Wed | Jun 19, 2019

Easy access to guns in US triggers safety concerns - Authorities urge stringent background checks but illegal sources pose deadly threat

Published:Tuesday | June 11, 2019 | 12:07 AMCorey Robinson/Staff Reporter
A man loads 9mm rounds into a magazine at a shooting range in Dadeland, Miami. Anyone is able to visit and, with proof of ID to validate age, rent a firearm, buy rounds and fire at targets at the range.
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Gun shops and firearm-licensing agencies are among organisations to which United States Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents have reached out as part of its effort to keep firearms and other deadly contraband out of the reach of persons with questionable backgrounds.

Project Shield America is one such industry and academic outreach programme aimed at bolstering assistance and cooperation from gun and ammunition manufacturers within the US, and to improve export control measures between the US and countries such as Jamaica.

While declining to speak to organisations under investigation by agents, Rana Saoud, acting deputy special agent in charge of Division I, HSI in Miami, said there is particular interest in such agencies about the destabilising implications their weaponry can have on alliance countries and the US.

“We sit with our industry partners and explain to them some of the vulnerabilities their companies will face by not understanding who they are dealing with,” said Saoud, in reference to customers who may try to acquire and export contraband originating in the US.

“We also work with firearm-licensing authorities to explain to them the importance of knowing their customers … . So if they are selling guns to persons who they shouldn’t be, then that is definitely something of interest because they are breaking the law – international and domestic,” she stressed, adding that manufacturers ought to ensure stringent background checks of all persons procuring their products.

LEGAL PURCHASES

Speaking during a special interview at the HSI Miami headquarters, Saoud said that many of the weapons smuggled to Jamaica may have been purchased legally by individuals in America who have unscrupulous plans to send them outside the country.

So long as visitors are physically able and can pay to rent weapons, ammunition, targets and gear, no one is barred from visiting and firing weapons in one of the many gun shops in Miami, Florida.

There, showcases display a variety of weapons, including revolvers that can be purchased for US$300-US$400. Pistols may cost US$700-US$800, and rifles upwards of US$1,000.

One does not need a licence to purchase guns in the state of Florida, and there are reportedly no limits on the number of weapons an individual can own. One would, however, have to undergo a series of background checks and classes before getting the green light to purchase and carry a concealed weapon in the state, US authorities indicate.

Gun buyers must be at least 21 years old and demonstrate competence with a firearm. They must also live in the United States, unless serving overseas in the military.

Convicted felons, fugitives, unlawful users of controlled substances, and individuals deemed mentally incompetent are among a list of individuals disqualified from purchasing a weapon in Florida.

“If you have a concealed gun and carry permit and you pass a background check, being an American citizen, you can take the gun home that same time. If you don’t, in the state of Florida, you will have to wait five days,” explained one gun shop operator.

But while the US is taking strict measures to monitor weapons purchased legally, the process is made more complicated with the proliferation of illegal weapons already in circulation in the States and weapons purchased on the dark web.

corey.robinson@gleanerjm.com