Firearms (Amendment) Bill 2013 – Bill No. 24/20133891 16 Jan, 2014
Mr. Felix: Let me say from the outset that I rise on behalf of the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) to support the Firearms (Amendment) Bill 2013 - Bill No.24/2013 and say that this single piece of legislation seeks to create the offence of trafficking in firearms and ammunitions.
The Black’s Law Dictionary, at page 1495 of the sixth edition of 1990, defines trafficking as trading or dealing in certain goods and it is commonly used in connection with illegal narcotic sales.
We will recognise that in the year 1990 the fact that trafficking in firearms and many other items were not so popular and that may be responsible for this narrow definition in the Black’s Law Dictionary.
The Collins English Dictionary, the ninth edition, at page 1706... The eighth edition of 2006 has a wider definition which goes thus: “Trafficking is also defined as to carry on trade or business especially of an illicit kind.”
The possession of firearms in this country is circumscribed by the laws of this country, Chapter 16:05. To have a firearm or to trade it in any other way, contrary to the law, would amount to trafficking, and particularly where certain circumstances exist. What we are seeking to do is to criminalise the act of trafficking in firearms which internationally is regarded as a serious offence.
The illicit use of firearms in this country has caused much suffering to many hard-working people. Citizens in their homes have been robbed under the threat of a firearm. Some of them have been so traumatised that any sound, which approximates that of a firearm, gets them jittery. There are those who are robbed at sea; those who are robbed at work in the interior and even in Georgetown citizens are robbed by those who illegally possess firearms. That is why I think the purveyors of death, those who trade in firearms, ought to be dealt with condignly.
The Attorney General was at length to explain that there was catch-all legislation simply because of the absence of penalty in the existing Bill. In fact, if we had passed Bill No.21/2012 much more comments would have been made on the absence of penalty because we feel, on this side of the House, that persons who trade in firearms must be treated condignly, they must feel the full force of the law. To have traffickers being found guilty and being treated as persons who were found guilty of possession of a firearm without licence is highly unacceptable. We feel that the law should be given teeth and to bite into criminal activity.
This Bill, prior to the amendment - with which I am somewhat satisfied with - seems to have been generated out of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI). When I checked the website on the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) I saw on the Bureau of Western Hemisphere of Affairs, dated December 5, 2013, that the initiative seeks, that is, the United States of America, to partner with its Caribbean counterparts to substantially reduce illicit trafficking in the region, to increase public safety and security and to promote social justice. In fact, all Caribbean territories involved in this project will benefit from law enforcement and capacity building, border port security and firearms interdiction, the justice system reform and crime prevention and youth-at-risk programmes.
Guyana, it is said, will benefit directly from several of the CBSI programmes, that I have just described, but more particularly it will benefit from the provision of three patrol boats with the required equipment and training to enable the Guyana Defence Force to combat transnational organised crime, to patrol territorial waters and ensure freedom of movement for commerce. I would not go into the other benefits but there are other benefits which Guyana is to receive by its mere participation in this project. We agree with the Government on this stand but what we expect of it is to ensure – it has done so in this amendment - that sentencing is enhanced to punish those involved.
The interest of public security is not best served by batons utilised on the anatomy of innocent citizens, neither is the public interest served in senseless shootings. Over the past six months I have become very weary of some stories heard after citizens were shot and killed by the police. What we expect is that the Government’s action must stand firmly in prosecuting those who commit crimes and they must feel the force of the law.
The citizens of this country pay taxes to the Government and we demand a higher state of protection from criminal actions by preparing effective legislation. I ask: Why should a criminal, who has been convicted, sentenced and released from prison, for certain serious offences, be allowed to return to the society with the freedom as well intentioned citizens? We do not have to recreate anything because there are examples all over the world of what treatment can me meted out to criminal elements after they are released from prison. Maybe we should be exploring some of these forms of controls on criminals who have been convicted. In effect, what we will be doing is protecting society from persons who, having been released from jail, return to criminal behaviour. Traffickers in firearms are no exception.
Trafficking in firearms is not new to Guyana. I can go back as far as 1992 on the Corentyne where a large number of handguns were caught by the police. Then there was one in the Rupununi, about two years ago, where assault rifles were found. The Attorney General did mention one. I can also remember another in 1997, just about the time of the elections, where a man on the East Coast was found with a bag... [An Hon. Member: Beast.] I would have said that that bag could only have been lifted by a beast, heavy with long gun, but he was charged. We need to ensure that such persons feel the full force of the law.
We support the Government with the introduction of this Bill but we want to ensure that criminals, persons who traffic in firearms, must be caught and dealt with. This cannot stand by itself. It must stand with the reform of the Guyana Police Force (GPF), which APNU has been deliberating on for years. We have been saying that the police force must be reformed. As a matter of fact, the Government has kicked out the £4 million proposed British aid and so we have all sorts of issues with police.
In my view, from methylated spirits and lighting of fire on the genitals of a young man, a child, now we have graduated to the baton up the rear.
Mr. Speaker: On second. In a previous Parliament a Member made comments about the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) and that Member found herself in jeopardy because there was allegation made about the force. In the case of the methylated spirit, which Mr. Ramjattan knows well, charges were filed, so at this stage we have allegations. I am cautioning that we do not make statements where perhaps charges have been laid. They remain allegations or you can couch them into the term that it is “alleged”.
Mr. Felix: Thank you very much Mr. Speaker. I take note of your observations and proceed to say that laws alone cannot guarantee the effects which we would like to see from change. Accompanying the laws is that we must empower the Guyana Police Force (GPF) and other related institutions to act professionally and to give the citizens the assurance that the force is there to protect and serve them and it is not to brutalise them.
In closing, let me say once again, that A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) supports robust legislation to deal with crime. We do not support extrajudicial methods and we support the Government on this occasion with the passage of the Firearms (Amendment) Bill 2013 - Bill No.24/2013.
Thank you very much. [Applause]
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