Amerindian farmers have expressed relief at the news that Government has decided to reissue firearms surrendered last year under the Gun Amnesty Programme, saying that it will restore normalcy to their lives.
Some months after surrendering dozens of firearms under the pretext that they were going to be given legal ones in return, farmers in Amerindian communities have voiced their dissatisfaction that they were duped. This led to Government buckling under the pressure and last week announcing to the indigenous communities that it was moving to reissue the firearms.
Speaking with Guyana Times on Tuesday, Toshoa of Aishalton, in Region Nine (Upper Takatu-Upper Essequibo) Douglas Casimero said Government’s revised position “will do well” for the farmers in the communities. He said the move is what the people were expecting in the first place.
“Now that it has come to realisation, it is a very good step to have been taken by Government at this time,” Casimero told Guyana Times. He said the farmers have been depending on their firearms to maintain their families protecting their farm.
“These people don’t use it for anything else, just to maintain their families,” he said.
Former Toshao of Paruima Damion Chambers said the Toshoas were very vocal about the Gun Amnesty programme. According to him, the idea behind the relinquishing of the firearms last year was the hope that licences would be processed so that the gun possession would be legal. He said there are many people who use the firearms not for crime but for protection of their farm and providing food for their families. According to him, he hopes that the process this time could be legal.
Minister Trotman last Wednesday 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 told the media.
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 waivers on the granting of licences, there will however be a waiver on application fees.
In 2015, following the launch of Government’s Gun Amnesty programme, several Amerindian farmers had expressed rage, 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 get all illegal firearms off the streets. The aim was to help reduce the soaring number of criminal activities being perpetrated at the time.
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.
However, it should be noted that of the 186 weapons surrendered at the end of the programme, none were found to have been used during serious crimes.
Police Commissioner Seelall Persaud explained that ballistic tests were conducted on a majority of the weapons which proved that none were linked to serious crime. He had previously expressed the belief that criminals with illegal firearms would not turn in their weapons.
The Police Chief also admitted that a majority of the weapons collected were shotguns used mostly by persons hunting, more specifically by Amerindians.
During the time the cries were being sounded by the Amerindians, Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan said no names should have been recorded during this programme, therefore it would be neigh impossible to return the weapons to the respective owners without a licence.