Fri | Sep 22, 2017

Responsible firearm ownership

Published:Tuesday | February 2, 2016 | 2:00 AM

I remember in the bad old days when people who wanted to own licensed firearms had to fulfil enumerable prerequisite tasks and wait for a seemingly interminable period that could span years before getting their licence or permit. Some even had to pay off those under whose portfolio issuing firearm licences fell.

An indeterminate number of applicants would be disqualified because of a police record, obvious character flaws, ignorance of firearm laws, or incompetence in handling their newly acquired deadly weapon were it not for their very deep pockets. I met a young man who bought the proficiency certificate and the licence for a 9mm semi-automatic pistol and a shotgun. I met him because I was witness to him seeking instructions from a friend on how to load the weapons.

Then, there used to be the annual dangerous pilgrimage to police stations where exposed firearm owners bearing large red booklets risked being marked and targeted by criminals. They also had to sign their names in large books that were accessible to others with roving eyes. I was happy for my friends with firearms when the Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA) was formed and took over management of issuing licences and permits.

Last year, the FLA issued almost 4,000 licences. I think that the steadily increasing number of applicants is a function of the feeling of vulnerability to criminal activities. However, I also feel that having a firearm is becoming a status symbol and offers inclusiveness to people going to gun clubs and firing ranges formerly frequented solely by middle-middle and upper-middle-class members of society.

Firearms literally enslave their owners. They cannot be left unattended unless they are locked away very securely in a safe/strongbox. They are lethal, and many laws, rules and regulations dictate how and when they are used.

EASY REACH

I know of a female member of the security forces who left her loaded 9mm pistol within easy reach in her open handbag while in a public place. Her little son (about three years old) took up the weapon and pointed it a nearby woman (who totally lost it). The female member of the security forces downplayed the situation, claiming that her little boy didn't have the strength to pull the trigger. Numerous news articles of little kids accidentally killing others prove her wrong.

SHORT FUSES

I worry about the explosion of people owning firearms because we live in a very undisciplined and volatile society. There are many people driving around with short fuses and smouldering tempers.

Just a few days ago, I obeyed the law and stopped at a four-way intersection. Before my car could settle into a resting position, an impatient ignoramus sounded his horn angrily and continuously. I put my arm out of the window and pointed to the easily visible stop signs, but that enraged him into a punitive, horn-blowing frenzy. He then tried to overtake me as I drove through the intersection. It made me wonder what could have transpired if the many hot heads like him carried guns.

And I overheard a licensed firearm owner declare that she would exit [the safety of] her house to confront anyone that she saw in her ackee tree. She concluded that she would have to shoot him because she expects that the trespasser would become combative and possibly try to harm her.

But firearm owners should only consider using the weapon if their life, or the life of someone else, is under imminent threat by someone demonstrating the ability, intent, and opportunity to kill. In all other circumstances, remain inside and call the police.

Deadly force should never be used to defend or protect property unless the loss or damage of said property would result in an obvious and imminent threat to life.

I worry about licensed firearm holders taking on criminals as if they were the police, road rage shootings, murder-suicide cases, vigilante activities, accidental shootings, and carelessness leading to loss of weapons. I applaud the FLA for its prerequisite 'Safe Use and Handling Assessment' procedure.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.