Amidst incessant acts of gun violence and criminal activity permeating throughout the country—legislators, this week, initiated discourse to address the matter that is of growing concern to the citizenry.
On Tuesday, acting Prime Minister Dr. Ernest Hiliare presented the first reading of the firearm legislation act and the bill will come under review at the next or subsequent sitting of the Lower House of Parliament.
Member of Parliament for Vieux Fort North and Health Minister Moses Jn. Baptiste condemned the gang warfare that has been plaguing the southern district, orchestrated by gun-toting hoodlums spraying bullets haphazardly in central parts and other neighbourhoods within the community.
Gun violence has left the southern town in disarray – affecting the personal welfare and livelihoods of residents in a most distressful manner. And again this week, the gunmen brazenly opened fire in public with a barrage of bullets as residents had to flee for cover.
“Stiffer penalties will send a strong signal as we take action as a government and as a people to cause people who have illegal firearms not to feel that they can freely access and can make use of illegal firearms,” Jn. Baptiste told reporters outside parliament Tuesday, as he threw his support behind the firearms amendment act.
“This is a very serious situation…and it is very concerning with the frequency that it occurs,” he added. “We don’t know why, but it appears that people are settling scores with firearms and with impunity. Certainly, no society should stand for that, whether you are the government, business owner or whether you are just freely using the beach or enjoying your retirement.”
Jn. Baptiste stated adamantly that there is no reason why “a society should be held hostage or be under siege by anybody.”
MP for Micoud North, Jeremiah Joseph, a former police officer, reckons that the amended firearms act will help to deter criminals from conducting their atrocious behaviour.
He noted that “the upsurge in criminal activity” has resulted in a very disturbing and concerning situation in the country.
Last week, Prime Minster Phillip Pierre met with members of the Regional Security System (RSS) to explore avenues for cooperation and crime management in the country, as part of the government’s holistic approach to urgently address the situation.
In March, PM Pierre who is also the Minister for National Security, indicated the government’s intention to stiffen the penalties for illegally possessing firearms and ammunition.
PM Pierre sounded his concern following a sharp increase in crime on the island, including several homicides where guns were the weapons of choice.
During his former tenure as a government minister, in the 2006 to 2011 term, Castries Central MP Richard Frederick had initiated a ‘Peace and Love’ campaign, where communities in the city participated in a football competition. The initiative was a means of reducing crime in the city while promoting togetherness.
“It is time that persons in an authoritative capacity do whatever it is within their realms of decision making to send some kind of signal of the seriousness out there and in that regard, the government has decided to increase the penalties for gun possession,” said Frederick.
He declared that the ‘Peace and Love’ initiative in Castries Central had proved to be successful “because if you look at the trend when I came in until I left, there was a tremendous decrease in criminal activities and more so homicides. This thing got out of hand over the last couple of years.”
The Bill proposes several changes to the current Firearms Act, most notably to increase the minimum fines and sentences for illegal gun possession.
“We are going with ten years or a fine of $30,000, minimum… I live by the principle if you cannot hear, you will have to feel and I will lobby for both a custodial sentence and the imposition of a fine because the guys out there pay scant regard to life,” added Frederick.
The debonair and out-spoken Castries Central MP added, “I believe as a member of the government we need to send a very strong message out there that illegal gun possession will not be tolerated.”