A long-brewing battle over private firearms ownership in the Cayman Islands may soon come to a head in court.
A local man who filed a complaint last year over how the country’s Firearms Law was being enforced – and later had his shotgun seized by police after officers refused to renew his gun owner’s licence – has now filed an application for judicial review of the decision not to renew the firearms licence.
A decision on whether the court would grant a judicial review of the matter had not been made by press time.
The review application, made earlier this month in the Grand Court by Dennie Warren Jr., also seeks a declaration from the court on how Cayman’s Firearms Law should be interpreted.
The claim alleges that the commissioner of police acted “without legal authority” in actions related to the forfeiture of Mr. Warren’s restricted licence [firearm licence] which allowed him to keep a shotgun secured in his George Town area home.
“There are express limitations in the relevant section of the [Firearms Law, 2008 Revision] that the commissioner of police has chosen to ignore parliamentary intent and supremacy,” the judicial review filing read. “Instead, he had caused to be unlawfully published other forms that are not included in the first schedule Firearms Law Regulations (1999 Revision).”
Essentially, Mr. Warren contends the firearms application forms contained in the regulations of the law are substantially different from the ones that have since been published and distributed by the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.
The Caymanian Compass sought comment from the RCIPS last week regarding the judicial review application’s claims. No response had been received by press time.
Moreover, the judicial review application alleges the commissioner of police’s decision regarding the forfeited gun licence was “biased against lawful gun ownership in the Cayman Islands”.
“He has taken a view that directly contradicts that of the Firearms Law and the general right of a person to lawfully own a firearm in the Cayman Islands,” the application read.
Private firearms ownership is allowed in Cayman, but it is not an absolute right such as the one conferred by the US Constitution.
In a recent interview, RCIPS Superintendent Kurt Walton said there were 1,556 legally held firearms in the Cayman Islands as of 1 April, 2011. There were 922 owners attached to those weapons, he said.
The ultimate arbiter of gun ownership in Cayman is the commissioner of police, who is advised by a committee that reviews firearms importation and renewal applications, Mr. Walton said.
“Ultimately, that decision … is down to the commissioner,” Mr. Walton said. “You can apply for it, there’s no guarantee it’s going to be approved.”
A key issue police have spent the last several months reviewing is whether firearms are allowed for the sole purpose of self-defence or home security.
Mr. Walton said he has seen very few applications to the police firearms review committee, on which he sits, where the applicant is seeking a firearm for home defence.
“Persons who are involved in sports shooting … and obviously for hunting, that has been the most sought after in terms of applicants, “ he said. “[There are] very few coming through I see like that [for self-defence]. It’s not necessarily addressed in the firearms law.”
According to a March 2010 decision by the Cayman Islands Complaints Commissioner, Cayman’s top cop can make unilateral changes to firearms applications forms.
Police changes to firearms applications, importation and renewal forms were disputed back then by Mr. Warren who claimed in a letter to Complaints Commissioner Nicola Williams that the police commissioner was allowing firearms applications forms to be published that “please(d) him instead of the law”.
According to firearms applications forms reviewed by the Caymanian Compass, there have been several changes to the initial application document set forth in the Firearms Regulations (1999 Revision).
In forms previously published on the RCIPS web site, there were several requirements for firearms applicants that are not set out in the regulations. Those include seeking two letters of reference from “prominent persons in the community (e.g. doctors, lawyers, MLAs)”, a letter from the Agriculture Department if the weapon is to be used for hunting, and supporting documentation from the Cayman Islands Gun Club if the gun owner is a member.
None of these requirements are set out in the 1999 Firearms Law Regulations forms.
Also on the newer forms, applicants are required to declare that they have not been convicted of a criminal offence “anywhere in the world at anytime”. They also agree to give RCIPS officers the right to inspect at anytime the safe where a weapon must be kept.
These declarations are also not required in the 1999 version of the application forms contained in the regulations attached to the current law.
At issue in the 2010 complaint – similar to the judicial review application filed recently – was whether the legal authority fell to the police commissioner, the governor or the Cabinet to change regulations in the Firearms Law.
That law (2008 revision) states: “The governor may make regulations for the better carrying out of this law and, in particular … for prescribing anything required or permitted by this law to be prescribed.”
According to definitions given in the law, “governor” means the ‘governor in Cabinet’ or all members of that body, not the governor acting in his sole discretion. However, since the Cayman’s 2009 Constitution was approved there has been legal debate as to whether the ‘governor in Cabinet’ – as envisioned under the previous 1972 Constitution – even exists anymore.
Commissioner Williams noted that the current law was a bit unclear with regard to firearms applications forms.
“It would appear that the appropriate authority would be either the governor or the police commissioner, perhaps devolved down from the former to the latter,” she wrote in a letter dated 9 March, 2010.