Under fire, FLA chided for lowering shooting pass mark, suspending written exam requirements
Tyrone Reid, Sunday Gleaner Reporter
Concerns have been raised about the decision of Jamaica's gun-control body - the Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA) - to lower the shooting accuracy pass mark, and suspending the mandatory written-exam component for gun permits to be issued.
A document released to The Sunday Gleaner by a knowledgeable source reveals a slew of changes by the board of the FLA which, the informant claims, has led to a "a total breakdown of the system of issuing firearm licences" in Jamaica since 2008. The informant contends that this "watering down of the standards" has placed the public at risk.
"The FLA has now become a system that is now socially and politically manipulated, more than the original system under the various police divisions," said the source, who asked for anonymity.
However, Errol Strong, chairman of the FLA, insists that the changes were made to address discrepancies that had crept into the system, and to eliminate bottlenecks caused by unnecessary bureaucracy.
Strong, a retired assistant commissioner of police (ACP), also pointed out that the authority had unearthed incongruities in the administration of the written exam. "Some people were given the same test over and over instead of the tests being rotated. Applicants were colluding with people on the inside to pass the test," he said.
He said there was a particular case where money was paid to an FLA employee who was responsible for conducting the exam. In return for the pay-off, the examiner turned a blind eye and allowed someone else to sit the exam on behalf of the applicant. "Some people were dismissed and the application refused," Strong disclosed.
The former senior police officer said that the written module of the gun-permit processes had not been pulled altogether, but revamped, and should be reintroduced shortly. The board approved the new-look test two months ago.
Still, Strong admitted that since 2009, "permits have been given to people who did not sit a written test" as was the requirement in the past. In defence, Strong stated that the law only requires that the candidate is able to sign the application form.
The FLA chairman strongly denied suggestions that permits were issued to illiterate applicants during the two-year absence of the written test. "We have not issued a single firearm to anyone who can't read or write," he stressed.
Additionally, Strong said the written test, with an 80 per cent pass mark, was "a bit onerous". "It was difficult. Senior people in the army, the gazetted ranks, and business people were failing the test."
He added: "It had become a bottleneck; a sticking point. People were failing it, and we found corruption creeping into the system."
Strong believes the construct of the exam asked too much of the applicants and took them into "unnecessary areas" like first-aid techniques.
Strong also denied that gun permits were being issued on a discretionary basis to persons who did not participate in the practical shooting test. "No such thing. Everybody, before being issued with a purchase order to go and buy a gun, is given a shooting test. Everyone has to satisfy our firearms inspection teams that go out to the range to see the applicant and observe the shoot," he said.
The chairman admitted that the perfect-score goalpost had been removed, but could not say why it had been erected in the first place. According to Strong, one of the major points of emphasis was that every applicant needed to demonstrate competence in the safe handling of the weapon. The chairman also said that the perfect score previously required of applicants was too much to ask of the candidates, and claimed it was unprecedented the world over. "It has been reduced from 100 per cent to 80 per cent. I don't know anywhere in the world where you have a pass mark of 100 per cent on exams like these," said Strong.
The source strongly disagreed with the chairman. "When you're in a confrontation on the street, where do these go (the two allowed missed shots)?" the source questioned.
"Imagine a gunman is holding you hostage (and) a licensed firearm holder challenges the gunman, how would you like to know that the licensed (firearm) owner is only skilled at hitting his target eight out of 10 times? What happens to those other two bullets? Let's hope they don't kill you instead," the source argued.
The shotgun pass mark has also been lowered, Strong confirmed. Now, applicants are required to hit four of the five steel plates. The previous pass mark was also 100 per cent.
The source also revealed that the medical certificate requirement had also been removed. Strong said this was true. "There was a time when it was routinely required. It is no longer routine that every applicant must submit a medical certificate," he said.
The source also noted that the tax-compliance certificate (TCC) requirement had also been abandoned. This, the informant said, was a critical tool that aided in establishing the legal integrity of applicants. Strong said this was a half-truth as companies are still required to submit a TCC, but the requirement has been scrapped for individuals.
Applications approved/denied for the period 2007 - July 7, 2011
| Applications denied
Licences issued for the period 2007 - July 7, 2011
|Users special permit||2||7||5||29||3|
|Users licence regular||74||609||1,678||1,990||961|