The Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA), which regulates the use of legal weapons and ammunition, is incorporating greater use of technology to improve its operations as well as enhance transparency and responsiveness in the application process.
Established in 2005, the FLA streamlines and standardises the granting, renewal and revocation of firearm licences and all the attendant processes relating to the use of firearms in Jamaica. This serves to modernise and regulate the licensing of firearms in Jamaica, in keeping with worldwide standards.
Among the measures that have been put in place to improve the operations of the FLA are: the acquisition of BulletTrax marking machines to improve the capacity to capture bullet signatures for all licensed firearms, as well as laser engraving equipment; the introduction of online tracking for firearm applications; and the upgrading of its database and networks.
In a recent interview during a tour of the Authority’s 91A Old Hope Road facility, Chief Executive Officer, FLA, Shane Dalling, says some of the improvements and upgrades fall under a US$400,000 joint venture programme between the Ministry of National Security and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).
“So far we have acquired BulletTrax machines which will be able to test all bullets that have been fired by a licensed firearm. We have received two laser engraving machines and data concentrator to improve the database and the networks, which have vastly assisted us in terms of the timeline in which we are able to process from the application to testing of firearms,” he adds.
Mr. Dalling says that all ballistic testing of firearms are uploaded immediately to the Forensic Unit, “which assist the police in tracking firearms in terms of usage in firearm crime scene investigation.”
He informs that the Authority has introduced the online tracking for firearm applications, noting that applicants are provided with a unique ID number to track the application process.
“The system also sends an email to the applicant, each time there is an update on their application, and they can go online to track the process. So, there is no need to come to the FLA or find anyone to assist you, you go online and the application process from start to finish is done online. We continue to improve the processes and the system to ensure that, as fast as possible, applicants are told whether they are denied, deferred or approved for a licence,” he says.
Mr. Dalling adds that persons also have an opportunity to appeal if they are aggrieved by the decision of the Authority.
The CEO says the improvements in the processes and procedures, as well as dissemination of reliable information to prospective and current applicants are aimed at improving transparency and eliminating corruption at the Authority.
“What we have done is to make the process smooth (and) clear, so that everyone understands. Persons can literally track the process, creating certainty in terms of a timeline in which your application can be processed… all the way to completion. We have made it quite clear here that any person found to be involved in any acts of impropriety in relation to an application will be immediately removed from the FLA,” he emphasises.
Mr. Dalling informs that the Authority receives an average of 3000 firearm applications per month, pointing out that there is a turnaround time of between six months and one year.
He points out that the application process also includes an interview component as well as background checks.
“The longest process in the entire application process is the background check and the investigation, which is done by the police, the FLA’s internal team as well as the National Intelligence Branch which we depend on heavily for intelligence reports on individuals. So, it is not only about your criminal records, it is about your antecedent report and what the intelligence community is saying about you,” he informs.
Mr. Dalling says that a “clear need” for the firearm must also be established by the applicant.
“So, even if you have a clean background, you must demonstrate to the FLA that you have a clear need for this firearm. Just to say there is a crime problem in Jamaica is not sufficient, because that would affect everyone. You have to show your particular need, your circumstances to justify the need for that firearm,” he adds.
Meanwhile, the CEO says the opening of a St. Ann’s Bay location is slated for April of this year.
“What we are doing now is construction work at the location, so it will facilitate customers in St. Ann, St. Mary, Trelawny and Portland. All those persons who are going to the Montego Bay facility will have a facility to conduct business,” he notes.
The FLA’s regional offices are located in Mandeville and Montego Bay.
Meanwhile, Minister of National Security, Hon. Dr. Horace Chang, says the improvements being undertaken at the FLA will support the amendments to the Firearms Act, which should be completed before the end of this financial year.
“The FLA, like all other departments of the Ministry, is going through a process of modernisation to make them fully equipped with the requisite technology and structures to manage the security apparatus in the 21st Century,” he says.
The FLA acts as a centralised administrative body with responsibility for: monitoring and regulating the issuance of firearm licences; conducting relevant investigative checks where necessary; ensuring proper and standardised Training Certification in the Safe Use and Care of firearms; conducting regular audits and security reviews of gun clubs, private security companies, shooting facilities, licensed firearm holders and their firearms; and managing and maintaining a Ballistic Identification Database for ballistic information of licensed guns.