• The San Juan Daily Star

Gun owners group calls for crackdown on arms trafficking

Ariel Torres Meléndez, president of the Puerto Rico Arms License Holder Defense Corp.

By John McPhaul

Ariel Torres Meléndez, president of the Puerto Rico Arms License Holder Defense Corp. (CODEPOLA by its Spanish acronym), declared Monday that adding more human resources to detect illegal weapons in the island’s ports is the key to stopping illegal arms trafficking networks and lowering the high crime rate.

“Are the government agencies concerned, both in Puerto Rico and the United States, doing what is necessary to stop the illegal sale of weapons on the island? If we allow ourselves to be swept away by the high crime rate, car-to-car shootings and the number of murders committed with illegal weapons, the answer is no,” Torres Meléndez said.

To give the impression to the people that everything is “under control” is a mistake, he added.

“The heads of agencies should tell the governor [Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia] the truth of what is happening and the governor in turn should pressure the [Financial Management and Oversight] Board to issue an economic injection where new police officers can be recruited, guaranteeing a competitive salary, and in turn, a dignified retirement,” he said.

Torres Meléndez emphasized that “it is not necessary to hold press conferences with new equipment if there are no personnel to operate them.”

“Equipment is not an issue -- for that there are hundreds of funds and ways for law enforcement agencies to acquire it,” he said. “The problem is in human resources.”

He said it is very unfortunate to see that other government agencies are better budgeted and that the agency that is obliged to ensure the safety of Puerto Ricans “is in limbo from a historical drag through past administrations, waiting for this administration to do them justice.”

“It is impossible to keep our [police] agents, at 60 years old, battling with the criminal incidence of children who are 17, 18, 21 years old and in all their youth,” the CODEPOLA president continued. “Justice must be done to the police who day by day give their lives to save us all, but the state must also do right by the public that pays taxes and demands to live in a country of law and order. With good salaries and better employment conditions we will have better results.”

He stated that “piling on” Public Safety Secretary Alexis Torres and Police Commissioner Antonio López Figueroa, demanding an immediate solution to solve the problem of the high crime rate, “did not advance anything.”

“To be honest, I have to say that there is no crystal ball to know where the next crime will occur; that does not exist,” he said.

Torres Meléndez warned that while illegal weapons enter the docks, the ammunition that is being used in Puerto Rico to commit crimes is legally bought in gun shops.

“That is a reality,” he said. “Here, no gun shop owner can say that 100% of his clients are decent, false! Here there is documented data of seizures of containers with weapons and pyrotechnics, but there is no documented data of illegal ammunition confiscated in volume in the ports.”

Although it is the harsh reality, Torres Meléndez said, “all citizens have the right to obtain their weapons license, but those citizens who use the mechanism of the law to commit crimes or lend themselves to buy ammunition and sell them to the underworld, sooner or later they will fall.”

Torres Meléndez said the Firearms Registry and Control Office should continue to process gun licenses because “out of every 400 decent people who applied for licenses, five times they may be doubtful, but 395 are decent armed people who will be able to defend themselves against the rampant crime that engulfs the island.”

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