Recent discoveries of high powered arms and explosive devices in the hands of civilians is a sign that we are in a dangerous situation, says Opposition Leader David Granger who believes that a shakeup of the upper command of the Home Affairs Ministry and a reform of the Guyana Police Force is the best solution to this problem.
An M16 rifle, grenades, a telescopic rifle and a number of small arms have been found within the last year and while in some cases persons were arrested and charged, many are questioning whether the police are trying to ascertain the origin of these weapons, or put systems in place to stop their entry into the country.
The issue of illegal firearms has been a longstanding concern but from all indications more and more of these weapons and ending up in the hands of criminals.
During an interview last week, Granger, who has often spoken on firearms and their use in robberies and other criminal activities, told Stabroek News that A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) has a clearly stated position on gun running and illegal firearms.
“We feel that the present administration is not doing enough to prevent the influx of illegal weapons into the country,” he said adding that teenagers being charged with having high-powered rifles and grenades suggested that “we have reached a very dangerous situation.”
The teenagers he was referring to are Kevin George, 18, of 21 Castello Housing Scheme and Samuel Johnson, 17, of 158 Curtis Street, Albouystown who were last Wednesday allegedly found with an M-16 rifle, sixty-one .233 rounds of ammunition, a concussion grenade and a fragmentation grenade. They were later charged and were remanded to Georgetown Prisons.
Granger told this newspaper that it is because of the present situation and the discoveries of dangerous weaponry that the opposition since 2012 has called for the revocation of the appointment of the Minister of Home Affairs. He said the ministry “is not keeping our people safe.”
Granger, a retired Brigadier who has a wealth of knowledge about the security situation in Guyana, said, “As I said before we are sitting on a time bomb…” He said the President needed to take the resolution of the National Assembly seriously, that is to appoint a (new) Minister of Home Affairs, while adding that now is the best time for a cabinet shuffle given the resignation of the Minister of Local Government.
“If we can have a change in the Home Affairs Ministry I think we can look to better control of these gun crimes. When you see these illegal firearms… we talking about three armed robberies a day [and] that is what the weapons are most likely to be used for. This is not a state of insurgency or a state of insurrection in this country,” he said. According to Granger the right apparatus is needed to create a public security system which could bring gun running to an end. In addition to this, he said that there has to be reform of the police force with the police given manpower and the equipment – aircraft, all-terrain vehicles and boats – which could interdict gunrunning.
He stressed that to date there has been introduction of an updated National Drug Strategy master plan even though many of the guns coming into the country are to protect the narcotics trade. “So the two are linked; it is not that they are coming in to rob restaurants and gas stations. These weapons come in to protect the narcotics trade which is doing a lot of damage to our country,” he stressed.
Granger said he was not surprised that people have become brazen enough to transport these weapons during daylight hours. “We do not have an effective Minister of Home Affairs so as far as I am concerned anything can happen in terms of banditry, piracy. …There is no machinery in place to prevent that type of criminal behaviour and that is why we have been calling for the revocation of the minister’s appointment,” he added.
A source pointed out that the recent discovery of the M16 and the grenade is worrying but what is of even more concern is where the items were heading.
Stabroek News has since been told that one of the teens is related to a murder convict who is currently servicing a 78-year jail sentence. Their brother was found in a house in George Street several years ago with a gunshot wound to the head. It is still unclear who or what was responsible for his death.
The source explained that the M16 is similar to an AK 47. It was explained that this weapon uses a smaller calibre and is easier to handle.
“This is a cause for concern,” the source said stressing that a grenade is very serious business and can be very dangerous if one does not know how to use it. The source said that it seems as if there are some people above the law and they have decided that they will and can do whatever they like.”
According to the source, illegal weapons are smuggled across the borders mainly from Brazil and Venezuela. The source said the gun and grenades recently found may have been smuggled into the country from Brazil. It was pointed out that within recent times a lot of weapons have been coming from Venezuela.
The source said that police first need to stem the flow of these illegal arms and to do this there must be better security at the border. The source stressed that investigators should aim for the bigger players in the gun trade.
“Too many of the transporters are being caught and placed in jail. Where are the people who give them the guns to transport?” the source asked adding that the issue of illegal guns here is a cause for worry as the numbers are increasing and police seem to be finding more and more on a regular basis.
The source said it is time all the stakeholders come together and come up with a plan to tackle this issue.
In September last year police stopped and searched an F150 motor pick-up at Yarrowkabra, Soesdyke/Linden Highway and found a .44 Harrington and Richardson telescopic rifle with 38 rounds and a .32 Taurus pistol with 7 rounds.
Seven men who were in the vehicle were arrested. It is unclear what happened to that case.
Then there was the case of 14-year-old Ryan Persaud who was shot and killed by a stray bullet from a high powered rifle also in September. To date, police have been unable to find the weapon or the person who pulled the trigger. It is believed that the bullet came from a weapon fired from a boat moored on the Demerara River. The child at the time of the shooting was standing not far from his home at Vive la Force, West Bank Demerara. The river is located behind his home. It is suspected that the weapon used could have been an M82, M15 or M16 as these can fire bullets over long distances. Police were only able to recover part of a warhead from the child’s body but it did not have the required marking for a comparison.