Firearms (Amendment) Bill 2013 – Bill No. 24/20134381 16 Jan, 2014
Mr. Scott: Firearms exact a heavy price, usually ending in death for those engaged indiscriminate use. On a scale of one to five, with five being the maximum, I will award full points to anyone who correctly guesses or fills in the missing country when I use this quotation: “Human life is cheap in ------” I may repeat again: “Human life is cheap in-------” Which country would you put in there? Many would say Guyana. The correct answer is Casablanca from one of the greatest films ever, but I will still award the maximum five points to those who said Guyana. Reinforcement may be added by the editorial caption and the first line of Kaieteur News of the 10th of January, 2014 which states: “Human life has no value or so it seems”. The first line began with “It is as if human life has no value in these days…” We seem to have got a pattern of violence in our society to which there seems to be no upward movement from that downward trend. There were in the year 2009 cases of torture. There were questionable killings by the police since then and now there is an alleged torture of colwyn harding its a miracle he is alive today. that the Society is demanding that the punishment for such a horrific perpetration should be attempted murder to be the charge and nothing less than that we are awaiting the result of such an investigation. It seems that we have learned a little since the film of the 1940s, as our level of violence has escalated since then.
We have surrendered to the forces of destruction that drive us to do violence to our fellow man and the Ministry tasked with the responsibility to craft strategies to meet this challenge head-on now blatantly acknowledges haphazardness in the implementation of the recommendations of the Disciplined Forces Commission which contain programmes to effectively combat crimes.
Is it any mystery that the resolution by the APNU demanding the Minister’s resignation has met with popular acclaim? Does this amendment, section 17A, also reflect a similar haphazard approach to the efforts to reduce the illegal flow of guns in our society? The measures of the Principal Act of the Firearms Act Chapter 16:05 do not go far enough in correcting the ills of our society for which it was promulgated. This amendment Bill No. 24 of 2013, which adds a section 17A, well intended, as it may be, does not enhance the provisions of this Act, as we would hope. It does not enhance the provision or help to serve the needs of our society. We could have used this opportunity, however, to make this very Bill stronger by adding cross border trading in drugs and terrorism to the Bill to which arms are inextricably linked, instead it now joins its mother Act on the shelf of obsolescence. It would have been better to draft a new Bill, a new Firearms Act, which will be more in keeping with the modern trend of fighting crime.
This is the year 2014 and we have moved some distance from Chapter 16:05, when it was first assented. Guns have become more deadly, moving from Ball and Powder to Browning, the Smith and Wesson now to Magnum, Glock and, the king of them all, the AK-47whose inventor, Mikhail Kalashnikov, has passed recently, and whose gun has sold over 100 million worldwide. Our laws have not kept pace with this trend of murderous dispatch and its unchecked proliferation of weapons into society. A cursory look at the penalty imposed for offences illustrate this: Section 16 of the Firearms Act, for acquiring a firearm without licence, it only states that the offender shall be guilty of an offence. This ought to be spelt out so that the courts will be able to impose appropriate penalties. The amendment, section 17A, does not improve this oversight. It does not send a clear message to offenders. I have noticed that there has been an amendment to correct this oversight and this we welcome.
To ask our support, however, in passing this Act, this Bill, this amendment section 17A, is merely to enlist us a partner in continued mediocrity.
• Why tinker with the laws designed for the past but which cannot adequately address the demands of the present and the current crime dilemma adequately?
• Why not come to us with serious reforms in mind, an invitation to discuss new law, a discussion on the date and time for the implementation of the Disciplined Services Commission Report, a proposal on how to adopt measures to get legal weapons off the streets?
• What measures are required to deal with irresponsible firearm holders and criminals?
• How do we treat with the Community Policing Group which now tends to function as a parallel police force rather than an advance community protection unit functioning as an aid to the police?
This is how we arrive at inclusive and national agreement when it comes to national security.
Not including a specific penalty in section 17 (a) weakens a serious clause that is aimed at trafficking in arms and ammunitions. The intended message of resoluteness is not sent. This allows criminals to disrespect the law.
The Crime Chief, in his year end report for 2013, disclosed a 15% rise in the number of firearms seized. One can guess the percentage not discovered. The crooks are not fearful of the arms of the law. The inclusion to the amendment shows a hasty design to correct an omission but this central weakness of the principal Act still remains. Look at sections 17 (7) and 17 (8) of the Act. One will see it clearly needs some attention. It does not address adequately the kind of intimidation that we should send to criminals.
We ought to follow the pattern of the Prevention of Crimes Act, Chapter 9:01, Section 12 (1)(a), in which the penalties for possession of an illegal weapon in a public place are written out. This Act goes beyond being, ‘guilty of an offence’. It gives the penalties of two years imprisonment for an indictable offence and a fine of $400 and six months if convicted in a summary trial. Even if the fines are outdated, the clauses have a completeness about them and send a message of serious intent. This amendment that is now proposed addresses that aspect fully and we support that in terms of it bringing completeness that has been missing. Nevertheless, it still needs to be addressed in a holistic way whereby the entire Act can have those other sections that are weak and which have no money attached to them put to rest.
It is not our desire to oppose the amendment, but the illegal sales and frightening misuse of weapons are out of control. While we welcome the issuance of a warning to the public by the Ministry of Home Affairs, against this trend we see no follow-up action to inspire confidence that the Government is following a proactive plan to bring the situation under control. It needs more than just warning.
Jamaica, faced with a similar upsurge of crime and guns, established a gun court dedicated to swiftly prosecuting those gun offenders. A short two-paragraph amendment to a whole Act leaves us with the impression that this Government is satisfied with the provisions of the Act as it now stands. This amendment is more an effort to impress stakeholders that it is trying to fight cross border arms trading, but the very weakness of the amendment confirms the lack of will on the part of the administration to really carry the fight to local and international organisations.
We have porous borders. Guns and ammunition are manufactured in Brazil and Venezuela. Markets are sought and Guyana is a ready market. What aggressive counter policies do we have in mind? Is it a new section 17 (a) to stem the illegal flow? A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) has the expertise and, if asked, we are prepared to advise on how to bring about an arrest in the trend of the illegal flow of guns across borders. The safety of the nation is at risk.
Today, guns are continuing to wreak a terrible havoc on the citizens of many countries, ours as well. Ever since the Chinese invented gun powder in the 9th Century, man has not ceased looking for more effective ways to use lethal force to overcome and dominate his brothers and sisters. Time was when hand to hand combat was the way youths earned their rights of passage. Bravery was demonstrated against animals. Today, everyone behind, not in front of a gun is perceived as manly. This transference of courage to the gun leaves whole communities decimated.
The Conquistadors destroyed the Inca Empire with the gun. The North-American Indians all but disappeared because of the unequal struggle against the gun. India, Asia, the Middle East and Europe all suffered. Africa was carved up and the resulting slave trade changed the landscape of the West. We moved from hand to hand test of skill to AK-47 rapid kill and created an ocean of blood in the process.
Our country is fast becoming engulfed in a deluge of innocent blood because of the lack of an imaginative policy to stem this flow and to devise an appropriate strategy to get illegal weapons off of the street. Compounding this strategy is the political interference in the licensing process, especially in the period 2000 –2006 which saw many unfit persons receiving licences and, in some cases, upgrades for bigger guns. The police were not allowed to do their work. The most recent example of police failure is the case of Mr. Deryck Kanhai. If section 37 of the Firearms Act was applied to Mr. Kanhai, as it should have been, the rampage that ensued would not have occurred.
Section 37 deals specifically with:
“If any person has in his possession any firearm or ammunition with intent by means thereof to endanger life or cause serious injury to property, or to enable any other person by means thereof to endanger life or cause serious injury to property he shall, whether any injury to property has been caused or not, be guilty of felony and on conviction on indictment shall be liable to imprisonment for life to whipping or flogging.”
If that section was applied to Mr. Kanhai, Sir, today, he would have been alive and other persons who were innocently killed would have also been alive. I pose the question, therefore: who really is responsible for those deaths? The answer should be obvious to all.
While the addition of 17 (a) to the Act can be seen as a beginning in our fight against gun crimes, we must, at the same time, address other weaknesses as well. The community policing groups are seen as a parallel police force, rather than the watchdog of the community. Many persons join the group in order to get access to weapons. We agree with the Hon. Khemraj Ramjattan that lethal weapons should not be in the hands of people in these groups. Their role must be redefined. They must become the first line of direct security action as part of the community until the arrival of the professional police who are trained to handle serious situations. This approach will result in greater cooperation from a friendly community and will lead to a better trust of the police.
The majority leader pointed to the rampant gun running, lax attitude of gun licensing by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the weak law enforcement of the Guyana Police Force (GPF). He is correct. Where does one locate amendment 17 (a) in being able to impact on any of these issues that he has highlighted. The need for reform is clear.
Some states in the United States, in the face of the powerful gun lobby, who feels that the gun must be the weapon must be a personal choice, have recognised the harm too many guns in the society have caused and have moved to declare amnesty, encourage those willing and unquestioning surrender of guns without any questions asked. This amnesty has been combined with the public psychological approach to win the trust of underprivileged districts and it is working.
Finally, Sir, when all these weapons have been collected, what do we propose to do with them? Let us start the long journey to a peaceful country by implementing a continuous policy of destroying them. Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) led the way. In 2013, in keeping with an agreement between the United Nations and the T&T Government, 19,188 firearms and 37,763 tonnes of ammunition were destroyed. The Trinidadians destroyed ammunition with hydraulics shears, chop saws, melting tins and small arm and ammunition burning tank. We have not yet moved to that stage. What are we waiting for?
Thank you, Sir. [Applause]
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