POLICE OPEN CAMPAIGN TO UNCOVER UNLICENSED FIREARMS Bridgetown THE NATION in English 6 Feb 84 pp 10-11 [Article by Charles Harding] [Text] Anytime now Barbadians could be rudely awakened to find policemen searching the most unlikely places in their villages for hidden firearms. The unsuspecting, and perhaps the innocent, may also be intercepted at road blocks, anywhere between the Grantley Adams International Airport and North Point in St. Lucy, as Police Commissioner, Orville Durant and his men move into phase two of their operation to haul in unlicensed guns. For the police have stopped talking. Their appeals have gone mostly unheeded. The amnesty for those with unlicensed firearms to surrender the weapons without fear of punishment, expired a month ago. So the police are now toughening their action and embarking upon a series of strategic operations to uncover and capture what could be hundreds of unlicensed firearms sneaked into this country, or obtained through other than legitimate means. And tough new laws, the enabling legislation for which is expected to be tabled in the House of Assembly shortly, will also add strength to the police operation, and perhaps give them power to enter homes and other places to search for unlicensed guns. It need not have been so, for last July 1, when the police gun amnesty became effective, the holders of unlicensed guns were assured they could have been eligible to apply for the appropriate licences when they had handed over the illegal guns. But there was little response to the six-month amnesty, and up to last weekend, a mere handful (50 guns) were turned in: a surrender that is nowhere near police expectations. Police know there are just over 3,000 licensed guns in Barbados, a country with a population of about 275,000. Yet, although there is no reliable estimate of the number of registered guns, the conservative guess is that there are much more than one gun to 91 persons, as the register of licensed firearms suggests.
For concealed guns have been entering this country for years, and some have been manufactured here without police knowledge. It is believed that a great majority of them were brought in by Barbadians returning home from farm labour programmes in the United States and Canada. Merchant seamen, and under-thecounter bargains and streets buys in world capitals where gun laws are more liberal than those in Barbados and other Caribbean countries, have managed to conceal sophisticated weapons, or somehow get past customs after they step ashore at the Bridgetown Port. Those without friends in some places have also discovered other means to sneak weapons of different makes and calibre into the country. In fact, at one time during the 1960s and early 1970s, guns had been entering Barbados with such frequency and numbers, that if they were registered, statistics would have given one in every ten Barbadians a firearm. Guns proliferated in one Barbadian parish. Villagers in that part not only showed off their "irons", but manufactured them as well, and it was not uncommon for the manufacturer and buyer to negotiate deals over rum-and-coke in the parish rum shops; or for a sawn-off shot gun or shot guns to suddenly appear during rum shop brawls--that is if a modern day Don Juan from outside that parish did not find himself staring down the wrong end of an automatic revolver for attempting to exert his charm on a female from the village. Guns, or the carrying of them, are not outlawed in Barbados, but the use of them has been restricted by licence since 1896. The relevant law has been amended and modified since then, perhaps to match the changing social and other conditions, but has remained basically unchanged since the 1963 amendment. The local statute gives the Commissioner of Police the sole authority to issue, renew or revoke gun licences; each licence specifying the maximum number of cartridges (not exceeding 250) that may be possessed at anyone time by the licensee, except the amount in excess of that number is sanctioned by the responsible minister. Certain persons, including members of the Barbados Rifle Association, who use or carry guns exclusively for target practice, gunsmiths, and auctioneers having guns in their sales room for sale, are exempted from penalty under the act. The law makes i t clear, however, that "it shall be unlawful to sell by or let on hire a gun to any person unless at the time of sale or hire, person produces a gun licence issued under this Act and then in force, unless such person is a trader dealing in guns and requires the gun he to buy for the purpose of sale or hire in his business." retail such or desires
There are some mandatory provisions. One is that traders dealing in guns should maintain a book record of the description of the gun and the date of its sale, in addition to the name and address of the purchaser. A copy of
that entry must also be sent to the Commissioner of Police within seven days of the transaction. Persons. other than dealers, who transfer guns, whether by sale, gift or loan, must also notify the police within seven days of the transferee. Persons are forbidden to carry guns while drunk; if caught they are liable to fines of $250. Those who sell guns to intoxicated persons, or those of unsound mind, are also liable on summary conviction to fines of $500 or terms of imprisonment for three months. Manufacturers, retail traders, and gun repairers, must all be registered with the Commissioner of Police, and on the payment of an annual fee of $100 will be issued with the appropriate licences. But the law goes further: *No rifle (except air rifles) shall be imported and brought into the island unless the importer has obtained from the minister a licence to do so. (Such a licence shall be effectual for one year only and may be renewed from time to time at the discretion of the minister. *No person other than the president or the secretary of the Barbados Rifle Association, shall import into the island any rifle of point-303 calibre, nor revolver of point-450 calibre or point-455 calibre. *No person shall export from the island any firearm unless he shall have obtained from the minister a licence to do so. The law and its application are clear. It is not merely to restrict the number of guns on the island, but to control the use of firearms, and to help the police in their solution to crimes involving such weapons. The police are somewhat tight-lipped about the number of solved or unsolved crimes involving the use of unlicensed firearms, but there is a belief that it was the spate of gun crimes around the end of 1982 and early 1983, that pushed the police into action against unlicensed gun holders. The appeals and amnesty in 1983 brought only limited results. Phase two in 1984 should trigger a number of surprises, and Barbadians may well discover that the quantity of unlicensed firearms yet unrecovered, more than double the number for which licences have been issued. A successful police operation could also haul in weapons from many unexpected places. For many, time may have run out.