If, on the one hand, the reported imminent return to citizens in the Cuyuni/Mazaruni area of guns ‘called in’ by the authorities during a 2015 post-election amnesty tied to the surrendering of unlicensed firearms should be comforting to those residents who have been without their weapons for some time, there are considerations associated with this development that are deserving of more studied discourse. Incidentally, it is also our understanding that the restoration of guns to their owners will be accompanied by the issuance of licences to persons who would have been defaulters at the time of the amnesty. That kind of regularization exercise at least goes some way towards helping the authorities to monitor gun ownership in Guyana.
Still, on the handing back of guns that had been ‘called in,’ even if it is what might have been agreed in the first place the idea of a further proliferation of guns in what has already become a gun-crazy, gun-infested and all too often trigger-happy society is more than a trifle worrying
There is, of course, no getting around the reality that for the purposes of both security and hunting, guns have long been seen as necessities in some hinterland communities so that, over time, considerations of licensing or a lack thereof have never precluded residents from acquiring weapons. After the government changed hands in 2015 the coalition administration, in seeking to respond to what had become a proliferation of gun-related crimes in the country and particularly in some non-coastal communities thought it fit to assess the issue of gun ownership from the standpoint of legality and that, as far as we could tell, was the given reason for the calling in of weapons.
It is, of course, difficult to tell just how many gun owners in Region Seven – or any other region for that matter – responded responsibly to the government’s amnesty so that, theoretically at least, its objective may have only been partially realized. That, in circumstances where gun-related crimes are still frequent in some interior locations is another challenge which the government will have to confront and overcome in its quest to remove the ‘wild west’ image that has long been associated with parts of non-coastal Guyana.
Efforts by government to monitor gun possession and accurately audit gun ownership in interior regions has always been – and will continue to be – a challenge for the coastal authorities for as long as our borders remain unpoliced and people are able to come and go more or less as they please and to bring whatsoever they choose with them. More than that the chronic weakness of our law and order infrastructure as far as effective interior policing is concerned makes ownership/ concealment of weapons, illegal ones, that is, relatively easy. For that reason, too, pressure to secure licences in those communities is nowhere near as strong as it would presumably be in coastal Guyana.
Of course, we cannot reasonably be expected to believe that in gold-mining communities where frequent robberies have rendered the security risks greater, there does not exist some measure of illegal cross-border trade in weapons as an option to seeking to acquire licensed firearms though we hasten to make the point that we are not even remotely suggesting the existence of an across-the-board absence of mindfulness of firearm laws in the gold-mining community. At the end of the day, however, where such transgressions exist they are that much more difficult to either detect or deter.
Finally, the argument for a different standard – or a different set of rules – for gun ownership in coastal and hinterland regions has always revolved around the greater vulnerability of the interior communities, given the aforementioned protracted and unchanging policing limitations that apply in those communities. The reality here – and government has always been aware of this but has appeared powerless to do anything about – is that a more effective policing infrastructure in interior communities, equipped to protect and serve in the literal sense of the word, makes an eminently stronger case for reducing the extent of gun proliferation.
Then, of late, there has reportedly been an acceleration of people movement into Guyana from across the border in crisis-ridden Venezuela and here again there is really no reliable way of knowing whether or not that movement may not be attended by some measure of illegality including, conceivably, the movement of concealed weapons for purposes of protection in what they may well assume to be a volatile environment. Here, our already thinly stretched interior security detail faces yet another enormous challenge.
So that while government’s efforts to establish a regimen of gun ownership within the confines of the law including the restoration of lawfully-owned firearms cannot be faulted on legal grounds, there remains the equally weighty issue of the extent to which the overarching inability of the state to institute and enforce an effective law and order regime across the jurisdiction does not, in effect, give rise to what one might describe as the ‘cutting of corners’ in a manner that might have much deeper security and law and order implications. The preferable option is to have the state undertake the lion’s share of the responsibility for law and order in the jurisdiction and the attendant safety and security of the citizens.