Reform Firearms Act
THE EDITOR, Madam:
At the recently concluded 78th Annual Conference of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), Prime Minister Andrew Holness had occasion, and indeed was obliged so to do, to address Jamaica’s crime problem in which the use of illegal firearms is predominant.
The prime minister’s hyperbolic statement that the starting point for those found in possession of illegal firearms should be given the death penalty is demonstrative of the need for drastic reform to the Firearms Act.
Presently, there is no specific provision under the act that treats with a situation where an accused person who is found in possession of more than one firearm is viewed and charged as a dealer in firearms. What obtains now is that such a person is indicted on more than one count of illegal possession of firearm and if convicted, is sentenced on each illegal count of firearm. Such a sentence is normally concurrent and not consecutive.
As a first step towards amending the Firearms Act, there should be a specific provision akin to what obtains under the Dangerous Drugs Act, where once you are found in excess of a certain quantity of dangerous drugs you are deemed to be a dealer. This is an additional and distinctive offence for which there is an added penalty if convicted, apart from being in possession of the drugs itself. The Firearms Act needs to operate under a similar principle.
This aside, another useful amendment to the act should be specific provisions dealing with the illegal importation of firearms. Currently, the act does not have a comprehensive provision for illegal importation of firearms. In respect of those found guilty of dealing in and illegal importation of firearms, there should be a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of 15 years.
Consideration should also be given to make it mandatory under the Firearms Act that any firearm taken off the person of an accused is to be subjected to DNA and/or fingerprinting testing. Such a provision would undoubtedly elevate the quality of evidence in a court beyond the mere “say so” of a police officer claiming that he took the firearm from the waistband of an accused.
Equally, too, such a provision would vindicate an accused person who is in vehement denial that he was in actual possession of the illegal firearm.
There is absolutely no reason why the Firearms Act, and indeed other legislation where applicable, should not take into account the advantages to be gained from the reliance on scientific evidence. The use of scientific evidence is far more reliable than the viva voce testimony of witnesses and stand as the best tool in the way of independent evidence towards determining the truth in trials.
As a final consideration, the act should be amended to allow for mature and law-abiding citizens to have easier access to firearms users’ licence. Arguably, it is far easier to obtain a visa than to obtain a firearm users licence.
The amendments to the Firearms Act are now impatient of debate, the time to act is upon us.
PETER C. CHAMPAGNIE, QC