FLA to trace illegal ammo

Senior reporter

Monday, July 16, 2018

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The Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA) has amped up measures to trace the purchase and use of legal ammunition across the country as it seeks to determine the extent of leakage of rounds into the illegal trade.

Part of those measures, according to Chief Executive Officer Shane Dalling, is the current analysis of the annual allocation of ammunition to the country's 23 dealerships.

“We are also working along with the police because we do suspect that ammunition from the legal trade may be going into the illicit trade…We are dissecting the information as to where it is actually going,” he stated.

Last October, on the heels of a major corruption scandal at the FLA, then National Security Minister Robert Montague said the regulator would be conducting an audit of some eight million rounds of ammunition which were unaccounted for.

Montague said that based on the amount allocated to the island's 42,000 licensed firearm holders per year, approximately five million rounds are supplied to the legal trade annually. He said, however, that the authorities could not account for the whereabouts of the remaining eight million of the 13 million rounds of ammunition which it imports each year.

“We are tracking this thing now because we don't know if the market can consume that amount of ammunition realistically so we have actually started tracking the rounds being imported now and totalling to see every year what's the total. What you find is that sometimes we do issue an import permit for 500,000 rounds, but they actually bring in 250,000 rounds out of that because maybe the market overseas doesn't have the quantity. So, while the input permit might give you the right to bring 500,000, you may not bring more than say 200,000,” Dalling explained in an Observer interview following Friday's press conference.

He noted that imports are based on demand, not policy.

He also said the FLA found it “strange” that since it had implemented stringent measures to track “every single round” of ammunition, some dealers have been complaining that sales have fallen by as much as 80 per cent.

“We can only suspect that something was happening. Why would an accountability measure cause sales to fall by 80 per cent?” he asked.

The discrepancy arises with the additional rounds which licensed gun holders can purchase, in addition to their legal allotment for use on firing ranges, as these amounts can be unlimited. It is suspected that not all the rounds are being used on ranges.

Dalling explained that when the FLA began operations, ammunition was approved for sale only at full dealerships (those which sell both guns and ammunition). When dealers were restricted to selling ammunition alone on ranges, however, individuals were able to purchase without authorisation of the FLA, and without a prescribed limit.

“Having discovered that, we immediately put in place the requirement that all persons must seek prior approval,” he pointed out.

The crackdown started in October 2017, and since then the authority has found itself facing a legal challenge from one dealer who claims that the accountability measures have led to a loss of profit.

Government has announced that the FLA will introduce online tracking for firearm applications during this financial year, and that the agency will also acquire a BulletTrax marking machine to improve its capacity to capture bullet signatures. National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang said the changes will support the proposed amendments to the Firearms Act which should be tabled in Parliament this legislative year.

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