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8 million rounds of ammo unaccounted for

Senior staff reporter

Saturday, October 21, 2017

THE Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA) will be carrying out an audit of the eight million rounds of ammunition that National Security Minister Robert Montague says is unaccounted for, to ensure that legal bullets are kept out of the hands of criminals.

He explained that with each of the country's 42,000 licensed firearm holders issued with 50 rounds per year, and an additional 250 per quarter, this amounts to approximately five million rounds per annum. However, the Government imports 13 million rounds of ammunition each year. At this time, the authorities are not certain of the whereabouts of the remaining eight million rounds.

Montague was speaking at a press briefing at his ministry yesterday, where he announced the new five-member FLA board, which is to begin its work on Tuesday.

He said the problem has to do with the additional rounds which licensed gun holders can purchase, in addition to their 1,050 allotment. These can be in any amount and are for use at firing ranges.

“What we have discovered is that not all the rounds are being used on some ranges, and therefore there is that leakage. There was an instance where inspection was done of a private firearm holder and he was upwards of 3,000 rounds in his possession because he was able to utilise the 50 rounds and 250 rounds, and he didn't expend those rounds,” he explained, pointing out that if excess rounds were to be stolen they could fall into the hands of criminals, and “may be contributing to the (deaths) of over 1,000 Jamaicans”.

The national security minister said there is also another avenue for leakage, where individuals go on to ranges with empty magazines, load these weapons there, and leave with those rounds.

“It's difficult for the range owner to monitor when a person is doing that,” he remarked.

He said that the eight-million-round gap is bothersome for the authorities.

“We are not sure [whether] those rounds were used on ranges, or whether they are locked in somebody's safe, or whether those rounds are in the hands of members of the criminal underworld... If one bullet from the legal trade leaks into the illegal trade, potentially one more life can be lost,” he said.

The new FLA board was appointed following the resignation of the previous Dennis Wright-chaired board in August, which was prompted by a corruption scandal that has rocked the State licensing agency in recent months.

Montague had ordered the FLA to temporarily cease issuing approvals for gun licences or permits and the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency moved in to probe the allegations of systemic corruption at the agency which, among other things, had resulted in individuals reportedly involved in murder and lottery scamming receiving gun licences, and in some revoked applications being reversed.

Yesterday, Montague expressed confidence in the new board's ability to clean up the FLA, pointing to some of the instances of corruption that the previous board had “stumbled upon”.

He said these included “one-stop shops”, where third parties would apply for licences on the behalf of other individuals, arrange for competency certificates to be issued and for the purchase of weapons, among other “services”.

“In one case, we discovered where persons actually purchased weapons before they apply… a number of things were found,” the minister said.

In the meantime Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the FLA Shane Dalling said that 1,200 people utilised the recent amnesty issued by the agency for firearm holders to come in and renew their licences and update their records. According to the CEO, this resulted in earnings of more than $28 million for the FLA.

“Persons had licences outstanding for up to 10 years. We were able to get in many of the guns and have them ballistically tested. The police and the FLA are now on the road [doing] house-to-house visits. So far, we have found that many of these persons in the Kingston and St Andrew area are dead and we are now retrieving the firearms from the home,” Dalling explained.

He said the drive to retrieve firearms is to be expanded islandwide.