Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter
Four years after an investigation conducted by Jamaica's gun control body - the Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA) - showed that the police were causing lengthy delays in the gun licensing process, hundreds of applicants still have to wait an inordinately long time to own a legal gun.
The problem was highlighted in the authority's 2008-2009 annual report which was recently tabled in Parliament. Under a section of the report captioned "Review of actions and accomplishments for financial year 2007-2008", the authority lamented that applications were being submitted more rapidly than they were being processed.
"This was due largely to the time taken by the JCF (Jamaica Constabulary Force) agencies to provide clearances to the FLA. Consequently, an analysis was done on the time taken by the CIB (Criminal Investigation Bureau), NIB (National Intelligence Bureau) and Special Branch to properly vet applicants. It was determined that the turn around time was far too extensive," the FLA report said.
It also noted that a crucial part of the application process (new application or recertification) includes various agencies of the JCF submitting security clearances on applicants as they are requested by the FLA. "Due to the untimely submission of these clearances mentioned earlier, the FLA continued to accumulate a backlog of applications," the FLA noted.
Donna Graham-Gayle, CEO of the FLA, told The Sunday Gleaner that the lengthy delay in obtaining security clearance from the various police departments was still sticking up the gun permit process. "I would say it is an issue. We still have to wait on it and yes, it does take a while.
"We have seen improvements. It used to take longer, but it is still a problem," she said.
According to Graham-Gayle, clearance can take anywhere between four to eight weeks but sometimes the FLA has to wait much longer.
"Up to 2010, it would take you in excess of eight months. Now, we are seeing it come down to six months or three months but you still have some eight months," said Graham-Gayle, who pointed out that the applicants are sent to the various departments in batches.
If the applicant resides overseas or lived in another country at sometime in the past, clearance is sought from Interpol, said the FLA CEO. The criminal records office, commonly called the 'Fingerprint Office', is also one of the police units the FLA has to consult for clearance. Graham-Gayle hinted that manpower might be the problem but said she could not say so definitively. "We have been in dialogue with them (Ministry of National Security) and they are working on the issue," she said.
Karl Angell, director of communications in the JCF, could not be reached for a comment. Calls placed to his mobile phone and office line went unanswered.
The annual report also revealed that additional investigators had to be contracted to assist with clearing off the back-logged applications.
These investigators do home inspections and carry out background and character reference checks but an application cannot be sent to the board for approval or rejection without the criminal record checks provided by the police departments.
The report also stated that "numerous efforts were made to reduce the turnaround time, and while some improvements were made, they were too minuscule to greatly minimise what developed into a backlog of unprocessed applicants".
Data contained in the annual report showed that between August 2007 and December 2008, the authority received 1,818 applications and denied or approved a total of 1,155 during that period. This meant 663 applications were not processed during the period under review.