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With gun laws in the spotlight Togiola weighs in

Former Governor Togiola Tulafono wants to focus on a project that would collect all illegal guns in the territory, saying that such illegal weapons can be easily detected by the Xray machine in the arrival area of Pago Pago international Airport, and a second machine is being sought from the federal government.

The former chief executive, however, didn’t say if the latest performance report by Agriculture Department had shown that between July and September this year any guns had been caught by DoA’s Quarantine Officers at the airport, thanks to the Xray machines.

Togiola mentioned this project during his final weekend radio program last Saturday, when a caller asked if police officers with the Department of Public Safety should carry guns when on duty, because by law, they are not currently allowed to carry guns.

“I don’t favor” police officers carrying guns, because officers wearing guns “visibly gives the feeling that it’s okay to walk around with a weapon,” said Togiola, a former police officer. “Guns, weapons, are not good, and the less we see of them, the better off we are.”

Togiola said it’s not that he doesn’t care about the safety of officers, but for them to wear weapons really invites others to carry weapons as well. He said that he does not even agree to permitting people to carry small firearms.

“I continue to support the law that we have— shot guns and small 22-rifles—that’s it. These guns were allowed for protecting your farm, your possessions against wild animals. That was the only reason the Legislature in the past allowed shotguns to be permitted and the shells that come with them,” said the former governor.

Togiola then revealed that it was something he “always wanted to do” adding “ I failed to successfully pursue [it] —to collect all the illegal guns because our country is full of illegal guns”. He pointed out that this is a project that he would be involved in in the future.

“I don’t want to fault people, but really— it’s the people’s fault. Why do we need to bring M16s and keep M16s at home?”  He called these types of guns “show pieces” adding that every now and then, the owners use their M16s to shoot at coconuts, if the person is too lazy to go up the coconut tree to get them.

“The drug dealers and distributors on island have armed themselves quite successfully and we have not been successful in catching them,” he alleges.

According to Togiola, cracking down on illegal guns entering the territory is one reason the government pushed hard for an Xray machine at the airport, because there was not much cooperation out of Hawai’i in checking every piece of luggage and baggage heading to the territory.

“So we sought to bring in Xray machines,” not only to detect the illegal weapons but “to stop the influx of invasive species from everywhere ... affecting our natural crops, [as] we need to put our foot down and stop the importation of fruits, vegetables, logs and roots that bring diseases and new germs that affect the local plants,” he said.

Togiola believes that the Xray machine currently at the airport has been successful in stopping the entry of invasive species and illicit weapons that are smuggled into the territory.

In its 4th quarter performance report for fiscal year 2012 , DoA says its Quarantine Division continues to fully utilize the Xray machine. For weapons discovery, it says that on July 12, two guns were detected, a 9 millimeter and a pistol; and on July 24, four guns were detected - “military M16” types.

The report also states that on Sept. 10, a handgun was detected in one passenger’s bag with two fully loaded clips for the handgun. The hand gun was undeclared by the importer.

The report went on to say that Customs officers were notified and the matter was referred later to DPS based on jurisdiction and responsibilities.

As for fruit and food items, the report cited a number of items seized—dried wood, dried mushrooms and unknown herbs from China and Samoa; pork liver from the Philippines and pork meat from Samoa which are not allowed by federal government regulations. 

On his radio program Togiola said he has also heard that “people are bringing in bullets” for guns not allowed in American Samoa. He said the bullets are illegal if the guns are illegal.

Besides the airport, Togiola says the government has to address the seaport because containers are coming in and “we suspect that alot of those [illegal items] are coming in through personal containers.”

“We need to step up the inspection at the seaport because if we don’t, alot of the fishing boats, yachts, and containers can bring in, in so many ways, the illegal weapons,” he said.