Persons found guilty of firearm-related crimes will be liable to pay up to $5 million in fines and/or subjected to as much as ten years imprisonment under the newly passed Firearms (Amendment) Bill which also takes aim at trafficking in guns and ammunition.
The Bill, which was initially brought by Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee last year, was passed unanimously, as members of all three political parties – the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C), the Alliance for Change (AFC), and A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) – welcomed the projected improvements in the way firearm-related crimes will be dealt with.
Despite its unanimous passage though, APNU MP Keith Scott noted that it would have been a better idea to draft an entirely new Bill, which would take into consideration current challenges being faced. For example, he said, the recent Deryck Kanhai mass shooting proves there may be reasons to re-examine the general ways firearms, and even their legal acquisition, is regulated.
While the Bill seeks to crack down on the production, possession, and/or trafficking in illegal firearms and ammunition, the most notable changes are the penalties violators of the law will be made to suffer.
Rohee explained that the issue of arms trafficking has been particularly difficult for Guyana to tackle because of the country’s geostrategic location. In light of this, he said, the army has an important role to play since they are charged with protecting the integrity of Guyana’s sprawling land and maritime borders.
Legal Affairs Minister and Attorney General Anil Nandlall, was the one who brought the Bill before the house yesterday as opposed to Rohee. Last March, the combined opposition’s lack of confidence in Rohee prompted them to take several actions. This included moving and passing a no-confidence vote in the minister, but when this did not work, the AFC and APNU resorted to rejecting any Bill brought to the house by the Minister.
The Firearms (Amendment) Bill 2013 was one of the rejected. The opposition parties had argued that if the government wanted any such legislation passed, they should consider giving another minister the responsibility. Last year the government was adamant that the Bill would be brought by Rohee but it seems that the position has softened.
The principal act requires that persons found guilty of a stipulated offence be made to pay a fine of “not less than three thousand dollars nor more than fifteen thousand dollars with imprisonment for not less than one year nor more than three years.”
Once the amendment takes effect though, persons found guilty under the Bill will be liable on summary conviction to a fine of $500,000 and five years of imprisonment. Nandlall continued that offenders can be fined as much as $5 million and be made to serve up to ten years in prison.
And many more people might find themselves apprehended for such crimes if initiatives described by Rohee are fruitful. He said that Guyana has been offered help by Brazil who will be providing satellite surveillance feeds. This partnership, he said, will compensate for the lack of capacity to prevent illegal firearms from infiltrating Guyana’s borders. He also said that a taskforce, comprised of all the disciplined forces will be established to address the issue of illegal arms and ammunition, and that a Special Firearms unit will be created in the Defence Force, the Police Force, and the Guyana Prison Service.
These bodies, he said, will share processed information which will be used to track persons involved in the trafficking of arms. Rohee also mentioned a U.N. initiative which will see machines used to destroy firearms placed within the army and the defence force, and an O.A.S. initiative which will equip Guyana with the capacity to mark and trace firearms.
All persons apprehended will be subjected to the new penalties presented by Nandlall.
These new penalties, he said yesterday afternoon, serve to capture the gravity of such offences, and registers government’s protest and condemnation of such acts.
Nandlall noted that Guyana is currently plagued with gun-related crimes, and that illicit arms and ammunition are used by criminal elements to perpetrate many of these crimes. He also noted the inadequate nature of existing laws; specifically the fact that existing laws do not criminalize a person found in possession of weapons parts. This needed to be fixed, he explained, in light of the reality that many illegal weapons are shipped in parts.
APNU MP and former Police Commissioner, Winston Felix during his presentation on the amendment, said that he is happy that the alteration to the Bill ushers in enhanced penalties, which he hopes will deter violations of the Bill’s provisions.
Recalling instances where members of the police force and the army were suspected of using their weapons improperly, and/or engaging in the illegal distribution of weapons, he expressed optimism that all members of society will be regulated by the new law since everyone in society ought to “feel the full force of the law.”