Gun club member fires legal shot over license refusal

| 16/08/2011

(CNS): A local sports shooter and gun club member, who also represented Cayman at the NSSA skeet world championships in the 1990s, is taking the refusal of his firearms licence by the commissioner of police to the court, claiming David Baines has acted unlawfully. Dennie Warren JR, who is better known these days for shooting photographs, has been a licensed firearm holder since 1993 but his regular renewal was refused last year. Warren says the RCIPS boss has introduced new requirements and new conditions that are not found in the country’s firearms law, making the refusal of his application illegal. In a document filed last week with the Grand Court, Warren also says that Baines is biased against him because of his advocacy of the right to bear arms.

In his application for judicial review Warren says the commissioner is in contravention of section 20(b) of the Firearms Law (2008 Revision), which requires applications to be made in a certain way, but because he has change them Baines “has chosen to ignore parliamentary intent and supremacy.”  He says the top cop has introduced other rules not in the regulations and he has therefore usurped the power of the Governor in Cabinet.

“The Commissioner of Police’s actions amount to procedural impropriety/unfairness and go against the rules of natural justice,” Warren states. “The decision amounts to a forfeiture of an existing license which has been legally held since May 31, 1993. His actions including the unlawful creation of new application requirements (including unauthorized entry into a private residence) amount to improper process as the statute is succinct and prescriptive on this point.”

Warren claims that Baines has relied upon his powers to impose new restrictions on application requirements when he doesn’t have the power to do so, in particular, the demand for unfettered access to Warren’s home.

Following a number of public comments made by Baines about his dislike of private gun ownership, Warren states in his application for judicial review that the decision by the commissioner to revoke his firearms license is “blatantly unfair and biased against lawful gun ownership” locally.

“On several occasions the commissioner of police has made public statements in his professional capacity … contradicting the statutory legal right to gun ownership in these islands,” Warren notes. “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. Furthermore, the plaintiff is known in the community as a gun rights advocate. The Commissioner of Police is well aware of the plaintiff’s position and views regarding the right to bear arms and as such has been singled out by the Commissioner of Police and the RCIPS.”

Warren says that as far as the law is concerned, Baines should have no interest in the outcome of an application to renew a firearm license but his publicly expressed position of a “firearm reduction strategy” contradicts that requirement and as a result he is pursuing broader aims which the law was not intended to cover.

Seeking a judicial review to address the refusal, Warren states that he believes it will be the most effective remedy because of what he describes as “the exceptional circumstances of the case” and the fact that his challenge to the commissioner’s decision requires considerable legal knowledge. “The available alternative method would not fully resolve the questions and the matter requires special knowledge and legal interpretation skills,” Warren states, adding that the matter is also of public interest

“There have been numerous public statements by the Commissioner of Police that indicate a position that is contrary to the statutory mandate that he has and therefore impacts the entire Cayman Islands community at large,” he writes.

At a number of public meetings as well as on radio broadcasts and press briefings Baines has made it clear that he does not support the ownership of firearms in local hands. The police have been pushing hard over recent years to reduce all gun ownership in order to get as many guns as possible out of circulation. The weapon used in the Mostsyn’s Esso shooting in Bodden Town last year, where one of the suspects shot at a police officer, was stolen from a licensed holder.

There are believed to be more than 1550 licensed weapons on the islands owned by around a 1000 different license holders. Although it is lawful to own a firearm with a license in Cayman, it is not the same as the United States, and the decision to issue or revoke a license lies with the commissioner of police and a committee which must decide on the suitability of the holder and the reason the applicant requires the firearm.

In the Sister Islands, where there are currently around 60 licences held for firearms, the applications are not granted or reviewed by the police commissioner but by the district commissioner.

See firearms law here.

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