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More Stringent Gun Legislation Passed in Parliament

By Reginald Andrew

Prime Minster Phillip J Pierre has warned that the Firearms Amendment Act is set to make criminals pay severely for possessing illegal weapons and other gun related crimes – as the country grapples to curb the upsurge in violent and deadly crimes.

This week, legislators gathered in the Lower House of Assembly to support the regulation of the Firearms [Amendment] Act, which now imposes longer prison sentences and steeper fines on people convicted for illegal firearm and ammunition offences.

While the legislators generally agreed that the bill should serve as a deterrent against criminal elements and particularly those persons involved in gun violence, opposition members sought for clarification within the wider parameters of the act. Notably, among other concerns was the issue regarding the Firearms Commission Board, with the Commissioner of Police (COP) to serve as the chairman.

“This scourge of shootings that happen in this country, we hope it can come to an end,” stated PM Pierre, during his presentation in parliament on the revised bill.

He noted that this was just one of the measures intended to “try to curb this menace.”

With an upsurge in gun violence and the unlawful possession of weapons and ammunition plaguing the country, the decision to strengthen the Bill is seen as a ‘direct and targeted response’ to deal with the situation.

“I want to warn particularly the young people of St Lucia, who may be tempted to carry guns for somebody…to go on a business ‘to carry a ting dere’,  do not allow people to use you for their own vanity,” declared Pierre, as he admonished  the youth to be weary of pitfalls in going down the ‘slippery path’.

He cautioned young persons that when they get caught in the act “the boss man is not the person that will pay for it… you are the one that will pay for it, you are the one that will languish in jail, because of the increased penalties.”

Statistical data points to a 70% use of guns as the primary cause of violent behaviour and deadly upheavals in the society, as the country recorded its highest homicide rate, last year, with 75 murders. It is further reported that between the preceding years 2017 to 2020, police registered more than 200 murders.

Thus, the newly updated Firearms Amendment Act makes provision for more stringent penalties for criminal convictions on illegal gun and ammunition possession.

Penalties for firearms possession range from a minimum $50,000 fine and up to ten years in prison or both; while indictable firearm offences carry a penalty of up to 25 years jail term upon conviction.

The legislation also seek to act upon the deliverance and issuance of firearm licenses through the commissioning of a board that will include the COP.

PM Pierre explained that a Firearms Licensing Board is being established. “Presently, firearms licenses are granted solely by the Commissioner of Police. This new act as is the case in most other countries of the region …a firearm license can only be given by a board, which comprises the Commissioner of Police, the permanent secretary in the ministry of national security and three (other) persons selected by the minster and approved by cabinet who are of high integrity and who are able to exercise good judgment in fulfilling the functions under this act,” he said .

The prime minister proposed that the COP be the chairman of the board. He added that to acquire a firearm license “there will be a broadened section, more people are going to be involved in the issuing of firearms licenses and it will not be the sole discretion of the Commissioner of Police.”

He noted that while the application process will remain, “but the issuing of a firearm license will be done after a board meets to issue that license.”

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