No guns for women? …Females concerned about being denied firearm license
Concerned about Jamaica’s alarming crime rate, more and more women are seeking ways to protect themselves – including importing and using illegal tasers and pepper sprays – even as some express frustration with the almost impossible process of acquiring a legal firearm.
In an article in 2015, The Sunday Gleaner highlighted that the Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA) was seeing a spike in female applicants. Since then, controversies and scandals at the authority have led to a change in administration.
Reports have now surfaced that applications from a number of females have been denied by the FLA. And attempts by The Sunday Gleaner for over a month to find out the reasons and get updated data on licensed female firearm holders in Jamaica have proven futile.
In fact, the newspaper was informed that while they do have the data, “the CEO said the information should not be handed over to you”.
40-year-old, Jessica Roper* is one such female who has been trying to get a gun license from the FLA since returning from the United States with her teenage daughters four years ago, after being plagued by criminals.
Roper said the first time she tried starting a business, the animals on her property were stolen by persons in her community in central Jamaica. She said she reported the matter to the police but nothing was done.
While her husband was aboard, she brought in equipment to start another business in what is considered another male dominated field, and based on what happened before, she said she wanted to safeguard her investment, so she applied to the FLA for a 9mm pistol. The application fee is J$12,000.
“They did the interview, and months after when I checked to find out what was happening with my application, they told me they lost the application. Another person came to do over the interview and the next I hear from them was that my application was denied,” Roper told The Sunday Gleaner.
‘NEED NOT ESTABLISHED’
The reason given on the letter dated December 10, 2018 was “Need not established” and that she could appeal the decision within 21 days of receiving the letter.
Asked to explain what that statement meant, FLA’s chief executive officer (CEO), Shane Dalling, said, “There is nothing that I can tell you that is not outlined to every applicant who is denied or deferred. A letter is given to them, noting that under the law there is an appeal process to the review board and if she was denied, the letter would have outlined that to her and told her what to do.”
Expressing her frustration with the whole process, Roper said she got the letter when the 21 days had almost expired.
“The way Jamaica is going, you just need to have protection. I provided all the documents, did all the checks. I think what they did was unfair, because when you look at the news and you read what’s going on, people with bad character and reputation have firearm,” she said.
45-year-old Ashley Howard* has owned a gun for five years, which she said was needed for protection.
“I live alone and I work late hours, so I wanted to protect myself. At the time, I lived in a community where sometimes persons tended to plague on the older persons, so persons tried to ensure that they had cameras or protected themselves otherwise,” said Howard.
Howard said she didn’t have any issues getting her firearm, although the application process was lengthy, but she knew of persons who were having difficulties with their application. She said that within her circle, there were more male than female licensed firearm holders.
“I encourage females to be armed, especially if you live alone and in this kind of volatile times with the crime rate escalating,” said Howard, who is in the education field.
She said so far she has never had to use her firearm, but it does provide a level of security and peace of mind that wouldn’t have been there if she didn’t own one.
“I felt threatened a couple of time, but not to the extent where I felt the need to use it. If I feel like I’m going home too late, I might put it somewhere where if the need arises I may have to use it, but I have never had that close call really,” said Howard.
Gender biases are built into systems, says Nadeen Spence
Gender advocate Nadeen Spence said it would be helpful if the data on female gun ownership in Jamaica were made available by the Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA), as it would be interesting to find out if there was a gender bias in the granting of gun licenses.
“Gender biases are built into systems and processes, and it is only when you shine a light on it that you realise the extent of it,” said Spence.
“People come into the system with mindsets of bias and so even if the system doesn’t have a rule that says men have more right to gun ownership than women, the way the laws are executed will see women being granted less gun licenses compared to men.”
Spence added that, “Given the way Jamaica is, you would think that women would be the more responsible gun owners because women are less likely to use gun in an irresponsible way.”
In 2017, the Pew Research Center reported that about one-in-five women (22 per cent) in the United States reported that they owned a gun.
[*Names changed to protect identity]