This newspaper has, over the years, been blitzed with stories of businessmen who, for one reason or another, have been denied licences to possess firearms. Invariably, they arrive at their own conclusions regarding the likely reasons why they are denied the licences, surmising that the reasons have to do with issues of either personality or politics.
Stabroek Business is decidedly uncomfortable with what often appears to be the prevailing view that ownership of a business enterprise, however modest that enterprise might be, is, in itself, an automatic requisite for being granted a gun licence. Sometimes, we have been unable to persuade ourselves that the substantive interest in securing a firearm licence has not had to do much more with owning a gun than with protecting the business.
Beyond that, of course, we are yet to hear a persuasive case made to the effect that more firearms mean more security. Somehow, we are inclined to the view that in circumstances where all things were equal we would much prefer a situation in which the protection of property were left to the law-enforcement agencies, particularly the police, so that fewer people are burdened with what is in fact the considerable responsibility of bearing arms.
Another of our concerns on the firearms issue is that there are probably far too many people whose business credentials may well be questionable, who are known to carry weapons and who are usually quite keen to let it be known that they own firearms while at the same time being hard-pressed to justify themselves as business owners.
Arguably, the strongest cases for possession of a firearm among the various sectors in the business community are to be found in the mining sector. It is not unlikely that most miners believe that they should be issued with gun licences and, quite possibly, many do have such licences. Here again, it would have been much better if the Guyana Police Force were better able to enforce law and order in the mining areas since that would have negated the need to issue so many gun licences. We must make no mistake about it, applications for gun licences by businessmen and women in the gold-mining sector are made not only on the basis of their exposure to dangerous thugs and brigands but also based on the arguments that the police are patently unable to provide even a modicum of protection for their lives and their property in many instances. Hence, of course, what we are told is the pretty brisk trans-border trade in gun-running.
Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee has only just announced a review of the licensing process for firearms with a view to approving accountability and efficiency in the administration of this most important responsibility. The new Firearms Licensing Management System (FLMS) will of course only be effective if it contributes to a higher level of prudence and sound judgment in the issuance of firearms and puts an end to persistent rumours that there are really no universal criteria for the issuance of firearm licences. Sometimes, we are told, it is as much a question of who you are, as whether you really do need that kind of protection. So that whether, in applying for gun licences you fill forms or write letters, whether you pay a fee or you don’t, in the final analysis if the judgment applied by those responsible for issuing licences is flawed, the problem of a proliferation of guns will persist. Of course, there is little that the minister’s review can do to stop the flow of guns across our porous borders.
Yes, there is need for much more protection for the business community, particularly the far more vulnerable mining sector. However, we are not convinced that a regimen of more gun licences, which, in effect, provides the holders of those licences with a kind of unilateral responsibility for the welfare of themselves and their property, is the best approach to providing security.
That is why it is the announcement of Minister Rohee’s overhaul of the Guyana Police Force rather than the announcement itself that is by far the more important issue.