a licensed firearm, an application must first be made to the FLA, which having considered the application grants the licence on condition that the applicant must be competent in the use and handling of that firearm. “So once you have gone to training and the FLA-approved trainer certifies that you're fit and competent to handle that firearm, the FLA then issues you with a purchase order, you go to the dealer, give them the purchase order and that is the basis on which the dealer can sell you the firearm,” Dalling outlined.

The dealer must then submit the declaration of sale to the FLA for processing, after which the applicant is issued with a licence, which they can present to the dealer and collect the firearm. The actual weapon is therefore not to be issued until the applicant has a licence.

But the entire process can take between three months and a year, as clearance must be given before a licence is issued. Dalling noted that these investigations can be extensive for some persons. For example, for applicants who travel widely the local authorities must seek intervention from overseas law enforcement to verify criminal records and other relevant data on the applicant.

“We go through the National Intelligence Bureau and the Criminal Records Office. They carry out their checks and the FLA is given a report on you,” he said. Following this process the FLA then has to carry out its own investigations locally. This involves visits to and inquiries in the community where the applicants reside, interviews with their employers, spouses, and other key sources in order to adequately assess the individual's character and temperament.

“Then a report is done on you based on groundwork. We judge each situation accordingly,” the Chief Executive Office said.

In the case of the disgruntled applicant, Dalling said that because of the ongoing investigations he may be on hold awaiting clearance, despite having received a purchase order. “Then I could sympathise with him if that is the case, because he would have been authorised. But if he was not authorised I would say the dealer should give him back his money right away,” he said.

Dalling stressed that the FLA is working closely with its partners to ensure that the clearances are completed. “We have been releasing some, but there are others that adverse findings have come in on. We have picked up several of them that are questionable, convicted persons too, and those are going to be revoked,” he said.

The FLA issued 406 firearm licences in 2016/17 and has 753 applications under review.

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