KINGSTON, Jamaica— Former National Security Minister, Senator Peter Bunting, is blasting the Firearms Licensing Authority’s (FLA) policy of denying police personnel a firearm licence due to the cop’s home address.
The reason given by the FLA for not granting these permits is that they believe the officers, because of where they live, are likely to be placed in greater danger if they are armed.
The Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate was speaking on Thursday as he made his contribution to the debate on the Firearms (Prohibition, Restriction and Regulation) Act, which was passed in the House of Representatives earlier this month. Government Senator Matthew Samuda piloted the Bill in the Upper House.
In knocking the policy, Bunting argued that it was putting the lives of policemen and women at risk. He emphasised that they were being deprived of a legal weapon to defend/protect themselves because of their “wrong address”.
According to Bunting, who served as National Security Minister between 2012 and 2016 during which he would have had oversight responsibility for the FLA, the Jamaican police force faces one of the highest crime rates in the world on a sustained basis, yet the Government has not found ways to motivate the membership. He asserted that hundreds, if not thousands, of police personnel, having applied to the FLA, were being denied gun permits on the basis that they did not establish a need to be armed.
He said that following discussions involving the Police Federation, he thought that the policy had been abandoned.
“But the truth is that there continues to be what I would describe as a kind of elitism in invalidating persons who apply for firearms,” Bunting asserted.
He got support from President of the Senate, Tom Tavares-Finson, who told him that he shared his views on the matter and that he also had “very serious concerns about what you (Bunting) have just said”.
Tavares-Finson added that “It applies not just to the police force but it applies to members of the Correctional Services and that is why I am happy that that has been removed from this legislation, it’s not in here anymore”.
However, Bunting responded with “I’m not sure that the discretion has been removed from the legislation.”
Responding, Tavares-Finson said his reading of the legislation was that the FLA Board would no longer be able to deny a licence on the basis of an individual not establishing a need to be armed.
Not convinced, Bunting went on to cite an example of a policeman who he said has been a member of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) for five years and who applied for a gun permit. He pointed out that like most of the young officers in the JCF this policeman serves in one of the operational units in one of the toughest police divisions. This, Bunting noted places him on the frontlines of the fight against crime which often brings him face-to-face with hardened criminals.
“They’re the ones who the Minister (of National Security, Dr Horace Chang) is saying they must shoot to kill,” said Bunting.
He said the policeman applied for a personal firearm but received a letter this month, denying his application.
Bunting read from the letter given to the applicant by the FLA. It said: “Applicant’s area of residence is of concern and is likely to pose a greater risk to the applicant if a firearm is introduced”.
Not amused, Bunting declared that “this is a police officer with a wrong address”.
He added that: “This is a police officer that we’re asking to face down criminals on a daily basis. This is a police officer who, if he doesn’t get a keep-and-care firearm, has to return to his home, in a tough community without a firearm because he’s denied on the basis of his residence”.
“This quite frankly is a disgrace. It is shameful”.