For the past few weeks, various sectors of the public have been lobbying for Government to modify the Firearms Amendment Act of 2008.
It is argued that provisions within the legislation, allow for the criminalizing of law-abiding and blameless citizens.
The civic outcry surrounding this matter has been enormous, so much so that some perhaps expected that amendments to the law would be introduced at today’s sitting of the House.
But while that was not the case, Government today assured that they are taking into consideration the concerns of the public and that provisions are forthcoming.
But before we get to the Government’s position, we bring you that of the People’s United Party. Speaking on the adjournment, Opposition Leader Hon. Francis Fonseca, initiated the dialogue:
Hon. Francis Fonseca- Leader of the Opposition
“I think the events last week that played out…certainly on our televisions across the country involving the conviction and sentence of Corporal Gino Peck really brought to the fore, the fiery debate that has been going on, has been brewing (if you like to put it that way) but sometime with respect to what many view as the harshness of our gun laws and the inequity in the application of these laws. Specifically, the Provisions of the Firearms Act and the Crime Control and Criminal Justice Act, particularly affecting the right to bail what some view as the stripping of the constitutional right of the presumption of innocence and imposition of mandatory five years sentences. It is important to note that very recently, the Caribbean Court of Justice in the case of the Attorney General against Philip Zuniga et al. In the case summary, I was looking at…explain that this mandatory minimum sentence of five years which did not account for what they describe as a range of reasonable hypothetical cases, gives you that as grossly, disproportionate, cruel and inhuman and unconstitutional. This range of range of reasonable hypothetical cases refers to a range of possible persons who can be arrested and charged and convicted, but who would be liable to the same mandatory minimum sentence of five years. Such a range would include a range of persons convicted of possessions, for example of 1 bullet on one end of the spectrum to a person of possession of 20 bullets and…say firearms. Yet, in both cases in opposite sides of the spectrum, if you like, the starting point for sentencing is at the same place. So, the explanation coming from the CCJ was that this sentencing regime was grossly disproportionate to the range of possible offenders and therefore amounted to this cruel and inhuman punishment”.
The PUP has drafted three principle provisions for Government’s consideration.
Hon. Francis Fonseca: “We would like to propose that, having regard to w2hat I have just stated, that there be three principal amendments to this Acts, first in relation to the Firearms Act: Section 60 of the Act which deems these various classes of persons automatically in possession must be repealed because it infringes a citizen’s constitutional rights under Section 5, to only be deprived of their own liberty upon reasonable suspicion of having committed or having about to commit a criminal offense. It also infringes a person’s Section 6 of innocence rights because it requires those classes of persons to be in possession of the firearm and ammunition. The general penalty provision under Section 32, we believe needs to be repealed and substituted for provisions which leave the discretion of the sentence to the court. Taking into consideration, the particular facts of the case and such matters, but not limited to, the age of the convict, the quantity of the firearms, the quantity of ammunition or related materials involved. Whether the convict was a previous gun license holder and whether the convict had a reasonable excuse for having the firearm or ammunition. This existing 20 year imprisonment, sealing for summary convictions and 25 years sealing for indictment needs to be changed. Again it is incomprehensive why possession simpliciter will attract higher penalty than the offense of illicit trafficking in firearms. Therefore, if the sealing for illicit trafficking is 10 years on indictment . We would recommend that the sealing for the sealing for possession should be ten years and a lesser on summary conviction of say…7 years. In relation to the Crime Control and Criminal Justice Act, we would respectfully submit that that Section which I think is Section 16 (2) where it deals under the offenses under the Firearms Act, be amended to specify the quantity of ammunition or quantity of firearms. A person charged must exceed before the magistrate’s discretion to grant bail is taken away. I think that’s similar to what is attendant in the existing Section 16 (2) F of the Crime Control and Criminal Justice Act in relation to drug offenses”.
As we said, National Security Minister, Hon. John Saldivar has pledged his Government’s commitment to serious reflection on the Firearm Act and similar laws.
In his presentation, Saldivar noted that the various amendments to the Act were implemented during a time when the country was experiencing a major surge in gang violence and gun related crime.
Consequently, he states the Barrow Administration felt compelled to take stringent measures to deal with the rising crime situation and it is only due to a significant reduction in crime in 2013, says Hon. Saldivar, that Government can, on the request of the people, revisit those laws.
Hon. John Saldivar- Minister of National Security
“The reason, Mr. Speaker that we listened carefully (and I listened carefully) to the presentation made by the member for Freetown and do make a promise not only to him, but to this nation, that my government will be looking very carefully, having now gotten the reprieve from the crime situation; we will be looking more carefully to see how we can revise and other related law. Only yesterday and again, today, I met with the Director of Public Prosecutions as well as the Solicitor General, and we have begun a review of these pertinent laws to find a fair and less draconian laws that will not, Mr. Speaker, restrict or reduce the ability to the police to deal with criminals, but certainly with respect to the wide net that has been cast by these laws, we would like to make sure that ordinary law abiding citizens are not caught by the wide net of these laws. With respect to the Crime Control and Criminal Justice Act, we are indeed looking at the jurisdiction of the magistrate with respect to the current law and looking perhaps at returning to the magistrate. The jurisdiction on deciding on bail matters. However, we feel that there needs to be some provision for some special extenuating circumstances that the magistrate may be obliged to consider before granting bail to accused persons. We have also been looking at the proposal to sort of narrow the net of persons that the police would be able to hold accountable for these firearms and ammunitions as they are found in these premises. So, we will shortly begin the public consultations on those with the various stakeholders with regards to this”.