Last Thursday the United States renewed its Level 2 travel advisory on Guyana. It advised travelers to exercise increased caution. The US’s four travel advisories range from ‘exercising normal caution’ to ‘do not travel.’ The recent shooting to death of three men at Black Bush Polder, Berbice, and another three men in a home in Norton Street, Georgetown, that they had invaded, is a backdrop to the travel advisory, which is the same level of caution that Guyanese would normally exercise.
Most who live or work in Georgetown avoid certain areas and exercise increased caution even when not in those areas. Most do not wear jewellery or keep it safely hidden on their person. It is not safe for women to walk with handbags or for men to have easily accessible wallets which are easy targets for pickpockets, with the aid of knife or gun. Reports of harrowing incidents fill our daily news and these are only the tip of the iceberg of what happens every day in our streets and homes. Many overseas Guyanese, particularly from Berbice, do not visit Guyana on holiday because of the crime situation. All Guyanese know that visiting relatives are an invitation to bandits, as the Norton Street incident demonstrates.
The Government has expressed concern about the level of gun ownership and has linked private gun ownership to the high crime rate involving the use of guns. One argument is that gun owners rent their guns to criminals. There are no statistics or other evidence that is publicly available to link lawful gun ownership to the high level of gun crimes. However, by the end of the 1980s, after strong police action against ‘kick down the door bandits,’ criminals increasingly resorted to the use of firearms. Drug trafficking (remember ‘Taps?’) increased. In 1992 the newly elected PPP/C Government increasing use of firearms licences which had been previously denied to business people and farmers.
The increase in the issue of gun licences in 1992 resulted from what was believed to be the discrimination that attended the issue of gun licences during the era of PNC Governments. From 1992 the PPP/C Government sought to redress the balance, particularly to business people and farmers. There is some evidence that this process slowed at some point, perhaps after those who were considered to have been unfairly deprived had been granted licences. For example, the PPP/C Government declined to accede to the requests for firearms by Corentyne fishermen despite the atrocities, including murders, which were committed against them over many years.