The National Assembly has passed an amendment to the Firearms Act which now makes the unlicensed possession of firearm and ammunition components a crime.
The amendment bill had been presented for the first and second readings by Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee in March 2013 but the opposition parties had used their majority to reject it in keeping with an ongoing campaign of non-support for him.
The APNU has said that it would not support any business coming in the name of Rohee as home minister while the AFC has said its support would be selective. Their positions came after failed efforts to force the minister out in the wake of the police killing of three protesters at Linden in 2012 for which they said he should shoulder responsibility.
Attorney General Anil Nandlall had presented the bill for its first reading in December and on Thursday piloted its second reading in what was a reversal of the government’s stance not to be “bullied” by the opposition.
The bill inserts a new section in the principal Act to plug a loophole which allows the unlicensed possession and trafficking of firearms parts.
It states that anyone who knowingly imports, exports, acquires, sells or transfer any firearm or its parts, components and ammunition without the proper authorisation shall be guilty of an offence. Anyone who purchases the parts for those acts would also be guilty of an offence.
The principal act states “any person guilty of an offence against this Act for which no other penalty is specifically provided shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine of $15,000 and to imprisonment of two years.” However, Nandlall said the amendment increased the penalties on summary conviction to a fine of $500,000 and five years’ imprisonment in a magistrate’s court and a High Court indictment will attract $5M and 10 years imprisonment.
Both the APNU and AFC were unreserved in their support for the bill with the former’s Winston Felix suggesting even stricter measures to deal with offenders.
“Why should a criminal who has been convicted, sentenced and released from prison for certain serious crimes and offences be allowed to return to society with the freedom of well-intentioned citizens?” he queried while noting there are programmes employed across the world to deal with ex-convicts.
“Maybe we should be exploring some of these forms of control of conduct of criminals who have been convicted so that what in effect we would be doing is protecting society from persons who having been released from jail return to criminal behaviour and traffickers in firearms are no exception.”
In voicing his party’s support the AFC’s Moses Nagamootoo said they recognised the necessity of the legislation but were concerned also with “responsible and efficacious leadership” and that had informed their vote in 2013.
He added that they were pleased that the government had put aside its “pettiness” on the issue and returned the bill via the Attorney General.
The Evidence (Amendment) Bill, which had suffered a similar fate as the firearms bill in June 2013, was also passed Thursday under Nandlall’s guidance.
It will allow for an expanded range of documents and reports to be admitted as evidence in addition to provision for a police analyst or any other qualified individual without taking away the right of the accused or the court to test the reliability of the report or certificate presented by the said analyst.
The current legislation allows certain reports compiled by experts to be used in court without the need for an analyst to be present to give evidence. These include post-mortem reports, medical certificates and the report of the analyst who tests for narcotics.