A major push-back on “shooters” and illegal firearms.
That’s what Government’s Firearms (Amendment) Bill, 2019 is intended to serve as, according to National Security Minister Stuart Young.
“When this law is applied it will stop them in their tracks,” he added during yesterday’s Senate debate on the bill.
The bill particularly targets repeat offenders regarding possession of illegal guns.
For the first offence, a penalty of $250,000 and 10 years jail has been proposed, conviction on a second offence carries a 20-year jail term and life in jail for a third.
Young urged Opposition and Independent senators to pass the landmark legislation and send a signal people that the possession of an illegal firearm was unacceptable.
He said out of the 255 murders for this year so far, 207 were committed with illegal firearms - and eight out of 10 criminals arrested carry Glock handguns.
The bill only requires a simple majority vote for passage and not a special majority involving Opposition or Independent votes.
At 8.15 last night, the Senate went into Committee stage where the 28 clauses were being examined.
After being piloted last month, the Senate debate was Government’s first “try” with the bill. It is yet to be attempted in the Lower House.
Young said Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi initially did not want to give him the “green light” on the proposed law but when they heard him detail the situation and statistics regarding gun crimes, they told him to “run hard and get it done.”
The minister said the bill followed long discussions with Police Commissioner Gary Griffith on the illegal weapons used by gangs and individuals. He noted there are repeat offenders and there are “shooters” out there.
“The Commissioner said so and when he was asked what he was doing about it, he gave the right answer: you have to convert intelligence and information to evidence,” he said.
He added that currently repeat offenders can go to court, plead guilty for possession of an illegal firearm and the maximum sentence they were paying was $15,000.
“How could this be a deterrent?” he said, suggesting culprits were laughing at that penalty.
He said the intelligence he gets on availability of illegal firearms scares him.
“One of the simplest and most effective handguns globally is a Glock. It used to be a prized possession for criminals. Every single culprit, eight out of 10 criminals picked up now, carries a Glock,” he said
Young said the gun can carry 15 rounds and another in the chamber, featuring an easy trigger to pull. He noted criminals have extended magazines - which can carry 33 rounds of ammunition.
“The damage you can do with that...and it can be converted to automatic. Every little criminal out there right now carries this...it’s a war out there - literally a war. We must not allow T&T’s society to become like Jamaica’s where there are places where the police cannot go,” he said.
Young said he had heard the Commissioner say it took six years to do ballistic tests and there was a backlog. But he said the T&T Police Armoury was helping to clear the backlog and officers at the Forensic Science Centre had assured whatever was needed as a priority by the Commissioner would be fast-tracked
Young said a man was shot outside of his constituency office and he had seen youth with a gun in his waistband in East Port-of-Spain. While he agreed there was no single action to eradicate crime, every country in the world has it. He said the Bill had to be “married” with other pieces of legislation to work.
Reporter: Gail Alexander