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Raffique Shah


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Baying for Al-Rawi's blood

By Raffique Shah
October 19, 2016

Trinidadians, as they would themselves say, "like too much confusion".

The latest bacchanal began when Opposition MP Roodal Moonilal displayed and tendered in Parliament two photographs that purportedly show the teenage children of Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi "gallerying" (Moonilal's word) with what appears to be a short-barrel rifle or a sub-machine gun.

The facts that have emerged thus far are that the AG and his family, whose security has been assigned to the military, were invited by the T&T Regiment to a "familiarisation" session at Camp Cumuto, during which specially trained soldiers exposed them to different scenarios that might occur while they protected them.

From my own knowledge, I would say these included some physical contact with the AG and firing of the weapons the soldiers use so that in the event they went into action, the "protectees" won't mess their underpants. No member of the family will have been allowed to fire any of the weapons.

A likely scenario as to how the children ended up "gallerying" and being photographed holding the weapons is one or both of them asking the soldiers to so do. Foolishly, in my view, the senior person agreed. He should have politely but firmly denied the request. The issue of safety will not have arisen since the soldiers will have ensured that the weapon was not loaded.

Regarding who shot the photos, I'd hardly think a soldier did: more than likely the children did it, as youngsters are wont to, and they may have transmitted them to friends, which was how they ended up in Moonilal's hands. The Prime Minister may well find that he was hasty in blaming the soldiers, for which he should unreservedly apologise.

While the details I outlined above are partly factual and partly speculative, how the discussion, or noise, blew out of proportion with the Opposition in Parliament demanding that Al-Rawi resign or be fired by the PM, defies logic. Confusion is the only word to describe the cacophony.

What law did the AG violate? None of those quoted by the "silks" or "bush lawyers", as far as I see—not the Firearms Act, the Children's Act, or any other such law. Those who quote chapter and section, not to add penalties ranging from hefty fines to 20 years imprisonment, conveniently omit a key ingredient: criminal intent.

At worst, the AG could be deemed to have turned a blind eye to an offence being committed—minors being allowed to hold firearms—although that is questionable. It was a soldier who handed the weapon to the children, no different what his colleagues do with children far younger during the Army's "career day" or other expositions. In fact, all arms of the Defence Force as well as the Police Service accommodate curious children.

Besides, the military, through the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and those officers the CDS delegates authority to, wield considerable powers on bases under their command and control, in instances superseding the common law once there is no criminal act committed.

I write with authority when I say that children are fascinated by firearms and military equipment. I was.

I fired a rifle, a .22, for the first time at age 14 as a member of the newly-formed Presentation Chaguanas unit of the then T&T Cadet Corps.

By age 15, I was among hundreds of cadets who fired the powerful, bolt-action .303 rifle on the La Seiva range in Maraval. That weapon, which was almost as long as I was short, delivered a powerful kick, so we teens were closely supervised during such exercises, which were conducted annually.

Oh, if Moonilal is interested, I still have two black and white photos of 15-year-old me "posing" with a .303, which was not unusual among boys who were cadets then, and, I'm sure, the tens of thousands who came after us. Nowadays, with everyone owning a cell-phone, and every cell-phone being a camera, photographic records of teenage adventures, recklessness, and sometimes achievements, are universal.

I hope I have dispelled the nonsense being peddled by many persons that the law that prohibits young people below age 25 from owning guns, having firearms users' licences, firing such weapons, or being trained to use them, applies across the board. If it did, then the entry age for recruits in all the services and forces that use firearms would be 25, not 18. In fact, children as young as 12 can join the Cadet Force, hence they carry and use arms on parades or during training.

What the Cadet Force does, additionally, is instil discipline and pride in its members, and teach them many military and life skills, one being weapons training. Maybe the Al-Rawi children could enlist and learn how to use firearms safely and professionally.

Meantime, the pot-hounds who are baying for the AG's blood should go suck an egg instead, as one of their former colleagues would say.

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