Matthew Samuda has clapped back at Opposition spokesman on national security Peter Bunting for his statements in the Senate, during the debate on the new Firearms Bill, in which he accused the Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA) of elitism in its issuance of gun licences.
According to the deputy leader of government business in the Senate, since 2016 some 95 per cent of police applicants have received their firearms licences, "so there is no wholesale discrimination against members of the security forces. Persons who do not received their firearm permits have not satisfied the basics of their application process, that is the reality".
Bunting accused the FLA of discriminately turning down applications from members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) who live in tough communities because of their place of residence.
But, on Friday, closing the debate on the Bill, which was eventually passed with changes to the sentencing for simple possession of a firearm, Samuda said a review of the last series of rejections for members of the JCF found that all of the reasons which mentioned addresses were in relation to investigations done by the FLA and the National Intelligence Bureau (NIB) related to the facilities for storage of the weapons.
"It has nothing to do with where you live, it's the ability to secure the space," he stressed.
Bunting, a former national security minister, insisted that the new Bill should ensure objectivity and that the FLA does not operate in a capricious manner. He said he was not as confident that the legislation does, in fact, rectify this problem.
Claiming that he was in possession of correspondence from the FLA regarding an application by a JCF member, the Opposition spokesman said: "There has continued to be a sort of elitism in evaluating persons who apply for firearms… a police officer in his fifth year of service — most of the younger officers, they're the ones on the front line, they're the ones who the minister is alleged to be saying they must shoot to kill, they have served in the operational units of the toughest police division for most of their time in the JCF — they applied for a personal firearm and they received a letter this month denying their application."
According to him, the reason given by the FLA was that the "applicant's area of residence is of concern and is likely to pose a greater risk to the applicant if a firearm is introduced".
Samuda pointed out that storage concerns were not unique to permits for private weapons as the keep and care policy, last updated in the Force Orders of October 2011, also requires an assessment of the safe keeping of government weapons as a condition of approval.
"Officers who live in particularly volatile areas, depending on the assessment, in some cases it was found that they were in more danger by having it on them because they didn't have adequate security for the weapon while they were in the space," he said in explaining the FLA's response to applications that he reviewed.
He further remarked that Bunting, during his tenure as national security minister, had not taken the opportunity to amend this provision but had, instead, removed the ability for individuals to receive a refund of the duties paid in respect of their unsuccessful application as had been set out in the principal Act of 1967.
"This could have been cleared up in 2015 going into 2016, and you chose not to," Samuda said, indicating that in the debate on the regulations to the Bill other responses to applications by the police would be presented by his side.