Attorney General and Minister of Home Affairs says he would welcome any individuals with illegal firearms who want to turn them in.
However, in response to suggestions that the island needs to introduce a gun amnesty, Brathwaite today warned that they simply did not work.
“Now pray tell if a fellow has an illegal firearm, you really feel if you say, ‘come I am going to give you $500’ that he is going to bring in his firearm and stuff? And when he brings in the firearm you automatically then have to test it to see whether or not it has been used in the commission of a crime?”
“It is not as simple as that!” Brathwaite said, stressing that, based on information he had received, “gun amnesties frankly do not work, and what usually happens is that you arrest a chap with his firearm, he tells you, ‘I was on my way to District “A” to deposit it you know’ . . . .
“That not withstanding if in fact individuals who have illegal firearms would like to turn them in we will welcome them off the street,” he added.
The Attorney General however admitted that the Freundel Stuart administration remains in the dark over the extent of the burgeoning gun problem and that Barbados was among Caribbean countries grappling with a worrying influx of firearms.
“This is not only a Barbados issue. It’s a regional issue given the large number of islands that we have [and] given the ease with which people can travel through our borders,” Brathwaite said.
Responding to reporters’ questions on the sidelines of a US-sponsored Caribbean Basin Security Initiative Professional Exchange Conference, the Minister was at pains to explain the complexity of the gun problem.
“There really [aren’t] any of us that have the capacity to man all of our borders,” he stressed.
“ . . . If you look at Barbados, the smuggler isn’t just going to come into the Bridgetown Harbour and say ‘hello, I’m here bringing my illegal firearms’,” Brathwaite said, emphasizing that law enforcement officials would not know if they were winning the battle until they knew the magnitude of the problem.
“It seems like if we are having challenges in terms of more firearms coming into the region, not just in Barbados. I am told that we now have a 60-40 split. Sixty per cent of the firearms coming into the region are coming from North America in particular from the US and the other 40 per cent is coming up from Latin and South America. So we have to look at wherever the threats are; and you really don’t know the number of firearms coming in, or being used in the region until a crime is committed, unfortunately. So that is why it is difficult to say if we are winning the battle,” Brathwaite added.
He noted that border security officials and other law enforcement authorities were further challenged because the people who brought in illegal guns did not register them and that one only got to know the status of the weapons at crime scenes or when the weapons were confiscated.
Brathwaite conceded that although large quantities of illegal drugs continued to be seized from various “hot spots” around the island, some still slipped through in the same way that guns did.
“You really don’t know if you are winning the battle because it is difficult to assess how many are coming into the region,” he stated.
He therefore said that the solution might be to continue training border security, examine the weaknesses in the security “apparatus” and push education.
Brathwaite was of the view that educating young people from the school level was critical, especially in applying conflict resolution and mediation.
“It’s a whole issue of violence. Why do we resort to violence, not just on the domestic plain, but even in terms of neighbours?” he asked.
Brathwaite also cited the issue of private pleasure yachts entering and leaving the island’s shores as a security risk, which must be tackled and which could be a means of bringing illegal guns here.
He said authorities must continue to track the movement of firearms and to see which countries they were being shipped from into Barbados.
He contended that while the CBP conference was looking at air transportation, there was a need also to seriously consider sea transportation as security issue.
“We are a region that we welcome individuals, we encourage yachts and boats for pleasure. We have to look at the risk associated with that. We have to look at the fact that a guy can get on his boat, leave Barbados, go outside the territorial waters within a couple hours and come back in. How do you check for these individuals and I’m not suggesting that there is an issue. All I am saying is from a national security perspective, the whole issue of yachts and ships going through the region is a risk that we have to look at, not just air passengers.”
“We have to use whatever resources are available to us to track firearms coming into the region; whether or not firearms are being used in Jamaica and then shipped to Barbados; look to see whether they are leaving Barbados and going outside of Barbados in the commission of crime,” he stated.
Brathwaite also said there was need for Barbados and the rest of the region to collaborate with the US in dealing with citizens who leave home, fight in foreign lands with such terrorist groups as ISIS, and then return to their countries.
He said it was a challenge, which had to be handled carefully, considering that the citizen did not commit a crime in his own country.