St George’s, Grenada – The year 2023 appears to be a record-breaking year for illegal firearm possession in Grenada. In the process the Police have confiscated almost double the number of guns impounded for the first six months of 2022 than those seized in all of 2023.
“Statistics show that in 2022 for the first six months 16 firearms were confiscated while for 2023 that number for the same period is 31,” said Dickon Mitchell who is not only prime minister but also the minister for national security.
“This points to a dangerous trend of increasing firearms in our communities,” he said, while announcing that the Royal Grenada Police Force (RGPF) has adopted a “zero tolerance” approach to illegal firearm possession.
“We don’t only intend to strengthen community policing and community engagement, but we are interested in getting to the root issues that are being manifested in violence in our communities,” he told CIJN.
Possession of illegal guns or firearms has been rising over the years, according to police records, but at the same time, there is not a significant increase in guns being used as the weapon of choice to kill and assault citizens or to commit other violent crimes.
In fact, the increase in illegal firearm seizures coincides with an increase in gun use by the police in crime-fighting efforts. Opposition leader, former prime minister Dr Keith Mitchell during the July 18 sitting of parliament informed members of a recent shootout in his constituency.
However, ASP Simon Douglas, Head of the Community Relations Department of the Police denied there was a shootout because there had been “no back-and-forth gunshots.”
He explained that the gunshots heard on the night of June 14, were fired by police officers after suspects fled the scene during a drug raid operation.
“It was not a shoot-out; the Police did fire shots behind the suspects who fled the scene. During that drug bust we confiscated 200 pounds of cannabis with a street value of (close to US$170,000) and a vehicle,” he said.
In July 2023, the Police recorded 14 homicides, representing an increase for the year but only two were the result of gun crimes. These two incidents involved civilian on civilian violence.
“The choice of weapon in Grenada is bladed instruments, the dagger – the knife and so on. A civilian shooting civilian is a rare occurrence,” said Jerry Edwin. Edwin is a criminal lawyer who has represented several accused, including a male who was charged with using an illegal firearm in a crime. That matter is currently before the court.
“I will say that there is an uptick in violent crimes, but when it comes to gun-related crimes, what is coming up for us lawyers to defend in the magistrate court is illegal possession of a firearm, you may find the one or two occasions where someone gets shot, but they are not significant tools in criminal activities,” says criminal lawyer Peter David.
Police say between January 1 and May 31, 19 illegal guns were confiscated, but only two were used in crimes. “Two firearms were involved in murders; we had two shootings where persons involved in firearm lost their lives,” said Superintendent Kenneth Gill, officer in charge of the Eastern Police Division. In July, the illegal firearms confiscated moved to 31.
‘So, you see what I am saying? Imagine 19 were confiscated, but only two were involved in crimes; the other 17 confiscated were confiscated during other operations by different units of the police force, and those who were caught with the illegal guns were charged for illegal possession,” said David, who pointed out that several drug busts also included the confiscation of guns.
“We also have instances of robbery with violence where a gun was pointed at the victim,” David said. A review of the people facing charges for the year shows that only men are currently facing charges for possessing a firearm. According to Gill, they are young men between 25 and 40.
David, who is calling for a study to find out the reason why possession of firearms in Grenada is mainly an issue for men of productive age, said: “It’s striking that only men are found with illegal firearms; I cannot recall having to represent one female for possession, I cannot recall even witnessing a woman facing such a charge,” he added.
“You know, one of the things I have also observed over the years is that none of the guns confiscated from these young men are guns that were used in Grenada during the period of the revolution (1979-1983), and so the real question is, how the guns whose manufacturers are mainly in North American are reaching our shores illegally,” he asked.
“Crime is not just a security issue it’s a development issue…we need to approach gun violence the way we took an approach with sexual crimes, we need to do something within the police force to deal with the issue of guns,” David told parliamentarians recently.
David recently called on the parliament to establish a bi-partisan committee whose task will be to assess the crime situation, in particular gun crimes, and come up with ideas to reduce and eventually eliminate guns.
“I want to see guns off the streets,” he said. He is also of the belief that that some licensed guns that are lost or stolen have found their way into criminal activities.
The recent release Caribbean Firearms Study, a joint report by CARICOM IMPACS and the Small Arms Survey, with financial support from the German Federal Foreign Office and contributions from the George Alleyne Chronic Disease Research Centre at the University of the West Indies, the Anton de Kom University of Suriname, and Arquebus Solutions shows that there are 1,145 registered, licensed firearm owners in Grenada and 1,091 registered firearms.
Under the 1968 Firearm Act, illegal possession of a firearm can attract a fine, on summary conviction, of between US$1,500 and US$7,500. The sentence also includes imprisonment for not less than two and not more than five years.
However, if the conviction is on indictment, the penalty will be a fine of between US$7,500 and US$22,200 and imprisonment for not less than five and not more than 20 years.
PM Mitchell said his administration would seek to amend the firearm legislation to provide stricter penalties for those caught with illegal firearms.
“We will beef up our legislation to reflect our zero-tolerance initiative for firearms to make sure that people understand that if you get caught with unlawful or illegal firearms, there will be serious consequences,” he said.
How are guns arriving?
The prime minister says he believes the country is threatened by the illegal importation of guns and ammunition. “I want us to understand that our island(s) are under constant threat from the importation of small firearms in particular; they are coming in barrels, they are coming in containers, and don’t be fooled, we are probably the last bastion of little or no gun violence in the region,” he said at a recent town hall meeting.
Police are tight-lipped on the origins of the guns confiscated, but the prime minister disclosed that the guns are coming from North American manufacturers. “The guns come out of North America,” he declared.
“We don’t manufacture guns, we don’t make guns, but they find their way into our societies because they come out of North America,” he said while pointing out that guns have been found in barrels and containers at official ports of entry. “Their origin cannot be disputed, they are coming from North America,” he argued.
Licensed gunsmiths are the only people who have permission to import guns into Grenada under existing firearms legislation. Before any weapon can be imported legally, permission must be obtained from the Police.
Role of the Police
The records meanwhile show that the Police are responsible for more civilian deaths with the use of a gun than civilians on civilians. Edwin says the sad truth is that most people who have died by police gunshots are mentally challenged civilians.
“There were two homicides involving the use of guns by civilians, but between November 2022 and May 2023, three mentally challenged civilians’ lives came to an abrupt end because of a gun that was used by the police,” he said.
“There is this notion that gun violence involves civilians versus civilians, but I will tell you the records are showing that the Police are also contributing to the outcome that we are seeing now in terms of death from the use of guns,” said Edwin.
There appears consensus, though, that while Grenada has so far escaped the worst effects of growing gun violence – as is currently felt throughout the rest of the Caribbean – it’s turn, if it eventually arrives, must meet a country at the ready. PM Mitchell and others have sounded the alarm.