Gangsters or arms dealers found in possession, trafficking and storage of ‘prohibited’ weapons could be sent to prison for life under a bill tabled in Parliament on Thursday by the National Security Minister, Dr. Horace Chang.
A minimum sentence of 15 years could soon be in play.
The government has also launched a gun amnesty amid an overwhelming number of gun crimes in the country.
“This amnesty will allow people who are in possession of illegal firearms to turn over those firearms and ammunition to the state without prosecution,” Chang said.
While welcoming the legislation in the context of Jamaica’s crime rate, defense barrister Peter Champagnie, QC, inserted a strong caveat.
He urges lawmakers to consider mandating the use of DNA testing and fingerprinting of people in circumstances where police are said to have recovered a firearm from an individual’s belt.
“As things stand, that’s normally the word of the police versus it being refuted by the accused, but if we’re going to have those kinds of sentences given to those categories of offenses then it has to go hand in hand with the use of forensic evidence,” Champagnie said.
“So there’s no excuse for it to be a mandatory feature before you go down the road to trial and conviction in many cases,” he added.
The Firearms (Prohibition, Restriction and Regulation) Act 2022 has been referred to a Joint Select Committee made up of lawmakers from both the Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament who will review and report on the proposed law.
The 122-page bill says prohibited weapons cover firearms, grenades, bombs or similar missiles, missile launchers or rockets.
Clause 14 of the bill deals with the sentencing of persons who use or possess a firearm or an imitation firearm in certain circumstances.
It states that no person shall use or attempt to use a firearm or an imitation firearm with intent to commit or assist in the commission of a crime or to resist or prevent arrest or lawful detention of himself or another person.
Anyone who contravenes this provision commits a crime. If convicted in a circuit court, this offense is punishable by a fine or imprisonment for at least 15 years or more than 25 years, as the court deems fit.
With respect to the storage of prohibited weapons, the bill provides that a person in possession of, or causing to be accumulated anywhere, three or more prohibited weapons or 50 or more cartridges will be deemed to have stored weapons prohibited. .
A person who is convicted in a circuit court for this offense faces life imprisonment. Notwithstanding the provisions of the Parole Act, the court must prescribe a sentence of imprisonment of at least 20 years before being eligible for parole.
Severe penalties also target those who traffic in prohibited weapons. This offense is also punishable by life imprisonment if convicted by a circuit court.
Possession of a prohibited weapon with intent to traffic also carries a life sentence if convicted by a circuit court.
Introducing the bill, Chang told fellow parliamentarians that the bill would introduce tougher penalties for offenses related to the illicit trade, manufacture, storage, possession and use of weapons. illegal fire.
He said the new framework would be more robust, comprising two schemes. The first deals with prohibited weapons and the other with firearms registered by the authorities.
“The risk of being apprehended in possession of illegal firearms and ammunition outweighs the consequences. Our legislative framework has not deterred criminals and those who support their activities from handing over illegal weapons,” Chang said.
Opposition Leader Mark Golding pledged the full support of the parliamentary opposition for the bill.
The bill seeks to repeal and replace the Firearms Act 1976.
“It will really establish a new arms and ammunition regime in the country…”, he charged.
However, he cautioned against rushing through such crucial legislation.
“…The process has to be thorough because we want to make sure that when we finally enact this, it will be as good a bill as possible and will have the full support of all parliamentarians,” Golding said.