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Parliament approves stricter Gun Laws

Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell: police have collected four (4) guns in the ongoing amnesty (Photo credit: Dwain Thomas the official photographer to Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell)

In a defining move, the Grenada parliament has approved stricter gun laws, which will come into effect when the ongoing gun amnesty concludes on July 31.

The Firearms Amendment Bill, approved by both Houses of Parliament this week, significantly increases penalties for firearm-related crimes.

Offenders now face up to 40 years of imprisonment and fines as high as $100,000.00 in certain cases.

These changes come against the backdrop of three (3) gun fatalities in recent weeks, and the seizure of 35 illegal firearms already this year.

This legislation is part of the two-year-old administration of Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell’s zero-tolerance approach to escalating gun crimes among the nation’s youth.

In addition to the tougher penalties, an amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code, which was also approved in Parliament this week, removes the power of a Magistrate to grant bail to offenders under the Firearms Act.

Opposition MP Peter David voiced concerns on behalf of the Grenada Bar Association (GBA) about the need for more comprehensive consultations with those on the frontline in addressing crime, including the members of the Bar, magistrates, and judges to address the issue.

“Are you so arrogant to believe that you do not need to consult with the Bar on the issue as to whether or not these things are constitutional or not? ” asked David, who is the MP for the Town of St. George.

“The association has in its ranks, the highest ranking judicial officers Kings Counsel Francis Alexis (and) Ruggles Ferguson…,” he told the sitting.

“Let not your arrogance lead you to ignoring the senior members of the Bar who are urging you (for) consultations before you take this to the final stage,” he said.

Among the concerns advanced by the Attorney Francis Paul-led Bar Association is that the amended firearms bill will pose a financial challenge for offenders to apply for bail in the High Court, the potential strain on government resources, as well as human rights issues at the already overcrowded Richmond Hill Prisons.

However, Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell, who acknowledged the Bar’s concerns, emphasised that the strengthening of Grenada’s gun laws, which dates back to 1968, has been long overdue.

He referenced the 2013 CARICOM Firearms Roadmap report, which “clearly points out other loopholes in the legislation, specifically, as it relates to brokerage in relation to firearms, explosives, transshipment, our international obligations to other countries to report the tracing, the marking of firearms.”

“So, the need to strengthen our firearm legislation is clear…so this amendment on sentencing is just the start,” he added.

One notable aspect of the new legislation is the increase in penalties for visitors or travelers who fail to declare a firearm to Customs officers, raising fines from EC$1,000.00 to EC$50,000.00 and imprisonment from three(3)months to six (6) months.

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Member of Parliament for St. Patrick East, and Finance Minister Dennis Cornwall pointed out that this particular amendment to the Firearms act is intended to deter non-nationals from engaging in illegal firearm activities within Grenada’s borders.

“It is meant to send a strong message to those non-nationals who also believe that they can come into our borders, and trade in illegal firearms that we will not tolerate that,” he remarked.

The senior government minister acknowledged that while stricter penalties alone may not solve the problem, they are a necessary step in curbing the rise in gun violence in the country.

“We have seen in recent months a rise in those activities causing the killings of our young men in the country, and I think it’s time we put a stop to it…I am not saying that increasing the fines, and jail time will solve the problem,” he said.

“Some may argue that it will increase the population in the jail but I believe, Mr. Speaker, even if we have to build more prison space to deal with those who believe they can get away with anything that they do illegally and make a living out of it, we want them to know that this will not be permitted,” he added.

During Wednesday’s sitting of the Upper House, Leader of Government Business, Sen. Adrian Thomas emphasised the bill’s goal to enhance peace and security in Grenada, referencing the serious implications for the country’s thriving tourism industry.

He stressed that addressing gun violence involves tackling related issues such as drug trafficking, and illegal trade.

“We are not talking about this gun violence in isolation. We know all the other areas that give rise to gun violence and how they walk hand-in-hand, the drugs and illegal trafficking.”

“As a good friend of mine said, when a drug dealer has conflict with his counterparts they cannot call the police or go to court to resolve their matter – so they take the law into their own hands.”

Sen. Thomas went on to say: “It would be irresponsible of this administration, this government, the people of Grenada, if we sit idly by, and do nothing about what is slowly and surely creeping in our society.”

Currently, a gun amnesty is in place, allowing citizens to surrender illegal firearms without facing charges.

Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell disclosed that since the amnesty began on May 1, the police have received four (4) guns and over 100 rounds of ammunition.

As recently as Monday, police detained several persons for questioning in connection with the seizure of a barrel containing firearms at the Port of Tyrell Bay in Carriacou.

As the July 31 deadline approaches, the government continues to encourage citizens to take advantage of the amnesty and hand over illegal firearms.

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