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The process required by private citizens for the acquisition of firearm licenses is tedious, nerve-wracking, and frustrating yet, even then, after a detailed, demanding procedure, sometimes leads to denial. Despite the most stringent security checks to satisfy the prerequisites, many applicants are given the thumbs down which tends to bolster the confidence of the uninitiated citizen that those applicants that are eventually granted this privilege would have passed a rigid screening test that ensures that they are properly qualified.
Despite these guarantees, the nation is constantly rocked by the devastating news of shootings by none other than those citizens who would have ‘qualified’ to carry firearms following stringent security and other applications. One cannot forget former GDF Captain, Orwain Sandy who, a few years ago, shot his wife, Reona Payne, fourteen times to her body including once to the head. He has since been sentenced to life in prison for the crime on a lesser charge of manslaughter.
There were many other similar incidents with the most recent of these atrocities occurring approximately two weeks ago, on Tuesday, December 13, when the nation was informed of an apparent murder/suicide involving a barber and his wife. The former individual was reportedly licensed to carry a handgun so one can reasonably presume that he would have satisfied the outlined criteria.
One may be compelled to question the efficacy of the firearm licensing regime and even those successful applicants might fall under stringent scrutiny for firearm licenses under the extant rules.
Unscientific research seems to suggest that there are multiple licensed handguns, and to some extent, shotguns, within our small society. One cannot negate the fact that owning such a deadly device demands great responsibility and self-discipline. Notwithstanding, there have been suspicions that many ‘legitimate’ firearm license holders conversely, in Guyana, are loaded with ‘greenbacks’ and the right connections and a nefarious desire to conform to ‘under the table’ negotiations.
A corrupt licensing regime will inevitably elevate gun ownership to a status symbol rather than a tool for personal use, and protection of property. Accusations by some suspecting citizens point to a corrupt licensing regime that is favorable to those bigwigs with money to burn and willing to shamelessly subvert the system. Such laxities emerge and are influenced, by rent-seeking politicians and corrupt police officers resulting in the unmeritorious acquiescence of firearm licenses to scores of undesirable citizens. Can one then feign amazement at the concomitant result of such maladministration?
The World Population Review 2022 peruses the situation in Guyana and notes that 122,000 legitimate firearms are held by individuals and private organisations, a rate of 15.8 per 100 citizens. This ratio is only second to the Bahamas in the English-speaking Caribbean and exceeds most Latin American countries including Brazil, Chile, Columbia, and El Salvador among others.
One would have surmised that the demand for licensed firearms by private citizens would have dipped somewhat, especially since the police would have reported a reduction in crime for successive years. Such commendable statistics should have triggered a concomitant decrease in the demand for weapons for personal protection and those held by private security companies. On the contrary, there has been an exponential growth of private security companies, many with uncanny characteristics of private military companies and greater demand for personal protection weapons.
The stark reality is that the demand for legitimate firearms and the growth of private security companies are obviously driven by several factors including a lack of trust in the armed forces, a perceived weak security sector, high incidences of crime, deliberate attempts by the ruling elites to legitimately arm their supporters, and an unsavory obsession with firearms by some sections of the population.
The right to bear arms neither comprises a part of the Guyanese culture nor is it a constitutional right. Arguably, a weak public security sector will force law-abiding citizens to seek out alternative remedies to the crime situation as the primary driver for personal protection.
Further, laxity within the national security sector will witness the exponential growth of private companies. Obviously, the state has failed to adequately provide an adequate security apparatus that can protect its citizens from criminal activities thus the mushrooming of dozens of private security firms and a greater demand for weapons and security services for self-defense and protection against upheaved criminal activity.
Let’s face facts; the exponential growth of private security companies is precipitated by a weak and compromised national security sector that lacks the capacity to effectively discharge its constitutional mandate. When authorised by the state, private security companies automatically increase the demand for small arms and light weapons (SALW) and facilitate increases in the supply within the illicit market if stockpile management is weak and there is corruption. Additionally, poorly trained private security guards are known to misuse their firearms and in some cases, have been implicated in criminal activities as well as human rights violations.
Likewise, many private licensed firearm holders are known to have violated the human rights of citizens which automatically translates to abuse of the privilege to carry those weapons. Some of them behave like demigods and after blatant transgressions, avoid prosecution by the state because of their ‘political connections.’
Government security officials should immediately undertake a proper assessment of the environment to ascertain the correlation between decreased criminal activities and increased demand for personal protective weapons coupled with the exponential growth of armed private security companies.
These officials have recently boasted of a stark decrease in criminal activities as well as an improved public security apparatus (disciplined services). The apt question to ask then is, what are the factors involved that are driving the demand for personal firearms and the growth of armed private security companies?