NTA: Politicians must not control who gets gun licences

The content originally appeared on: News Americas Now

Black Immigrant Daily News

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

File photo: National Transformation Alliance (NTA) leader Gary Griffith.

THE National Alliance for Transformation (NTA) has urged that politicians should be distanced from the process of granting firearms user’s licences (FULs).

It did so in a statement on Wednesday after Tuesday’s Senate debate on the Firearm Users (Amendment) Bill, which would allow the Prisons Commissioner and Strategic Services Agency (SSA) director to grant FULs, which may now be granted only by the Commissioner of Police (CoP).

The NTA, which is led by former police commissioner Gary Griffith, said the prison and police services were independent bodies with relevant legislation and infrastructure to manage processes such as issuing FULs, but the party had a different view of the SSA.

It warned, “The NTA joins the independent senators of Parliament in expressing our concerns about the head of the SSA having this unregulated power, with the only oversight being Parliament and the National Security Council, which are both made up (of) and run by politicians, who could then perhaps do such things as appeal to the head of the SSA for licences for friends and colleagues.”

The party alleged such appeals for FULs had been made in the past by high-ranking public officials when Gary Griffith was Commissioner of Police.

Its view, it said, was “not an attack on the present head of the SSA, but a warning that such a precedent could lead to chaos, since politicians choose the head of the SSA, and some time in the future we could see a head who falls victim to political dictates.

“This again highlights the most dangerous part of the bill, that is, government interference and overreach, which when viewed with the context of the merit list fiasco, where the Prime Minister went to President’s House and met with then Police Service Commission chair Bliss Seepersad.”

Alleging that Griffith had been illegally suspended, plus constant attacks on his character over legal firearms, the NTA argued, “Citizens are forced to conclude that the reason for the ‘Get Gary’campaign was to have the final political say in who gets and keeps legal firearms, a frightening thought, especially since this Rowley-led government has repeatedly signalled undemocratic, dictatorial leanings.”

The statement alleged that Tuesday’s debate revealed several things, including the Government’s intention to inject the Minister of National Security into the process of issuing firearms licences, now the sole discretion of the CoP.

“And if we recall, NTA political leader and former commissioner of police, Gary Griffith, complained that attempts were made by senior government officials, to coerce him into issuing licences to certain persons, closely aligned to these officials.

“Unable to control Griffith, and still reeling from the failed efforts to discredit him, re the issuance of firearms licences, it seems they have now resorted to the next best thing, legislating political interference into the process.”

In the Senate, Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds withdrew the bill’s proposal for the minister of national security to be able to extend the period of validity of FULs. The NTA alleged several inconsistencies over firearm regulation by Hinds.

Firstly, the NTA alleged he had sharply reversed his position, from opposing to supporting legal firearms, reportedly quoting him as saying, “I can tell you, from information available to me, the possession of a (legal) firearm does help.”

Secondly, the NTA said Hinds had brought a bill whose main focus was providing firearms to at-risk prison officers, but previously he had attacked Griffith’s approval of legal guns. The NTA said Griffith was addressing the concerns of at-risk members of the protective services, including prison officers, because more than half of the licences issued by Griffith were for these same at-risk groups.

Thirdly, the NTA said, “perhaps Hinds’ biggest”turnaround,” which it said was in effect an admission of “his previous failed arguments against Griffith” was that after arguing Griffith issued too many gun licences, he now wanted to increase the number of officials who can issue the licences.

The NTA said Griffith was vindicated by Hinds’ revelation that to represent a firearm licence, the Government intended to issue an electronic card containing details that could be used to easily and efficiently validate legal firearms.

“This was implemented by Griffith as CoP, in 2020 and it was shut down by McDonald Jacob in October 2021, less than two months after Griffith was no longer head of TTPS.”

It quoted Hinds as arguing these electronic cards were necessary because the old system, under which FUL holders had to carry a booklet at all times, was cumbersome and the booklets could and did get damaged.