The images and information in our front page story today, ‘Smuggled weapons seized’ are both disturbing and reassuring.
Disturbing because these seized weapons may be just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what is actually coming into the country, but reassuring to see the two ministries working cooperatively to stem the flow of this contraband and being vigilant at our points of entry.
It is also fitting that the information about the weapons and ammunition seized be in the public domain. We all have a right to know what steps are being taken by those guarding our borders rather than learning that there are many illegal weapons in the country through court stories in the media where there have been accidental deaths or worse.
But why military-type weapons?
Are these simply ‘boys toys’ from people who were in the military overseas who want to display them as souvenirs of their glory days or is there a more sinister reason?
It is no secret that where you find drugs and money from the sale of drugs, you inevitably find firearms which are used for protection purposes.
And like many countries, Samoa, whether it wants to admit it or not, does have a problem with both soft and hard drugs.
Then the resulting revenue from the sale of drugs often requires money being kept close to home, thereby creating a need for deterrents to any unwelcome visitors.
In today’s story more than 15 illegal weapons and ammunition were intercepted at various border control checkpoints in Samoa.
They are on display in the photographs before being handed over to the Police Commissioner, Fuiava Egon Keil who has been at the forefront of an Arms Amnesty.
Outgoing C.E.O. of the Ministry of Revenue which includes Customs, Pitolau Lusia Sefo-Leau says the contraband was confiscated not only from containers and in people’s luggage, but also from parcels which presumably means they may have come through Samoa Post.
While specific firearms can be brought into the country with the appropriate permits after which they are registered they are for approved purposes.
That is, farmers may be granted a permit to use them to kill cattle and there is also provision for shooters to use guns for shooting as a sport.
The Samoa Shooting Federation is a registered sports group whose members may own pistols, shotguns and/or rifles. The guns are for target shooting and used at the police–owned Tafaigata Range which is maintained and has been developed by the Government and S.S.F.
S.S.F. along with the Ministry of Police are also the caretakers of firearms which were purchased by the Government for use by competitors at the 2007 South Pacific Games in Samoa.
Over the years, rules and regulations for becoming a member of S.S.F. have been tightened as it has become obvious that some ‘intending members’ had no real interest in shooting as a sport, but had joined to be allowed to purchase a firearm.
The advantage of being a member of the S.S.F. is that whatever age or sex you are, you will be taught the essential safety procedures when handling a gun, or being in the vicinity where guns are kept.
President of the S.S.F. Papali’i Frances Caffarelli said the introduction of I.D. cards with photographs is an additional safety precaution. It confirms that the member knows the safety rules that will keep everybody safe.
Sadly, there are no guarantees that non-members who are illegally bringing in guns, have the same respect for safety, the firearms and the damage they can cause, in the wrong hands.