Separate motions aiming to ease certain restrictions on security guards’ possession of non-lethal weapons, as well as legalising ownership of pepper sprays and mace products, are expected to come before the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly at its next meeting.
In addition, opposition party legislators want support to create a separate authority to decide who may be issued private firearms licences – a move that would essentially dilute the police commissioner’s sole discretion over who can or cannot own guns.
Opposition Leader Alden McLaughlin said Cayman’s Firearms Law sets out certain conditions that must be met before a person can own a gun. However, in practice, he said police have tended to restrict private firearms ownership to farmers and members of the Cayman Islands Sports Shooting Association.
“This is a policy decision,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “The law doesn’t restrict licences in the way that is normally done and it has gotten more restrictive as time has gone on.”
Mr. McLaughlin’s motion to establish a Firearms Authority would set at least four people on the committee, including the commissioner of police and at least three Justices of the Peace. Government members have also proposed adding the president of the shooting association to the authority.
The move to an authority would mean “someone else except just the commissioner” would be making decisions with regard to private firearms ownership, Mr. McLaughlin said.
“[The commissioner] would be part of the authority, but not the authority,” he said.
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.”
One 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.”
A second motion filed by the opposition leader would make it legal for individuals to use certain chemical sprays like pepper spray, mace or even tear gas for self-defence purposes.
Currently, possession of pepper sprays and the like are against the law in the Cayman Islands.
“A number of women, in particular, who carry pepper sprays in their handbags … notwithstanding that this is unlawful,” Mr. McLaughlin said.
Certain local store owners have observed in recent months that people are buying small canisters of insect spray for self-defence purposes. The chemicals contained in those are often toxic and can cause permanent damage to anyone hit with them.
“It’s probably an indication of the level of fear that’s there,” Mr. McLaughlin said of those who are purchasing such alternate forms of protective devices.
Government members have asked Mr. McLaughlin’s second motion be amended to remove the legalisation of tear gas. They have also proposed the use of pepper spray and mace-type products be licensed.
A third private members motion, filed by George Town MLA Kurt Tibbetts, seeks to amend the country’s law to allow security guards to carry non-lethal means of protection like bullet-proof vests, batons, handcuffs and various chemical sprays.
Such devices are not expressly prohibited for private security guards under Cayman’s Private Security Services Law, in fact, one local store recently received approval from police for its guards to wear bullet-resistant vests.
The law also allows security company employees to carry weapons, even firearms, if they are properly trained and receive permission from the police commissioner.
In practice, however, Mr. McLaughlin said it is unlikely most private security firms will gain the ability to arm their guards.
“They are not going to, at present, allow security guards to be armed,” he said. “We’re just creating targets for criminals … because these guys have no way to protect themselves.”