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Gun crimes penalties must be more severe

Ian K Ramdhanie, MSc, Principal, CISPS
Friday, April 21, 2017

Our data reveal that over seventy per cent of the murders that took place in T&T in February and March 2017 involved guns. Then, there are other crimes where the gun is used like wounding, robber, larceny, and importantly, in the colossal drug trade.

Everyone acknowledges that the illegal possession and use of guns is a massive problem that hasn’t been treated in any notable way.

If they were, we wouldn’t be in this unforgiving situation today. The problem didn’t start recently; it germinated many years ago and is now systemic.

Overall, there are two sides to look at this gun-crime epidemic: the demand and supply sides. The demand side involves criminals who need guns to execute their activities.

The supply side deals with those who make money from importing, selling, renting, leasing, etc, the guns. With guns, the illegal trade of ammunition, bullet-proof vests and other gadgets go hand in hand.

It’s argued that quicker results are achieved by addressing the supply side, that is, by cutting-off the supply as much as possible.

By making it more difficult to get the guns, there’ll be less available for use. It’ll make it more expensive to obtain and not every Dick and Harrylal can access a gun if they wanted.

What are some of the ways to cut off supply? As T&T is not a manufacturer of guns, we have to stem its flow into the country.

And, we all know the various entry points along the coastline, in the open seas, through the various ports (sea and air), etc.

We also have to get the guns when they are on the islands.

There must be adequate and effective searches, raids and intelligence-gathering for example. Acting on intelligence is the most effective strategy to get those bloody guns.

Even periodic gun amnesties will get some off the streets. Financial rewards for information on the whereabouts of guns will go a long way but it must be enticing enough.

However, we’re not too sure how effective asking average people in the community to provide information on persons with guns may be in light of mistrust of law enforcement generally.

It’s argued that dealing with the demand for guns will take a longer time to get any reasonable result but relevant strategies must be pursued. We’ll have to get into the various reasons why people want guns and tackle them there.

People need guns to commit crime so we’ll have to deal with the larger societal, psychological, economical and criminological reasons for crime.

These interventions can bring long term results. Interventions can be made in at-risk schools, at-risk communities, with at-risk families, in the prisons etc. But, results will not be fast-coming!

Laws and penalties can be used to address both the demand and supply sides.

Where there are stringent laws with stiff penalties for gun, ammunition and other gadgets’ possession and use, and an effective criminal justice system (that is, police, courts and prison) to go with it, both sides will certainly be addressed.

This is critical otherwise we will be wasting much time and resources.

Our gun crimes penalties need to be made more severe. They don’t serve as a deterrent at this time. Gun criminals have no fear of or respect for these laws! The likelihood of these crimes being detected is low and the gun criminals are willing and able to take the chance in an emboldened way.

The magistracy and judiciary need to send clear messages to guns criminals who are coming in all ages now.

Even the apparent easy granting of bail for such gun crimes need to be looked at seriously. There should be a policy direction that bail for gun crimes be higher than for other crimes. Possibly, bail should be denied for those who have more than two gun-related crimes before the courts.

On the supply side, we need better and more tactical checks on the various sea and air ports in terms of cargo containers, luggage etc. In fact, it should be mandatory that all containers be scanned; the technology is there!

Law enforcement needs to conduct random checks on the packages that pass through the various international courier services in T&T.

TTPost also needs to check more on their mails and other packages to ensure that guns are not being trafficked therein.

We need appropriate whistle blower legislation to protect people who have information on others who facilitate the importation of illegal guns. Why is it taking so long? We need police officers, prison officers, custom officers, other sea and air port personnel to be required to declare their assets and financial status with an organisation similar to the Integrity Commission (IC) but which will have the resources to investigate such declarations and persons’ spending patterns.

There should be a strengthening of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) to go after suspected persons and organisations. As the saying goes, bring the “big fish” laws and systems now!

By thoughtfully dealing with the importation, possession and use of guns, the overall crime situation will be improved. This is what all right-thinking citizens want and deserve. Those in charge must get their acts together otherwise things will continue to get worse.


n The CISPS is a registered institution with the Accreditation Council of Trinidad and Tobago (ACTT). Tel: 223-6999, 299-8635, [email protected] or


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