By Raffique Shah
May 16, 2022
It was the lure of the rifle that probably made up my mind for me. I enlisted in the Trinidad and Tobago Cadet Corps established at Presentation College, Chaguanas, in 1959. I was all of 13 years old, and I was eager to get on with “the gun”. It would take several months’ training—drills, map reading, more drills—before we eager beavers were allowed to touch the weapon.
When we did, some stern-looking corporals and sergeants taught us the basics, which I can sum up as safety, safety, safety. We learnt how to care for them, take them apart, clean and oil them (the firing pins had been removed from all our Mark IV .303 rifles, so they could not be fired, anyway). Slowly, we mastered drilling with the weapon, learning of its capabilities (at close range, its bullet could pierce two men) and characteristics before we of the “Pres Chaguanas” unit would be taken to a make-shift range on Trinidad Clay Products lands in Longdenville, where we fired our first rounds of ammunition—the relatively tame but deadly .22 inch rifle.
It would be almost a year after enlisting that we journeyed to the La Seiva range in Maraval and had our first experience with the Mark IV… and that involved more safety measures than actual firing. By age 18, in my case, having opted to enlist as an officer cadet in the T&T Defence Force, I went off to England and Sandhurst as well as the School of Infantry. And over a period of 27 months, I was trained in the art of warfare, which necessarily included the use of weapons that we here see only in movies, or, currently in video clips from Ukraine. I had my fill of light and medium machine guns, I fired hand-held anti-tank weapons (the 84mm Carl Gustav was Britain’s choice, and ours), 105mm and 120mm Howitzers, participated in war exercises that involved Britain’s new Chieftain tanks, armoured personnel carriers (APCs), lobbed (not “threw”, stupid…) live hand grenades, experienced one night in a nuclear submarine, engaged in aerial combat, and more.
Now, I have expounded on my experience with arms and ammunition and war machines of many descriptions, not because I want to impress, but because I think in Trinidad and Tobago, children’s fascination with the guns they see being misused in movies—Rambo, carrying at least two medium machine guns, firing both simultaneously, and squeezing their triggers until he runs out of belts—is so much hogwash, they must be taught to tell facts from fiction. If you do that “continuous fire” “bull” with one gun for more than a minute, you’d be lucky to escape the super-heated weapon literally exploding in your hands, sending your body-parts flying every which way.
Maybe I should rephrase this: everybody you and I know in this country wants to own a gun. From wealthy to poor, businessman/woman, clerk and factory worker, mostly decent, law-abiding citizens who want to protect themselves from criminal elements who seem armed and are very dangerous—everybody wants a gun. They refer to the right to bear arms in America as an example of a society that has progressed by arming its people. Well, the USA is far from being crime-free and more people in America are killed by licensed firearms than possibly anywhere else in the world.
In most European countries, licensed firearms are more difficult to come by, but their crime rates are among the lowest in the world. The stark reality is we have too many firearms, mostly illegal and, it seems, an inexhaustible supply of a range of ammunition. The ease with which these young criminals access both, and wreak havoc throughout the country, is a damning indictment against not only the forces of law and order, but elements who portray themselves as law-abiding, church-going pillars of the society, who when stripped naked are the ones who import these arms and ammunition, unconscionably more menacing than the punks who squeeze the triggers, bringing death to those in their paths. Until such time as we are prepared to unmask, uproot and incarcerate these demons who are soaking our soil with blood but show clean hands, we shall continue to suffer.
The merchants of death must be made to feel the consequences of their deathly dealings, to experience the pain innocent victims suffer. Simultaneously, we must find harsh ways of driving the fear of a citizenry wronged, now seeking vengeance against the dealers in death.
A regular reader of mine insists we need a Mossad-like squad to do the needful. I think we have better than that here. We just lack leadership and courage—two elusive qualities.
With good leaders and a few good men, we can clean up this country. Please, turn back the clock…