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By Orville Williams

At least one professional within the competitive shooting fraternity is calling for urgent reform, after last Friday’s incident involving a police officer.

The police confirmed on Friday that an officer was nursing a gunshot wound, after his firearm apparently discharged accidentally. The incident was said to have occurred shortly after noon at the Royalton Hotel and the officer was reported to be in stable condition, without any life-threatening injuries.

Following the incident though, the professional – who spoke with Observer under condition of anonymity – said the police force needs to place more focus on proper firearm training.

“Not enough emphasis is being placed on officers’ training. There needs to be more vigorous training when it comes to the handling and the use of firearms. Bear in mind you’re dealing with deadly force and if one is not adequately prepared, the consequences can be dire. [Thankfully], so far, it hasn’t reached to that stage, but I’m hoping that it will never reach there.

“They need to be more vigorous, more enforcing with the training, the handling, proper use [and] proper care when it comes to dealing with firearms. Especially the ones that are on the front line handling those deadly weapons,” he said.

The professional has been involved in competitive shooting for over a decade and has represented Antigua and Barbuda in several international competitions.  He said the police could take lessons from civilians like himself, who place great emphasis on carefully handling weapons.

“[From] the civilian standpoint, the club that I’m associated with, we take very seriously our mandate to be properly trained to handle these weapons. Our mantra is ‘safety first, safety second and safety third’ and in the event that something goes wrong, we still look at safety, so we’re [always focused on] safety.

“I don’t know if it’s because we’re given a privilege to carry a concealed weapon, why we take [training] very seriously. Just looking at how the police deal with things over the years, I don’t think that they take the training very seriously. There seems to be a lackluster, laidback sort of approach to the training of carrying a firearm”, he said.

He also clarified that it is not a one-sided issue, but there needs to be reform in both the training for officers, as well as the approach of the officers in handling the firearms.

“The approach, it has to be mandatory that you go through this training on a regular basis; a scheduled, regular basis. For the civilian who is granted permission to carry a firearm, he has to go through theoretical training and practical training before he can be granted the permission to carry a firearm. The police, likewise, should go through the same training and even more rigorously than the civilian. It should be mandatory and should happen on a regular basis.

“In other words, an officer who has to carry a firearm, he needs to go through the training at least once per month and also, a refresher course probably once per year, to make sure that he is in line and in tune with handling, usage, presentation [and so on] of the weapon,” he explained.

Presentation, he also explained, is a necessary action that not all officers seem to understand.

“I’ve seen it personally; there are some officers – just like some civilians – who cannot present a weapon. If I were to say to you, present your weapon to me, you can’t just pull it out and hand it to me, that’s not the proper procedure. There’s a procedure that you should follow and I’ve seen officers who do not know how to follow that procedure, so that too they need to look at [in] a holistic approach,” he said.

The quality of the weapons is another issue that the professional says needs to be looked at with some urgency.

“I must say, the police have some very old firearms. Some of them still carry Colt .32, Colt .38, those kinds of weapons. Modern-day police officers [and] civilians are carrying more like the Glock or the Beretta. The Beretta, for instance – that I heard unofficially was involved in the incident – that carries a very sophisticated safety device, [so] I just can’t see how one would have an incident like that, with that type of weapon.

“The civilian nowadays, seems to be carrying more up-to-date and sophisticated weapons than the police,” he quipped, adding, “hence the reason the police need to both get more modern weapons and again, be trained in the safety of carrying and use of those firearms. What happened on Friday should never have happened to any police officer in any country, in any organization.”

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