Law-abid­ing cit­i­zens are be­ing out­gunned and gunned down by crim­i­nals. Gun­men are armed to the teeth with so­phis­ti­cat­ed weapons, chal­leng­ing the po­lice and oth­er mem­bers of the pro­tec­tive ser­vices.

Busi­ness­men and reg­u­lar cit­i­zens have been left vul­ner­a­ble to crim­i­nals as many have ex­pressed dif­fi­cul­ty in ob­tain­ing Firearm User’s Li­cences (FUL). Even those with li­cenced firearms were up to re­cent­ly lim­it­ed in the quan­ti­ty of am­mu­ni­tion they could legal­ly pos­sess, putting them at the mer­cy of law­break­ers. Orig­i­nal­ly al­lowed to car­ry 25 rounds of am­mu­ni­tion, that num­ber was re­cent­ly in­creased to 40.

On the flip side, crim­i­nals and gang mem­bers have no con­straints us­ing high-pow­ered ful­ly-au­to­mat­ic and se­lect-fire (the ca­pa­bil­i­ty to fire in se­mi-au­to­mat­ic, three-shot, and/or ful­ly au­to­mat­ic fir­ing mode in rapid suc­ces­sion) weapons with ex­tend­ed mag­a­zines that give them more fire­pow­er than li­cenced firearm hold­ers’ firearms and even the weapons used by the pro­tec­tive ser­vices.

Re­search done in 2019 by the Strate­gic Ser­vices Agency (SSA) found that more than 8,154 guns were cir­cu­lat­ing in Trinidad and To­ba­go then. Sun­day Guardian was un­able to get any re­cent da­ta on the amount of guns cir­cu­lat­ing since then.

How­ev­er, some 680 il­le­gal firearms were seized last year. And on­ly last week, Min­is­ter of Na­tion­al Se­cu­ri­ty Fitzger­ald Hinds re­vealed that 84 firearms had al­ready been seized for this year.

Police seized six high-powered rifles in Curepe after a report of a gun attack and arson in the Curepe area, July 2021.

Police seized six high-powered rifles in Curepe after a report of a gun attack and arson in the Curepe area, July 2021.

TTPS

Vi­o­lent gun crimes punc­tu­ate the days rapid­ly and cut short the lives of scores of peo­ple in home in­va­sions, in­no­cent by­standers, those in­volved in crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties, and oth­ers in re­venge killings and fight­ing for turf in a gang­land war.

The vi­o­lence has cut through places of work and cel­e­bra­tions, it has tak­en lives at jew­el­ry store and the doc­tor’s of­fice, and on the streets.

Broad day­light at­tacks are be­ing planned with mul­ti­ple as­sailants, some in­side car­ry­ing out the at­tacks and oth­ers on the out­side in van­tage look­out points.

Busi­ness own­ers have faced the wrath of armed rob­bers, with se­cu­ri­ty guard Andy Ho­sein be­ing gunned down at Ke­tan Jew­ellery store in High Street, San Fer­nan­do, on Feb­ru­ary 5 and se­cu­ri­ty guard To­jay Rick­etts at Dr Lall Sawh’s of­fice in San Fer­nan­do on Feb­ru­ary 23.

Busi­ness­woman Nicole Moses was killed by gun-tot­ing ban­dits dur­ing a home in­va­sion when they en­tered her prop­er­ty in West­moor­ings on Thurs­day morn­ing. They were armed with a pis­tol in this in­stance.

Crime Scene investigators at the scene of a double murder at South Park Plaza, San Fernando, in January.

Crime Scene investigators at the scene of a double murder at South Park Plaza, San Fernando, in January.

RISHI RAGOONATH

Moses’s rel­a­tive used his li­cenced firearm–a hand­gun–to kill two of the three ban­dits. She was shot in the melee by ban­dits while try­ing to save her nephews and died at the hos­pi­tal.

There has al­so been a pro­lif­er­a­tion of crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties in the agri­cul­ture and farm­ing in­dus­try. Farm­ers have wit­nessed a sharp in­crease in prae­di­al lar­ce­ny and theft of live­stock, and they are be­ing robbed of their mon­ey and equip­ment in home in­va­sions, when they are ply­ing their trade or wait­ing to get in­to the mar­kets in the wee hours of the morn­ing.

Bindra Ma­haraj, pres­i­dent of Sills Farm­ers Sup­port Group, said there should al­so be a con­sid­er­a­tion for FULs to be grant­ed to farm­ers to de­fend them­selves as cit­i­zens feel vul­ner­a­ble and are liv­ing in fear.

High-pow­ered weapons

Scores of the mur­ders in the coun­try were car­ried out us­ing dead­ly high-pow­ered weapons.

Apart from the se­mi-au­to­mat­ic AR-15s be­ing the pre­ferred guns of the un­der­world, sub­ma­chine guns/ma­chine pis­tols are al­so pop­u­lar un­der­world items. Pis­tols and re­volvers of var­i­ous cal­i­bres com­mon­ly avail­able in the US such as Glock, Beretta, Smith & Wes­son, Brown­ing, Sig Sauer, and Sturm Ruger have al­so made their way in­to the hands of the crim­i­nal un­der­world.

Law en­force­ment was al­so start­ing to see the ap­pear­ance of ‘so­phis­ti­cat­ed’ pump and semi­au­to­mat­ic shot­guns such as Moss­berg, Beretta, and Benel­li shot­guns, arms used by the drug car­tel.

Crim­i­nol­o­gist Dau­rius Figueira said the Amer­i­can AR-15 as­sault ri­fle has be­come the “call­ing card” for lo­cal gang mem­bers who have con­nec­tions with transna­tion­al or­gan­ised crime syn­di­cates. That gun, he said, has be­come “the pre­ferred weapon of choice and a sta­tus sym­bol among gang mem­bers,” el­e­vat­ing the nor­mal gang ‘sol­dier’ to a ‘ranker’ or ‘play­er’ among his peers.

The AR-15 is the brand and im­age of gang­land in T&T and all over the Caribbean.

The AR-15 has su­per­seded the Russ­ian Kalash­nikov or AK-47 style as­sault ri­fle and its clones.

With a pro­lif­er­a­tion of AR-15 ri­fles, they are read­i­ly avail­able, re­li­able, and lighter than the Russ­ian AK vari­ants.

A per­son can car­ry more 5.56×45mm am­mu­ni­tion for the AR-15 than the AK-47’s 7.62×39mm am­mu­ni­tion, both are dead­ly on peo­ple and can pen­e­trate bul­let­proof vests or bal­lis­tic vests de­signed de­pend­ing on the strength lev­el of the vest. In some cas­es, lev­el four and lev­el five vests con­tain a ce­ram­ic plate that can pre­vent this type of am­mu­ni­tion from pierc­ing the vest.

The 5.56×45 mm bul­let that the AR-15 ri­fle us­es has a lighter weight, less re­coil, and a high­er rate of fire, than the AK or Kalash­nikov ri­fle’s 7.62x39mm bul­let, and could car­ry more rounds of 5.56×45 mm am­mu­ni­tion than the larg­er car­tridge.

The ad­van­tage of the 7.62x39mm larg­er, heav­ier bul­let is that it can punch through walls, trees, and ve­hi­cles.

The 7.62 bul­lets are al­so used by snipers, and in tar­get com­pe­ti­tion, be­cause the heav­ier bul­let is less af­fect­ed by cross­winds.

The AR-15 used in sev­er­al as­sas­si­na­tions

The AR-15 ri­fle, the prized weapon of gang mem­bers and ban­dits, has been used in sev­er­al as­sas­si­na­tions re­cent­ly.

*Mal­ick Strak­er, 31, of Ari­ma and Joel Cham­bers, 29, of Mor­vant, was shot and killed by AR-15 wield­ing gun­men who rid­dled the car they were in at the South Park mall in San Fer­nan­do, on Jan­u­ary 28.

*Jer­marc Quashie, 26, Ter­rance Nixon, 29 and Skeete Sanchez, 28, all from San­gre Grande were shot and killed when gun­men opened fire on them with AR-15 ri­fles when they were in their ve­hi­cle along the To­co Main Road on Jan­u­ary 14.

*Ja­maican na­tion­al Garth Perkins was shot and killed by a gun­man with an AR-15 while seat­ed in his car along Broad­way, Port-of-Spain, near the Ch­agua­nas taxi stand on Jan­u­ary 10.

*Prison of­fi­cer Nigel Jones was killed by a gun­man with an AR-15 in a ve­hi­cle in Siparia on No­vem­ber 29, 2021.

*Prison of­fi­cer Trevor Ser­rette was op­er­at­ing his fruit and veg­etable stall in Va­len­cia when he was shot and killed in a dri­ve-by shoot­ing by a gun­man with an AR-15 on No­vem­ber 26, 2021.

*Po­lice of­fi­cer Sgt Ri­car­do Mor­ris was al­so shot and wound­ed with an AR-15 ri­fle in Sea Lots back in May 2016.

*Re­put­ed gang leader and crim­i­nal mas­ter­mind Sel­wyn “Robo­cop” Alex­is was killed with an AR-15 ri­fle in Ju­ly 2016.

Gang member's TEC-9

Gang member’s TEC-9

‘Gang leader to pet­ty thieves want au­to­mat­ic fire, vol­ume of shots’

Law en­force­ment con­sul­tant/com­bat spe­cial­ist Paul-Daniel said pis­tols, ri­fles, sub­ma­chine guns, shot­guns of all brands and va­ri­ety were com­ing in­to T&T.

Na­hous said there was a trend where crim­i­nals were fo­cus­ing on seek­ing au­to­mat­ic fire and the vol­ume of shots. He said even many of the pis­tols be­ing seized had been mod­i­fied for au­to­mat­ic fire and were found with ex­tend­ed mag­a­zines, some up to 30 pis­tol rounds.

Ac­cord­ing to Na­hous, it seemed that from gang lead­ers down to pet­ty thieves were all armed with firearms now.

He said pis­tols were used most­ly in rob­beries, ri­fles and sub­ma­chine guns were be­ing used for gang war­fare, and there was the loom­ing threat that these were weapons to counter po­lice and have been used against po­lice re­cent­ly.

There is an­oth­er threat with the pro­lif­er­a­tion of ‘ghost guns’—home­made, vir­tu­al­ly un­trace­able guns with­out a man­u­fac­tur­er’s se­r­i­al num­ber, that were as­sem­bled from parts pur­chased over the in­ter­net and un­der­world gun­smiths milling gun parts from un­fin­ished blocks of met­al.

Na­hous said gang­sters like sub­ma­chine guns for the rate of fire and ma­noeu­vra­bil­i­ty in small­er spaces.

He said all types of cal­i­bres, and am­mu­ni­tion from .308, .40, .45, 9mm, to hol­low points were avail­able. Full met­al jack­et am­mu­ni­tion re­mains more pop­u­lar, Na­hous said, as it can be found in much high­er quan­ti­ties on the black mar­ket (and in gen­er­al).

High-powered guns seized during a raid in Cunupia in November 2018.

High-powered guns seized during a raid in Cunupia in November 2018.

TTPS

Au­to­mat­ic weapons in­stead of cash to take a life

The T&T Po­lice Ser­vice (TTPS) record­ed 53 mur­ders in Jan­u­ary. The Jan­u­ary 2022 fig­ure rep­re­sent­ed 28 more mur­ders when com­pared to Jan­u­ary 2021. Of that fig­ure, 45 of those peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to the TTPS sta­tis­tics, were killed by a gun. This trans­lates to 85 per cent of the mur­ders be­ing gun-re­lat­ed for Jan­u­ary.

Of the nine killings in Ari­ma, eight were firearm-re­lat­ed. San­gre Grande and Cunu­pia each record­ed three peo­ple be­ing gunned down. South Trinidad record­ed 11 gun-re­lat­ed mur­ders, and from Arou­ca to Port-of-Spain, along the East-West cor­ri­dor, ten out of 11 peo­ple were killed by firearms.

Cas­cade record­ed one mur­der, Mar­aval record­ed one, Paramin record­ed one and St Ann’s record­ed three; three of the vic­tims died from gun­shot wounds.

Tu­na­puna, Arou­ca, Mal­abar, Barataria, St James, El So­cor­ro, San Juan, Waller­field, Mal­ick, Paramin, and Bras­so Seco all re­port­ed a gun-re­lat­ed mur­der in Jan­u­ary.

A gun has now be­come pay­ment to snuff out a life.

The pre­ferred mur­der weapon for most hit­men and killers in this coun­try has now be­come the main cur­ren­cy in­stead of cold cash.

Sev­er­al un­der­world sources who spoke to The Sun­day Guardian on the con­di­tion of anonymi­ty said con­tract killers are tak­ing au­to­mat­ic weapons as pay­ment for the hit in sev­er­al in­stances.

“There are a lot of times I know killers who would take the au­to­mat­ic weapon in ex­change for the job. When they get that weapon, they can ob­vi­ous­ly use it for oth­er jobs in which they can ei­ther get paid by col­lect­ing more guns or cash,” one un­der­world source ex­plained.

“But the game has changed and most killings, de­pend­ing on the tar­get, are cheap. Some­one can be killed for as lit­tle as $500. On­ly a high-pro­file tar­get could be $100,000 and up. But in most cas­es, these hit­men don’t get that kind of job of­ten, so tak­ing an au­to­mat­ic weapon that is worth $15,000-$20,000 or more, most of the time is what they pre­fer.”

The guns are be­ing brought to the coun­try through the porous bor­ders from Venezuela, through ar­eas in Ce­dros and Point Fortin, and along the Aranguez riv­er and the North Coast. They are even brought in­to the coun­try in con­tain­ers from the US.

In ear­ly Feb­ru­ary Act­ing Com­mis­sion­er of Po­lice Mc­Don­ald Ja­cob had told the Ex­press news­pa­per that peo­ple were hir­ing crim­i­nals to get rid of rel­a­tives in­volved in land and prop­er­ty dis­putes.

He said that hit­men were be­ing paid thou­sands of dol­lars to take the job and added that “there are gangs out there that have some seg­ments of their op­er­a­tions to be hired for that pur­pose.”

Ja­cob had al­so promised in mid-Jan­u­ary of this year dur­ing a Trinidad and To­ba­go Po­lice Ser­vice (TTPS) press brief­ing to put a stran­gle­hold on il­le­gal guns and dis­man­tle crim­i­nal gangs that have wreaked hav­oc on the streets across the coun­try.

In Jan­u­ary 2022, ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics on the TTPS web­site, 58 peo­ple were charged for pos­ses­sion of arms and am­mu­ni­tion.

While Ja­cob’s as­ser­tion may be based on spe­cif­ic po­lice in­for­ma­tion about hit­men tak­ing big bucks for jobs, an­oth­er un­der­world source fa­mil­iar with how things work in­side the bel­ly of the un­der­world said that get­ting to keep an au­to­mat­ic weapon far out­weighs get­ting paid un­less the job is a big one.

“These au­to­mat­ic weapons are like an as­set and it al­so al­lows them to, in cer­tain cas­es, rent it out to get mon­ey. It is a re­volv­ing door and that is why a lot of those in­volved in killings now ask for pay­ment in the form of one or more au­to­mat­ic weapons,” the un­der­world source ex­plained.

“The il­le­gal firearms are big busi­ness, fel­la,” said an­oth­er source from east Trinidad who had been charged for a shoot­ing in­ci­dent sev­er­al years ago and has since been re­leased.

“The most pop­u­lar guns the killers like to use to put down ah wuk (sic) is the AR-15 ri­fle, the Russ­ian-made Kalash­nikov ri­fle, and then there’s the Mac 11 and Tech 9,” he said.

New weapon gives FUL hold­ers a fight­ing chance

FUL hold­ers in T&T tra­di­tion­al­ly had three choic­es in weapons for self-de­fence–re­volvers and pis­tols for con­cealed car­ry and shot­guns for home de­fence.

Now there is a fourth class of weapon avail­able, the pis­tol cal­i­bre car­bine (PCC). To John Pub­lic, the weapon re­sem­bles a sub­ma­chine gun. A pis­tol cal­i­bre car­bine is a shoul­der-mount­ed gun that is cham­bered in a pis­tol cal­i­bre car­tridge such as 9mm.

868 Tac­ti­cal Firearms and Ac­ces­sories, in Val­sayn, one of the newest firearms deal­er­ships, has a Grand Pow­er Stri­bog SP9A1 9mm car­bine on dis­play in one of their show­cas­es.

Ac­cord­ing to the own­er of the com­pa­ny, re­tired ma­jor Dirk Barnes, this new type of weapon for T&T com­bined with the prop­er train­ing and tac­tics, gives FUL car­ry­ing law-abid­ing cit­i­zens, law en­force­ment (LE), and se­cu­ri­ty per­son­nel a fight­ing chance against crim­i­nal el­e­ments who use au­to­mat­ic weapons and mul­ti­ple armed at­tack­ers.

Barnes said with more home in­va­sions and mul­ti­ple in­trud­ers car­ry­ing guns, it can be over­whelm­ing for the home­own­er/de­fend­er with a li­cenced 9mm pis­tol with a ten- to a 17-round ca­pac­i­ty.

“Shot­guns are an ex­cel­lent home-de­fence weapon and its am­mu­ni­tion wouldn’t pass through walls and in­jure a fam­i­ly mem­ber in the next room.

“Once a per­son gets his FUL, he can ap­ply for a vari­a­tion which will al­low him to add on dif­fer­ent weapons. There are oth­er plat­forms avail­able now like 9mm car­bines or car­bine con­ver­sion kits which are new to T&T. I’m hap­py to see them here, they re­tain the same 9mm am­mu­ni­tion as hand­guns.

“The ex­cep­tion be­ing the pis­tol cal­i­bre car­bine of­fers three points of con­tact on the user; the shoul­der, cheek, and fore­grip which gives you a lot more sta­bil­i­ty and ac­cu­ra­cy.”

He said ac­ces­sories such as op­ti­cal sights, weapon lights, and lasers can be at­tached to these types of weapons.

Barnes said in the sce­nario of a home in­va­sion at night, the home­own­er doesn’t have to go from room to room switch­ing on lights, he can move around and turn on his weapon light on his car­bine, use the op­ti­cal sight for ac­cu­ra­cy while en­gag­ing mul­ti­ple tar­gets as car­bines hold more rounds than pis­tols so they don’t have to re­load as of­ten and are be­com­ing more avail­able to law-abid­ing cit­i­zens with FULs.

Gang member's AK or Kalashnikov rifle.

Gang member’s AK or Kalashnikov rifle.

No cen­tralised repos­i­to­ry to store weapons seized from crim­i­nals

To com­pound the sit­u­a­tion in­volv­ing il­le­gal firearms, po­lice sta­tions do not have a cen­tralised repos­i­to­ry to store the weapons when seized from crim­i­nals–the weapons are held in the po­lice sta­tion as ex­hibits in court cas­es, there is no com­put­er­i­sa­tion of the weapons stored but a log­book is used.

Law en­force­ment con­sul­tant/com­bat spe­cial­ist Paul-Daniel Na­hous said there have been in­ci­dents of il­le­gal firearms in po­lice sta­tions go­ing miss­ing and rent­ed out, even some po­lice-is­sued guns al­so end up be­ing used in a crime.

Na­hous said there had been talk from time to time of pri­vate firearms and am­mu­ni­tion left in po­lice sta­tions for safe­keep­ing be­ing in­ter­fered with in some man­ner.

“Some civil­ians who lodge their firearms in po­lice sta­tions claim that their weapon was used or fired.”

Ac­cord­ing to Na­hous, “The stor­age of il­le­gal firearms and court ex­hibits are cen­tralised or de­cen­tralised de­pend­ing on di­vi­sion and stor­age needs at the time. There is a sys­tem cur­rent­ly of elec­tron­i­cal­ly tag­ging and keep­ing e-records of seized firearms, but of­fi­cers pi­lot­ing this are deal­ing with a mas­sive back­log and con­tin­u­ous in­take. Over­all, the main is­sue is that there are sim­ply too many il­le­gal guns be­ing seized to keep up with.”

He said once an il­le­gal firearm is en­tered of­fi­cial­ly in­to the prop­er­ty (ev­i­dence) room, it was very dif­fi­cult for it to leave with­out a record be­ing tak­en as those ar­eas were re­strict­ed ac­cess even to po­lice.

Sun­day Guardian al­so asked firearms deal­er Barnes what was the so­lu­tion to gun stor­age in T&T. Barnes, the di­rec­tor, chief train­ing of­fi­cer at Blue Line De­fence, Train­ing, & Con­sult­ing Ltd said even though it was lodged in a sta­tion for safe­keep­ing and should be treat­ed as such, the prac­tice which he rec­om­mend­ed was for the own­er to (af­ter the of­fi­cer re­ceiv­ing logs the in­for­ma­tion on the firearm and am­mu­ni­tion) was to se­cure the firearm func­tion it­self.

Na­hous rec­om­mend­ed us­ing a gun or trig­ger lock to se­cure­ly lock the func­tion­ing mech­a­nisms of the weapon, or se­cure in a lock­box. He said this elim­i­nat­ed the op­por­tu­ni­ty for the odd oc­cur­rence of mis­chief in a po­lice sta­tion.

Na­hous said this was stan­dard prop­er stor­age prac­tice all over the world, even man­dat­ed by law in coun­tries such as Cana­da.

Figueira said firearms used in the com­mis­sion of crimes be­came ev­i­dence that had to be placed in ev­i­dence lock­ers un­der strict su­per­vi­sion, well manned, and un­der the sur­veil­lance of a 24/7 se­cu­ri­ty sys­tem to en­sure the in­tegri­ty of the ev­i­dence.

He said the same prob­lem with the in­tegri­ty of ev­i­dence may arise at in­sti­tu­tions such as the Foren­sic Sci­ence Cen­tre.

Figueira said com­put­erised in­ven­to­ry sys­tems must have checks and bal­ance to ver­i­fy who en­tered the ev­i­dence lock­er, time in and out, the move­ment of items in and out of the lock­er, and most im­por­tant­ly; the in­tegri­ty of the per­son­nel charged with man­ag­ing the ev­i­dence lock­ers.

He said the weak point is peo­ple who can be bribed, cor­rupt­ed, or black­mailed, a case may col­lapse if the ev­i­dence ‘dis­ap­pears’ or goes miss­ing from the lock­er room and end up in cir­cu­la­tion in the hands of crim­i­nals.

Figueira said po­lice sta­tions, cour­t­hous­es, and weapons repos­i­to­ries should have armed law en­force­ment and se­cu­ri­ty per­son­nel as well cit­ing cas­es where guns were stolen from po­lice and court ar­se­nals, some­times in armed rob­beries.

Con­tin­u­ing next week

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