The House of Representatives recently approved the report and recommendations of the Joint Select Committee on the Firearms (Prohibition, Restriction and Regulation) Act (2022).
The Report outlines the recommended changes to the Bill, following the review and deliberations of the Joint Select Committee.
“Having regard to the number of amendments, it is proposed that the original Bill that was tabled on February 10, 2022, be withdrawn and a new amended Bill be tabled,” Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Security, Dr Horace Chang said.
The Joint Select Committee completed deliberations on the Bill on July 22, 2022, having received comments from several stakeholders, including the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), Proactive Jamaicans, Jamaica Rifle Association, the Jamaica Bar Association, the Law offices of Peter Champagnie QC, the Licensed Firearm Holders of Jamaica (LIFE-JAM), Cornwall Bar Association, among others.
He said firearms are the weapons of choice for criminals and criminal organisations operating in Jamaica.
“It could be described as the weapon of mass destruction in this country. These organised criminal groups seek respect by causing fear and creating terror in communities that are hostage to these criminals,” he argued.
Dr. Chang said the current legislative framework, that is the Firearms Act, 1967, provides no disincentive or very little disincentive for criminals and those who support their activities, to hand over illegal guns.
He noted that the Bill, which was sent to the Joint Select Committee, proposed the introduction of harsher penalties for certain offences, such as the possession of a prohibited weapon with intent to traffic and the manufacturing of a prohibited weapon.
“For these more egregious offences, the Bill proposes imposing a mandatory term of imprisonment for 15 years before eligibility for parole,” he said.
He pointed out that the Joint Select Committee, in reviewing the Bill, made recommendations for introduction of new terms such as “assorted parts”. Additionally, the Committee proposed amendments to the definition of some terms, including “modification”, “firearms”, “parts” and “components”.
The Committee agreed that the definition of the term “firearm” should be amended to read as follows:”(a) means any – (i) barrelled weapon which discharges or is designed to discharge any shot, bullet or other projectile; or (ii) prohibited weapon, unless the context otherwise requires and includes any such weapons created as 3D printed weapons or otherwise created through the use of electronic software; (b) includes any parts and components of any weapon referred to in paragraph (a); and (c) does not include an air rifle, air gun, or air pistol, of a type or calibre prescribed by the Minister.”
“We have done some future-proofing work to ensure that 3D-printed firearms come under the prohibited weapons; it’s a new technology, it’s evolving, and this wording has to be so structured that even if there is changing software… that any weapon that comes through an electronic software in the virtual space and is then manufactured by any kind of machine tool is still a prohibited weapon,” Dr. Chang said.
He said in reviewing the Bill, the Committee made recommendations in respect of the penalty provisions that are provided for in the Bill, whether in Part II or the Sixth Schedule.Importantly, he said the Committee deliberated on the provision of mandatory minimum sentences for the offences outlined in Part II of the Bill, which are considered especially egregious.
Dr. Chang noted that while there was strong and varied discourse surrounding the introduction of mandatory minimum sentences, these penalties were retained in light of the grave situation the country is in at this point in time.
He said the widespread possession and use of illegal firearms and ammunition, and the low sentencing for firearm-related offences underscore the urgent need to strengthen the legislative framework.
“We must implement a more robust enforcement mechanism. We have to establish penalties that are commensurate with the egregious nature of offences connected to the possession and use of unregulated firearms, unregistered firearms,” he said.
Dr. Chang informed that the vast majority of murders in Jamaica are being committed with illegal guns. “The data show that for the four-year period 2018 to 2021, some 2,700 firearms and more than 44,000 rounds of ammunition were seized by law-enforcement agencies,” he said.
Leader of the Opposition, Mark Golding, said it is hoped that the Bill, when passed, will have a positive impact in reducing the number of murders and injuries caused by illegal firearms.
The Firearms (Prohibition, Restriction and Regulation) Act, 2022 seeks to repeal and replace the Firearms Act of 1967, which will make it much more relevant and address the current situation.
The Bill establishes a dual regime, distinguishing between prohibited weapons or unregulated firearms and activities connected thereto, such as illicit trafficking, diversion manufacture, stockpiling, possession; and firearms that are duly authorised or registered with notable improvements for the regulation and enforcement of the firearms industry.
It also introduces new provisions to address Jamaica’s adherence to international treaty obligations as well as the inadequacies that exist in the local framework. It further provides for the marking of firearms, capturing of ballistic signatures as well as the establishment of a National Control System and a National Registry.