In addition to a flurry of gun-related crimes since the start of this year, four serious cases within a 24-hour period last week continued to point to the ease of access to illegal weapons.
From January 1 to May 31 this year, the police say that they have recorded a 33% increase in gun crimes. Given the number of gun-related incidents that have occurred since then and the fact that illegal guns and ammunition are being seized, the figure is expected to rise.
Between last Wednesday and Thursday there were four-gun related cases, one of which resulted in a fatality. Around 9.30pm last Wednesday, Mohamed Khan, 54, was shot in his side at Independence Street in La Grange during an attempted robbery.
Also, during a 15-minute ordeal on Wednesday night, three masked bandits, including one armed with a shotgun, invaded an Albion, Corentyne home. They chopped Parbattie Bickram and her mother Ramkhali Rampat, 71. They later escaped with over $500,000, after ransacking the house and firing shots.
The following morning a gunman was caught after he brazenly attempted to snatch a bag containing $4M from a greens vendor outside the Mon Repos market. The man fought with the gunman, who later attempted to escape when public spirited citizens converged on the scene. He only made it a short distance before he was cut off by police ranks who were in the area.
Hours later, 18-year-old Ashmini Harriram was gunned down on the Lusignan Railway Embankment as she hurried home to do a client’s hair. As she and her cousin neared a parked car, a man holding a gun jumped out. He snatched the woman’s cellular phone before shooting her in the head.
The AFC has taken note of what has been happening and is very concerned about this rise in gun crimes, according to party leader Khemraj Ramjattan.
He pointed out that the increase in guns has a direct relationship to the narco trade. “Narcotics is what funds gun running and because of the heavy narcotics trafficking in Guyana that has enriched certain persons involved in the trade and especially since those involved are people who would want to defend themselves, they are going to indulge in a lot of gun purchases and then selling those guns to people who are going to do other kinds of things, such as robberies,” he said.
Ramjattan stressed that it is for this reason that “you have to hit at the root and if you start knocking at the root in a regular way… as the DEA start coming in, you are going to find more guns being found and that is another progressive thing in the country in relation to criminality.”
He said that the AFC has always held the opinion that the Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee has not developed proper gun control measures. “We have had that as an opinion and the government and the minister will know that guns in the country will come as a result of the narcotics trade and it is a consequence of narco trading,” he said, adding that the US State Department report has made that clear in its recommendations that “you have to start clipping narco trading before you can clip gun running and so the direct linkage is there. So, once you start paying attention to the narco trade, you obviously are going to catch the gun runners.”
Meanwhile, opposition leader David Granger is of the opinion that given Rohee’s responsibility as PPP General Secretary in addition to his ministerial portfolio, the crime situation is being neglected. Rohee, when appointed the General Secretary of the PPP last year, was adamant that he could handle both positions.
When asked to comment on the out of control gun crimes situation, Granger told Stabroek News that “it seems that the minister is preoccupied with his duties as the General Secretary of the PPP” and “now that they are preparing for elections he is always at press conferences but he hardly makes any remarks about the crime situation, the traffic accidents, the murder rate, piracy, banditry and the gun crimes. So, I think that he is distracted by his governmental duties and he seems to be paying more attention to political duties and I think that indicates that the government does not have a clear focus on the eradication of these crimes.”
In addition, he noted that the government’s tolerance for fuel smuggling undermines its ability to check the smuggling of illegal guns into the country. “It is very tolerant to fuel smuggling, very tolerant to contraband smuggling and the guns come in with other forms of contraband,” he said, adding, “We are paying the price of the government’s lax attitude.”
He further added: “We are also paying the price of a minister who is not forceful in eradicating these crimes which are bringing death to Guyanese.”
‘Anyone can get one’
Meanwhile, a security source made the recent observation that based on what is seen coming out of the courts, it is mainly young people, particularly males in their mid-teens to early 20s, who are appearing for gun crimes.
This, he said, is a very serious trend as it shows that anyone now can have access to a weapon.
The source stated that the sale or rental of firearms here is a big business. He noted that over the years it was a known fact that illegal guns were on the market but within recent times that market has expanded and once the money is right one can have a gun.
According to the source, it is no secret where these weapons originate.
He related an experience several years ago when a young man “spilled the beans” on his gun running operation after he had been double crossed by relatives. The source said that the man detailed how he used to hollow out the inside of electronics and hide the weapons inside before transporting them across the border. He said that the young man went as far as to reveal the route that he would take to get the weapons to their final destination once they were across the border.
He noted that gun-running is like narco-trafficking and both call for similar measures when being tackled since they are both items that are smuggled across the borders and generally come from the same source. “We need to secure our borders. We have some 2,000 miles of unmanned border and I am not saying that we need to cover all because there are some parts that are impassable. It is like jungle but then there are other established points that people use,” he said, adding that by now the security forces must know where those points are.
“These guns are so widespread now that anyone can get one,” the source stressed, while adding that some people might not get them for criminal activity.
He drew the nexus between the high level of unemployment of youths and the high crime rate.
According to the source, this is a situation that ought to be looked at as there are many social ills that are affecting young people.
He said the authorities need to find out why a teenager would want to be in possession of a gun or why would want to rob people. “These things are all important questions to ask because this is a serious situation, especially since the youths are getting involved in it,” the source said.