Police launch gun amnesty

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Police are launching a month-long
gun amnesty in a bid to remove firearms from the streets following a spate of
shooting murders this year.

The amnesty begins on Monday, 10
May, and ends on 10 June. Strong boxes will be placed in police stations in
George Town, West Bay, Bodden Town and Cayman Brac from 7am to 7pm each day for
members of the public to place firearms.

Police Commissioner David Baines
said the purpose of the amnesty was to prevent guns falling into the hands of
criminals and reduce the number of firearms in circulation.

Mr. Baines said people could hand
in weapons anonymously, with “no questions asked”.

He said he hoped this would prevent
a repeat of “the tragedies that have befallen many families in these Islands
over the past months”.

To drive home this point, Dorlisa
Ebanks, the mother of four-year-old Jeremiah Barnes who was shot dead in a car
in West Bay on 15 February, appeared at a press conference with Mr. Barnes and Detective
Superintendent Marlon Bodden on Monday to announce the launch of the amnesty.

She said her life and the lives of
her other two children had been “destroyed” by Jeremiah’s death and she urged
the public to hand over weapons in the amnesty.

“I feel that maybe with this
programme, it could have been avoided, but you never know,” she said.

“I cannot find the words to explain
what I am going through. I don’t want anyone else to go through that and I pray
that no one has to,” the mother said.

“My life is basically a void now. There’s
no coming back for my baby. For my other two little ones, their lives are
destroyed also and we’re just trying to put things back together.

“It is because of the gun violence
in Cayman. That has to stop. Let’s make a start and see where we go from here,”
she said.

Police displayed about 25 guns and
rifles that had been seized in investigations or recovered by officers. They
showed off assault weapons, shotguns and handguns, including a tiny weapon about
two inches long.

Mr. Baines urged people who know
their family members have illegal guns to hand over the weapons to prevent the
tit-for-tat shootings the Island has seen.

“There have been feuds where people
have gone off after certain individuals, supposed gang members, and their
family homes have been targeted. And the family members have been tied up in
it.

“So, if you’re not doing it for the
good of the person who owns the gun, you might just be saving the life of your
own family member because you will stop this tit-for-tat retaliation of
shooting that has been going on,” the police commissioner said.

He said any gun, regardless of its
size, could cause serious harm. Among the guns on display were imitation
firearms, which Mr. Baines said could strike fear into a person if it was
pointed at them during a robbery.

Mr. Baines said he wanted to see
real and imitation firearms handed in during the amnesty. “It gives us another
step in denying the criminal the possibility of the tools they use to commit crime
and bring mayhem to these Islands,” he said.

In 2009, there were eight murders
in Cayman with five people killed by guns. So far this year, five people have
been killed, all by guns.

“This is the correct time to
introduce a gun amnesty. My plea is anyone who has an unlicensed firearm, a
licensed firearm that is unwanted or an imitation firearm to hand it in,”
Detective Superintendent Bodden said.

He said following the amnesty,
police would “go serious with proactive operations” to find firearms on the Island.

“Guns destroy the community, they
destroy lives,” Mr. Bodden said, urging gun holders to hand in their weapons.

Possessing an illegal firearm
carries a 10-year prison sentence.

Any guns seized will be examined to
establish if they have been used in a crime, police said, and Mr. Bodden
pointed out that the amnesty was confined to the guns and did not offer clemency
from prosecution in an offence relating to the use of the weapons.

“If we have good reason [to think]
that a firearm that has been handed in during an amnesty is subject to an
investigation we will do what is necessary in terms of trying to identify and
trace that weapon…

“This is not a blanket amnesty,
this is a gun amnesty. The weapon itself is the central focus. A blanket
amnesty would be that any crimes that have been previously committed by the use
of that weapon would have received clemency in that regards, but that is not
what this amnesty is about –  it is in relation
to the gun itself,” Mr. Bodden said.

People who do not want to go to a
police station to hand in a weapon can call the police station to arrange for
police to pick up the gun. Mr. Bodden said individuals who did not want to deal
with police to hand over a weapon could contact their local pastor or minister.

In the last amnesty, in 2005, 20
weapons were handed in to police.

Police said the guns
seized will eventually be destroyed.

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Guns displayed by police at the launch of a gun amnesty on Monday.
Photo: Norma Connolly
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