This is the second in a series examining the epidemic of illegal guns in the territory beyond the individual crimes.
Raj Darnell White had finished washing his grandmother’s car and had started scrubbing his own when another vehicle pulled up to his Estate Barren Spot home Monday afternoon. A man got out and fired at least a dozen shots, police said. His grandparents heard the sound and rushed from the back of the house to find their grandson on the ground crying out.
The 21-year-old out-of-work auto mechanic was transported to Juan F. Luis Hospital where he soon died from his wounds, police said Tuesday.
His grandmother, her voice quivering as she spoke, said she did not see the gunman nor his vehicle. Witnesses told police the getaway car headed south and the shooter was a Black male, according to Glen Dratte, a V.I. Police Department spokesman.
Detectives were at the home again Tuesday, interviewing White’s mother and grandparents. Police were still trying to determine the type of firearm used and potential motive, Dratte said.
White was himself out on bail for an October 2021 weapons charge. He pleaded not guilty to felony possession of an unlicensed handgun within 100 feet of a school and possession of ammunition. Facing a potential prison sentence of 17 years, White’s bail was set at $50,000. The judge in the case, however, allowed him to leave custody after his mother posted just $500 bail.
White’s killing is the 10th homicide in the territory this year and the 7th on St. Croix. The territory has averaged 40 homicides per year for the past 20 years. The average murder victim in the U.S. Virgin Islands is a 27-year-old man found dead in the street with multiple gunshot wounds and no explanation. In March, Antonio Emanuel, executive director of the Office of Gun Violence Prevention, said many people carrying illegal guns believe they need the weapon for their own protection. Others are carrying these illegal firearms as a lifestyle choice.
“If you’re doing this because you think it’s sexy or glorified then you are going to wind up either in jail or dead,” Emanuel said. His office plans to have frank, courageous conversations about the societal and personal ills unlicensed firearms represent in the territory. “We’re not here to hold people’s hands.”
Had he wished to, White could have likely obtained a legal firearm. A one-year gun license costs $75 and a three-year renewal costs $150. There’s a 90-day grace period for expired licenses, after which the gun is now illegally possessed. You also need a gun license to buy ammunition. Gun licenses can be suspended if the commissioner believes the person poses a danger to the community.
Gun buyers must wait 48 hours after purchase to receive their weapon.
People ineligible for licensed gun ownership include:
• people convicted of a crime punishable by greater than one year in prison,
• those convicted of narcotics or violent crimes,
• anyone with a warrant for their arrest,
• drug addicts, including alcoholics,
• those committed to a mental institution or ruled to be mentally defective,
• foreign nationals in the United States without proper documentation,
• dishonorably discharged by the U.S. military veterans,
• anyone who has formally renounced their U.S. citizenship,
• people issued restraining orders by a court, anyone convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence,
• and anyone the commissioner judges to be unsuited for firearm ownership.
Security guards and private investigators need to pass a psychological exam and drugs screening before receiving a gun license.
Would-be gun sellers also need a license and must report sales to the commissioner of Licensing and Consumer Affairs. Gun sellers must be over 21 and residents of the Virgin Islands, and U.S. citizens.
Selling a gun – or even advertising a gun for sale – without a license to sell guns is punishable by a minimum $5,000 fine, five years in prison, or both. The maximum penalty is $10,000 and 10 years imprisonment. Illegally importing a firearm carried a minimum plenty of $50,000 and/or 25 years in prison.