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“There should be no discretion in imposing sentences” for illegal gun possession- PM Nagamootoo to magistrates

Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan and Police Commissioner Seelall Persaud view the guns and ammunition surrendered to police during the gun amnesty that expires on September 30, 2015.

Though disappointed that no assault rifle is among the 13 illegal weapons that have been turned in so far, authorities are patting themselves on the back of taking off the few deadly weapons and ammunition off the streets so far.

“Each one of these could represent the loss of a life. The fact that they have been surrendered to the police, it meant something of value to Guyana that you have made our country less dangerous or a bit more safe,” said Prime Minister Nagamootoo.

Police Commissioner Seelall Persaud told reporters, during an inspection of the weapons surrendered up to day 14 of the one-month amnesty that tests would be done to determine whether they were used to commit crimes.

Persaud said ballistic tests on the weapons handed in show that “none of these have been used at any crime scene so far.” The Police Commissioner explained that tests are being conducted to gather intelligence and possibly reopen investigations.

He said persons handing in weapons would not be charged with illegal possession of ammunition. “The immunity is only for the possession of the firearm, not for other crimes.”

Nagamootoo also appealed to the magistracy to deliver tough penalties to persons, especially repeat offenders of illegal possession of firearms and ammunition and the use of those items in committing robberies. “I fully support this and urge the Magistracy and the Judiciary to take judicial notice of the prevalence of crime involving the use of firearms. There should be no discretion in imposing sentences under the law for illegal possession of firearm.

As a judicial officer myself, I am of the view that our Courts must review granting of bail involving repeat offenders arraigned for illegal possession of firearm or the use of firearm in the execution of robberies,” he said.

Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan acknowledged his disappointment that no assault rifles have so far been handed in to police during the one-month gun amnesty. “That’s a little disappointing as you would appreciate. I would have preferred lots more of those major arms to come in but they haven’t. What can I say…except, please, those who have them, bring them in.”

Ramjattan said government could not afford to pay persons to turn in unlicensed weapons and so authorities were depending on voluntary participation in the process. “The religious organisation, the Force Chaplain, have been playing a major role….We are constrained by lack of financial resources and so we wanted a voluntary give-in. If , at the appropriate time, we do have the finances, we probably can do a buy-back,” he said.

Shadow Security Minister, Clement Rohee has said that studies have shown that an amnesty would be unsuccessful and that is why the then People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC), which lost power in May 2015, had decided against doing so.

The Police Commissioner said “It’s a commonsense approach that the firearms, whether they were used before or not are better off here than where they were before…so having them in the police custody is better than having them in the society where the possibility of them getting into the hands of persons with criminal intent exists.”

The amnesty has so far netted five shotguns, five pistols and three air-rifles and 1,457 rounds of various ammunition that have been handed in at A, D and F  police divisions.

The Public Security Minister reiterated that after the amnesty there could be a “very harsh” crackdown on illegal weapons.