Fri | Dec 9, 2022

Life for guns

Gov’t proposes tough sentencing, weapons amnesty

Published:Friday | February 11, 2022 | 12:12 AM

Gangsters or gunrunners found in possession, trafficking in, and stockpiling 'prohibited' weapons could be sent to prison for life under a proposed law tabled Thursday in Parliament by National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang.

The Government has also floated a gun amnesty amid overwhelming firearm-related crimes in the country.

“This amnesty will allow persons who are in possession of illegal firearms to surrender these firearms and ammunition to the state without prosecution,” Chang said.

While welcoming the legislation in the context of Jamaica's crime rate, defence attorney Peter Champagnie, QC, inserted a strong caveat.

He is urging lawmakers to consider the mandatory utilisation of DNA testing and fingerprinting of persons in circumstances where it is said that the police have recovered a firearm from the waistband of an individual.

“As it stands now, it is normally the say-so of the police versus it being rebutted by the accused person, but if we are going to have these kinds of sentences imposed on these categories of offences, then it must go hand in hand with the utilisation of forensic evidence,” Champagnie said.

“So there can be no excuse to have this as a mandatory feature before you go in the way of a trial and conviction in many instances,” he added.

The Firearms (Prohibition, Restriction and Regulation) Act, 2022 has been referred to a joint select committee comprising lawmakers from the Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament who will review and report on the proposed statute.

The 122-page bill says prohibited weapon covers firearms, grenades, bombs or similar missiles, missile launchers, or rocket.

Section 14 of the bill addresses the punishment to be meted out to persons for use or possession of a firearm or imitation firearm in certain circumstances.

It says no person shall use or attempt to use a firearm or imitation firearm with intent to commit or to aid the commission of a felony or to resist or prevent the lawful apprehension or detention of himself or some other person.

A person who contravenes this provision commits a felony. Upon conviction in a Circuit Court, this offence attracts a fine or imprisonment of not less than 15 years or more than 25 years, as the court considers appropriate.

In relation to the stockpiling of prohibited weapons, the bill states that a person in possession of, or who causes to be accumulated in any location, three or more prohibited weapons or 50 rounds or more of ammunition, shall be treated as having stockpiled prohibited weapons.

A person who is convicted in a Circuit Court for this offence faces life imprisonment. Notwithstanding the provisions of the Parole Act, the court shall specify a term of imprisonment of not less than 20 years before being eligible for parole.

Tough sanctions are also aimed at persons who traffic in prohibited weapons. This offence also attracts life imprisonment upon conviction in a Circuit Court.

Possession of a prohibited weapon with intent to traffic also attracts a life sentence upon conviction in a Circuit Court.

In introducing the bill, Chang told fellow parliamentarians that the proposed statute would introduce harsher penalties for offences connected to the illicit trade, manufacture, stockpiling, possession, and use of illegal guns.

He indicated that the new framework would be more robust, comprising two regimes. The first treats with prohibited weapons and the other with firearms registered by the authorities.

“The risk of being apprehended while in possession of illegal firearms and ammunition outweighs the consequences. Our legislative framework provided no disincentive for criminals, and those who support their activities, to hand over the illegal guns,” Chang said.

Opposition Leader Mark Golding has pledged the full support of the parliamentary Opposition for the bill.

The bill is intended to repeal and replace the Firearms Act of 1976.

“It is really going to establish a new regime in relation to guns and ammunition in the country ... ,” he charged.

However, he cautioned against moving too fast on the review of such a critical piece of legislation.

“... The process must be thorough because we want to ensure that when we finally enact this, it is as good a bill as it can be and it has the full support of all parliamentarians,” said Golding.