Fri | May 20, 2022

Lawmakers shield firearm holders from hefty fines, jail time

Published:Friday | May 13, 2022 | 12:12 AM

A joint select committee reviewing the Firearms (Prohibition, Restriction and Regulations) Act, 2022 has dialled back a massive fine and jail time of up to five years for a licensed firearm holder whose weapon is exposed in a public space.

Section 48 of the proposed law stipulates that an authorised firearm holder should conceal his weapon at all times when in a public space where he has permission to carry that gun.

A legal firearm holder who is in breach of this provision could face a fine of $5 million or imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years if convicted in a parish court.

However, lawmakers agreed during deliberations on Thursday that a licensed firearm holder’s weapon could be exposed accidentally.

In such circumstances, the committee said that the exposure should not constitute an offence.

The wind blowing up someone’s shirt or skirt and exposing a firearm was cited as an example of how a weapon could be exposed. The committee accepted that the book should not be thrown at such a person in certain circumstances.

However, the proposed statute makes exceptions for a licensed firearm holder to discharge his weapon. An authorised firearm holder can discharge his weapon in the lawful protection of his person or property or of the person or property of some other person; in the lawful shooting of a trespassing animal; or under the written authorisation of the Firearm Licensing Authority.

During an examination of the bill, St Catherine South Member of Parliament Fitz Jackson queried why a licensed firearm holder has been barred from carrying his weapon in a holster similar to a security guard.

He said that a person who places his firearm in a holster would be declaring that he has a licensed weapon.

“Somebody who carries his legal firearm openly is saying to the other person, ‘Yes, I do have a firearm.’ For those who may be a threat to them, it may be a deterrent to other persons that view a (legal) firearm holder in the same way as a private security guard with his firearm in a holster in a non-threatening way,” said Jackson.

Donovan Williams, Kingston Central MP, said that a licensed firearm holder who is sensitised to the requirements of being in possession of a legal weapon should not be taking it around in a holster.

Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs Marlene Malahoo Forte said there was good reason to impose a duty on the holder to conceal the firearm when carrying it in a public space.

However, she said that an adjustment would be made to the provision that creates the offence and the fine would also be reduced.

In a related section of the bill, the committee agreed to adjust a provision that makes it an offence for a licensed firearm holder to take his weapon or ammunition in any public place without the appropriate documented permit.

Committee members said they will tweak the provision to allow for a period of 24 hours for the licensed firearm holder to produce his permit.

The fine of $5 million for not producing proof that the individual is authorised to carry a firearm will also be reduced.

Malahoo Forte said she appreciates the importance of a firearm holder taking his authorisation documents with him at all times.

However, she said: “We are fallible human beings ... as a general rule; I do not believe in overcriminalising our people. I believe in strict accountability”.