Farmers in Amerindian communities will soon be able to reclaim the firearms they handed over to
Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman
Government during the gun amnesty programme last year.
Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman, who hosted the post Cabinet briefing on Wednesday, said Government is seeking to keep the promise it made to the indigenous farmers.
In 2015 following the launch of Government’s gun amnesty programme, several Amerindian farmers had expressed outrage, saying that they were duped by the Public Security Ministry into believing that when they handed in their firearms, they would have been issued with licences.
The Ministry had at the time undertaken an operation, seeking to retrieve all illegal firearms. The aim was to help reduce the soaring number of criminal activities at the time.
Speaking to journalists, Minister Trotman said Government was moving to reissue those firearms since Amerindians use them for their sustenance.
“When the amnesty was declared, it was seen that Toshoas, farmers and other villagers voluntarily came forward with their shotguns with the belief that they were only respecting the law and at the same time, having an expectation that the law would realise that they had a legitimate need to protect life and properly and that Government would accept that consideration would be given to them”.
He said Government then gave a promise that they would look into that matter and “they are keeping that promise by regularising the system”.
According to Minister Trotman, the weapons will not be destroyed, but where necessary, will be restored through the village system. He went on to further explain that while there will not be waiver on the granting of licences, there will however be a waiver on application fees.
The gun amnesty programme was meant to get rid of illegal weapons with the hope of reducing criminal activities, particularly the increasing numbers of gun-related crimes across the country.
Of the 186 weapons surrendered at the end of the programme, none of them were found to have been used during serious crimes.
Police Commissioner Seelall Persaud had explained that ballistic tests were conducted on a majority of the weapons which proved that none were linked to serious crimes. He had previously expressed belief that criminals with illegal firearms would not turn them in.
The Police Chief also admitted that a majority of the weapons collected were shotguns used mostly by persons hunting, more specifically by Amerindians.
Last month, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo while visiting Region Nine (Upper Takatu-Upper Essequibo) gave assurance that once persons undertook the legal process, they could have their firearms returned.
Residents had claimed that the lack of proper education on the issue was the main reason for the mix-up. This had caused a number of residents, who use the guns to sustain their livelihood, to be left empty-handed and helpless.
Nagamootoo said that even if the firearm licensing fee was increased, as was proposed in Parliament, Government would look at the way the fees are charged, saying ”you can apply for a waiver of the increase for the firearm,” he said.
“While it is said that all of us are equal, we must understand that there are some people who deserve more attention than others,” he explained.
During the time the cries were being sounded by the Amerindians, Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan said that no names should have been recorded during this programme, therefore it would be impossible to return the weapons to the respective owners without a licence.
On October 22, 2015 Ramjattan had said that there are no special arrangements in place for those hinterland residents who believed that by handing in their illegal weapons under the gun amnesty programme, which were used for hunting purposes, they would receive firearm licences in return. He was responding to indigenous residents, particularly of Regions Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni) and Nine (Upper Takatu- Upper Essequibo) who were expecting to receive gun licences when they handed in their illegal firearms during the amnesty period.
In responding to the calls by the indigenous community, Ramjattan had said that anyone who wishes to obtain a firearm licence can do so by applying and going through the process at his Ministry. “You do not go bypassing regular procedures, you have to go through the procedure. This is not like the previous Administration – no! If you had an illegal firearm in the hinterland and you were caught with it, you would have been jailed. So not because you had it in the hinterland necessarily means that you are going to bypass the procedure,” he has said.