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‘Legal handguns after tough vetting’

Minister of National Security Wayne Munroe said yesterday he sees no reason why law-abiding citizens who apply for handgun licenses, and who are properly vetted and found to be of good character and able to safely handle them, should not be approved.

But he said the vetting process needs to be stricter than vetting for shotguns and rifles.

The Firearms Act provides that the grant or refusal of a special license for revolvers “shall be at the discretion of the Licensing Authority and every such special license shall be issued subject to such conditions and restrictions as he may deem fit”.

The act defines the Licensing Authority as “that person or authority who is for the time being charged with responsibility under the relevant provisions of the constitution for matters relating to internal security”.

That person is the minister.

“When they (the commissioner of police) send me the recommendations, unless there’s a compelling reason for me not to approve it, I’ll approve it,” Munroe said.

Asked why that is, he said, “Why shouldn’t you do it? Why should the licensing consideration be any different for a shotgun than a handgun or a rifle than a handgun?”

He said, “If you are qualified and if you can in terms of character and temperament, and if you can show that you know how to safely use them – the caveat being as is happening with shotgun and rifles, a license can be revoked at any time – [then you should be licensed].”

The Licensing Authority may vest all or any of his powers in the commissioner of police.

“Although the minister finally does it (approves the issuance of the license), the police do all of the vetting and the commissioner of police sends the recommendation,” Munroe explained.

“For instance, let’s say he recommends someone who for a particular reason the minister is aware of, the person isn’t suitable although he appears to be suitable, the minister can refuse but the commissioner will send the recommendation. 

“He sends me and says he recommends A, B, C, D and I reply to say ‘issue, I approve the recommendations you make, issue; once the person satisfied an armorer that he’s proficient in the use’. That’s a big thing of mine. We’ve been licensing all kind of lethal weapons without any need for people to show that they have any safety training or ability to use them.”

Asked if he thinks law-abiding citizens should be allowed to legally possess handguns, Munroe said, “That’s how the law is set up. See what people don’t understand is, for home defense, so the armorers tell me, the chosen weapon is a shotgun.

“The point I’m making is a lot of people – the 20,000 – 30,000 licenses where people say they want a shotgun, but we know, all of us know, that that’s hardly the truth, so the law permits you to be licensed.

“Now, the law like the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act says though, [for] gun licenses, a conviction is never spent, so the police will always consider every conviction you have so safeguards are set up where law-abiding citizens who the police think are appropriate can be licensed for a rifle, a shotgun or a handgun.”

Munroe said he was unsure just how many licenses exists for handguns, but added an audit is underway to make that determination.

He said, though, less than one percent of those licenses are held by private citizens and the majority are held by law enforcement or former law enforcement officers.

He stressed that just being “law abiding” is not enough to be approved for a license.

“You may be classically law abiding and you may not pass vetting for a number of reasons,” the minister explained.

“Vetting entails checking your criminal history, not only whether you have convictions but the interactions you’ve had with the police, because persons who may commit criminal offenses may not be convicted.

“It involves them going in and interviewing you, talking to people around you to see what type of a person you are. It’s a little bit more involved for handguns than for shotguns. 

“All of them are lethal weapons, so [for] all of them you should have a safety class, you should show that you can safely use it; and so, we are looking at moving to that. … [They were] never required to take a safety class, never required to show that you can safely use the weapon; that is definitely wrong. It has been in the PLP’s policy manual that we will address that from about 2012, I believe. 

“I’ve made it plain that we’re going to do it. The commissioner now, I think they are upgrading the number of certified armorers there are because with that many shotgun and rifle licenses, it’s going to take some doing.”