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Congressional Delegation Visits Turks and Caicos to Lobby for Release of Gun Owners

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At a time when Democrats and Republicans are at odds over almost everything, it’s actually heartening to see some bipartisan agreement on one issue: the gun laws in the Turks and Caicos Islands are completely ridiculous. 

A group of representatives and senators from Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Texas traveled fo the British protectorate in the Caribbean on Monday to plead with Turks and Caicos officials to release several Americans facing up to twelve years in prison for inadvertently bringing a few rounds of ammo in their luggage when they set off on their tropical vacations. Pennslyvania Sen. John Fetterman was among the lawmakers asking for leniency, and in comments to reporters sounded fairly positive about the discussions. 

Pennsylvania Senator John Fetterman, who was part of that delegation, said, “I left these meetings optimistic that we can get this resolved and look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress and TCI officials to bring these American citizens home.”

Bryan Hagerich, of Western Pennsylvania, is also among the American tourists facing up to 12 years in prison for possessing ammunition, even though they were not carrying actual weapons.

One of Fetterman’s Senate colleagues, however, offered a more pessimistic take after the meetings. 

Oklahoma Sen. Markwayne Mullin, one of the members of the delegation, told “Good Morning America” that he left the meetings feeling like they “didn’t find a real path forward” and are considering next steps if they can’t reach a solution.

“I felt like they were doing their job, which is representing Turks and Caicos. We went there doing our job, representing the United States with real concerns,” he said. “I mean, you have currently five Americans being charged … and among them all they had less than 20 bullets.”

Mullin and Fetterman were joined by Republicans Josh Brecheen of Oklahoma, Pennsylvania’s Guy Reschenthaler, my own congressman Bob Good., and Texas Rep. Michael Cloud, R-Texas. Each of them have constituents who are looking at the potential of spending years behind bars for ammunition that was discovered as they were leaving the Turks and Caicos Islands. 

Tyler Wenrich, a Virginia EMT and 911 dispatcher from Louisa County, is scheduled to appear in court today after security on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship discovered two rounds of ammunition in his backpack. 

“I have a lot of fear and anxiety. You know, the best outcome to this is that the judge will find leniency and compassion in this situation, and steer away from the 12-year sentence and be able to give a sentence that is less than that and a fine, hopefully,” Wenrich said.

There’s a lot of daylight between a simple fine and twelve years behind bars, and I’m hoping that Wenrich won’t be sentenced to any prison time for his mistake. 

The latest tourist caught with ammunition is Sharitta Shanise Grier, a 45-year-old from Florida who, according to her attorney, was arrested at the airport last Monday when she was trying to catch a Southwest Airlines flight back home. 

Her lawyer Leanna Brooks-Campbell told the court that Grier, who is a licensed firearm holder in Florida, came to Turks and Caicos Islands on a surprise trip with her two daughters and was about to leave on Southwest Airlines on Monday, May 13th, when a scanner at the airport picked up the two bullets in a bag she normally used to carry around her firearm in Orlando.

Brooks-Campbell told the Chief Justice that although illegal possession of ammunition is a serious offence in Turks and Caicos Islands, having the two bullets was an “an honest mistake” made by her client.

Like the other Americans facing charges, Grier was granted bail but must remain on the islands until her case is resolved. Her next court appearance won’t take place until July 5th, when a judge will decide if there’s enough evidence to proceed with her case. 

It’s great to see governors and members of Congress lobby Turks and Caicos officials to show mercy to these defendants. I’d sure like to know why Joe Biden or the State Department hasn’t done the same. The administration has issued a travel advisory warning tourists about the gun laws, but we’ve seen no indication that Secretary of State Anthony Blinken or any other State Department official has been in contact with their Turks and Caicos counterparts to apply some diplomatic pressure in the hopes of resolving these cases. 

I’m doubtful that we’ll ever see that, to be honest. I don’t think Biden is going to lose any sleep over U.S. citizens imprisoned for a decade or more for accidentally bringing a couple of rounds of ammunition in their luggage when they travel overseas. I’m not even sure he’s all that concerned with the fact that TSA didn’t spot the ammo at airport security before these travelers left U.S. soil. 

I hope that the visit from the congresscritters will have an impact on the Turks and Caicos officials who’ll decide the fate of Wenrich and the other gun owners, but at this point gun owners need to seriously consider staying away from the islands until they revise their gun laws. Twelve years in prison is a stiff price to pay for a simple mistake, and frankly, I prefer to spend my vacations in places that don’t prohibit everyone (residents included) from possessing a firearm or ammunition like Turks and Caicos does. 

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